Are You Stuck? Make a Mess!
I’m going to make a leap here and assume that most freelance writers do exactly what I do when they sit down to write. I abandoned formal outlines, rough drafts, and many of the other formal writing procedures years ago. Except for the most complicated pieces, most of my writing now starts out as a more or less fully-fleshed article that goes through a couple of rounds of editing to catch mistakes. For the most part, this works great. Other times I find myself floundering, trying to form coherent sentences.
The Freelance Writer’s Vicious Cycle
Whether it’s a lack of inspiration, boredom, writer’s block or just plain old procrastination, sometimes I am well and truly stuck on an article. I’ll write the first sentence and examine it. Once I’ve decided that it’s a stupid sentence, I delete it and go check Facebook to “clear my head.” I drift around, looking at coffee recipes or starting loads of laundry in a desperate attempt to distract myself from looming deadlines.
After I run out of excuses, I’ll take a stab at a new sentence, decide that I hate it, and the cycle starts over. Eventually, the frighteningly close deadlines become the motivational kick in the shorts I need. It sparks a furious round of typing, regardless of how silly or malformed my thoughts are. Fortunately, I’ve discovered a healthier way to break the cycle.
Get Your Hands Dirty
If this routine sounds familiar, do what I do: start small. Gather up all the facts about your topic and put them on the page. Forget about sentences, spelling and punctuation. Bullet points and Roman numerals will only give you another excuse to fiddle around. Do you have conflicting ideas on the same line? Who cares! Is your text riddled with red and green squiggles? So what! Get in there and make a mess.
The most important part here is that your fingers are moving and ideas are flowing. Force the facts out of your brain and hammer them into shape later. Think of this process as gathering the raw materials you need to create art.
Shaping Your Thoughts
At this point, you’re probably staring at a horribly ugly unformatted list, and thinking that this was the worst waste of time in the history of writing. Maybe you’re even cursing my name for suggesting this foolishness. However, there is a method to my madness. By now, you’ve hopefully accomplished one thing: You are focused on the subject material. As for that ugly list, that’s where the modern marvel of computers saves the day. Make a few subheads, drag and drop related ideas under those categories, and your mess should start looking a little bit like an article. Now you can start weaving words into sentences and sentences into paragraphs.
This isn’t necessarily the best way to write everything, but it is a good strategy to get you past a creative slump. If you let procrastination, writer’s block, or excuses get the best of you, it will become a habit. My quick and dirty method can help you fight back against whatever is stopping you from starting.
Amber K is passionate about freelance writing. When she’s not looking for creative ways to keep her cat off the keyboard, she can usually be found writing blog posts, web copy and more!