Have you ever stared at a blank page (or blank page on a screen) and struggled to write anything at all? If so, you're not alone.
Here's why it happens and what you can do about it.
Why the Brain Stalls When Writing
You're probably familiar with the right brain/left brain concept. While it's an oversimplification, it's a useful model in this case, because writing uses both sides equally.
The right side of your brain--the creative--is what generates the original ideas and words. The left side of your brain--the analytical--edits and tightens those ideas and words.
When you suffer from writer's block (aka "blank page syndrome"), the left side of your brain has taken control so that anything that attempt to write seems stupid, awkward or off.
As a result, the right side of your brain can't get going. It's like having a negative boss during a brainstorming session: no idea is good enough to pursue.
The trick to overcoming writer's block is to separate the writing (right brain) from the editing (left brain.)
My Personal Experience
I learned this the hard way when I wrote my first book. While I had a contract in hand, I just couldn't get started because everything I tried to write didn't seem "good enough" even before I tried to write it down.
Finally, in desperation, I called a business contact--a professional writer with several books already under his belt. He said: "Just write something down, even if it's crap... and it probably will be. Once you've got something down, you'll know what to do next."I followed his advice, which is how I became an author.
Since then, I picked up these techniques for breaking my left brain's analytical hold on my right brain's creativity:
1. Build momentum then segue.
Sit down and write whatever come to mind (not on the topic, just stream of consciousness) and then gradually turn your writing to the topic at hand.
Don't worry about what you're writing, even if it just stuff like "I hate writing. I wish I didn't have to do this. I'd rather be watching television, etc., etc., etc."
Eventually your left brain will get tired to trying to edit this stream of irrelevance.
At this point, your right brain takes control and you'll find yourself writing about what you're supposed to write about.
2. Speak it, then edit it.
You can also short-circuit your left brain by using the "dictation" feature of your word processor.
Just say aloud what you wanted to write about, as if you were explaining it to somebody who finds both you and the subject matter interesting. (Use your imagination.)
You'll end up with a lot of copy (and often hilarious voice recognition errors) but then your left brain can usually sort it out into something useful and readable.
3. Write when you're half asleep.
You can short-circuit your left brain and mainline your right brain by writing when you're groggy.
Your right brain is where you do your dreaming and thus it functions perfectly well when you're groggy. Your left brain, not so much.
Wait until you're just about to go to bed or right after you've gotten up. Grab your laptop and start writing. If that doesn't work, set an alarm for the middle of the night.
Of course, if you're fortunate to work at home or in a private office, you can get the same effect by taking a short nap.
What's important with this technique is to start writing immediately. No coffee. No snack. No email. Bio break, yeah OK, but make it quick. Otherwise, boom, just start writing.
4. Mix and match.
If none of the above work by themselves, you can combine them to make them geometrically more effective.
For example, if you wake up in the middle of the night or when you wake up in the morning, use the Record feature on your phone to get your ideas down.
Start by chattering whatever you were dreaming about, then edge into talking the subject that you're trying to write about.
What's cool about the four (well, three and half) techniques provided above is that when you've used them for a while, they no longer become necessary.
The more frequently you separate your right brain (creating) from your left brain (editing), the less power your left brain has to gum up the works.
Just so you know,
Since that time, I've been writing this column pretty much every work day since February of 2007. For the first few years, I used the techniques above. Since about mid-2010, though, I've never had writer's block. So this stuff works.