I once took a college course entitled “The Practice of Writing.” The premise of the course was just that- Writing is an art form, and like any other art form, practice is a requisite to agility. The course began with the idea that anyone can write, regardless of present ability, and immediately begin to improve his or her skill level.
There’s a lot of reasons why you might want to write, or particular things you have to write – cover letters for a job or any other kind of letter, bio’s, web content, your up-and-coming best-selling how-to e-book, etc… The problem with most writers… is… the…
Begin by filling it, with whatever. Just get it out, and get that blank look off your face too. Dive in, and get excited about it. I promise you’ll get some momentum soon.
How to Overcome writer’s block, Step 1: Free write warm-up.
You can free-write about whatever- whatever you are thinking now, what you ate for breakfast, what you are going to do tonight, your dreams last night, a letter to an uncle, anything.
Start by writing down anything that comes to mind, without stopping, for 5 minutes. Set a timer and just let the flow of your thoughts stream onto the page without analyzing or thinking about it. You may find this leads you straight into developing your “written voice,” or you may also find yourself suddenly writing about the topic on hand. But if that doesn’t happen, don’t worry. Write for 5 minutes, and then- toss it. (Unless you’ve somehow already come up with something brilliant. Then congratulations.)
The point is not to care about what comes out of that five minutes of warm-up. It is just to get you in the flow- like stretching before a race.
Step 2: Make the “Practice of Writing” A Regular Thing
People don’t usually become billionaires, triathlete champions, or best-selling authors overnight. It takes time, dedication, and practice to become the best that you can be in any desired subject. So take the time, everyday, even just 15 minutes, and practice writing. You can free write your feelings, keep a journal or a dream journal, write your thoughts, ideas, or even letters you might not intend to send. Letters are one of my favorite exercises, because it warms up your inner- conversationalist, and that is in large part what the written word is all about. You can write a letter for practice, and then just crumple it up and throw it on the floor, if that helps.
Masterpieces don’t generally just get thrown onto the canvas. They don’t just pop out of the painter’s eye. It’s a line here, a curve there, there a splash, and a twinkle, and like this, and like that, and “Vwala! It is magnifico!” That is how your essay, your book, your letter, your whatever, is going to be done. A written piece of art also comes in a few parts…
Step 3: Make a mess of that blank page.
In the first draft, just write. The idea is to get the idea out. Get the ball rolling. Don’t worry about getting all the punctuation and spelling write.* (see?:) Let go of your inhibitions, follow your free flow, and just let it out. You will be amazed at yourself, your hands and fingers buzz
ing like a bee hive, thoughts running on faster than you can type, time passing without a moment’s notice, and then- Suddenly, you realize you’ve got 5 pages written. Five pages to play with. Five pages to… edit.
Step 4. Edit.
You already knew this was coming. Some people may sometimes feel ashamed or even vengeful when it comes to the editing process, especially when another person is doing it for them. But editing should actually be viewed as a safeguard for your pride- simply knowing that you were going to edit it anyway, lowered your inhibitions enough to enable you to make the Step 3 mess in the first place. And your pride can remain intact. Everybody edits. Even the greatest.
At this point, print out your baby work, or do a save as “Edit One” of the original. Make your marks on the printed page or start revising on your saved as version, just in case there were any ingenious original bits you may want to refer to later…
Start crossing stuff out. “The first step of editing,” my teacher told me, “is to eliminate a lot of what you’ve written, because you’ve probably been repeating yourself.” And repeating yourself. (Actually, you may indeed surpass me on this point, but carry on…)
B. Edit general content and phrasing.
Is there a good flow? Does the order of topics make sense? Are there too many little stubby sentences? Too many run-on sentences? Did you use the same word a gagilion times? Too many questions? (Did you use the same work a gagillion times? – e.g. see what I did ) Keep running through it, over and over again. You can edit punctuation and spelling errors in this step as you notice them, but mainly focus on your content and flow.
The main point is… “are you getting your point across?” Be sure you have established your main ideas and ordered them appropriately, in a way that is easy for the reader to follow and understand. In some instances, it could be useful to your busy reader if you use sub-headings so they can skim faster. Likely, your main points already spilled onto the page during the initial free-write, but if there’s anything you left out that needs to be in there as well, add it in. Just don’t repeat yourself.
C. Take a walk.
One of the world’s best-selling horror and fantasy novelists, Stephen King, takes regular walks, and has even written himself into one of his novels taking one of these walks, because that’s where he likely goes to rejuvenate his writer’s pallet. He gets the blood flowing, and with it flows the thoughts. He revitalizes his mind with fresh oxygen. Something in us knows that. It also gives a break to the editing process so you can come back with a fresh set of eyes. And then back to the page.
D. Read it over and do step B again.
You can probably see now how you likely missed a few things. So give it another look-through and see what you can do.
E. Finally- edit for grammar, punctuation and spelling.
Even for the best writers, it helps to get a second opinion in this stage. Your friends, your mom, your boyfriend, your co-worker, your roommate, your editor… will likely see a thing or two that you didn’t. And there’s nothing like pushing send on that email to the whole contact list, and then releasing later you left a big whopping “oops” write at the very end.
For my own regular practice of writing, I feed two birds with one crumb, and combine my morning dream interpretation with my free-write time. (See post: How to Interpret Your Own Dreams)