The best fundamental advice I got about writing was from my dad:
“Just write something.”
He explained that the hardest part of writing was going from nothing to something. Once you have something on the page, it becomes easier and easier to modify, take it in a new direction, or just keep going. The hardest part of writing is telling your inner critic to shove off and let you get something on paper. (Including virtual paper of course.)
I’ve had a number of jobs that required me to write when I wasn’t necessarily inspired–writing magazine articles, news and reviews for online publications, ad copy and promotional material. Here are the tricks I learned to use, which I keep posted to my wall in front of my desk:
- Write something — Anything. Even something that isn’t “really want you mean to write.” Think of it as a seed.
- Bullets — Bullets are a writer’s best friend. Write down the main points, and worry about connecting the ideas later. Or if you’re writing online, just replace the bullets with numbers, put the total in the title, and you’re done.
- Silly — Can’t think of anything to write? Ignore your inner critic by being silly. If you don’t take yourself too seriously, you can’t criticize yourself. And the best part is that if you “fail” at being silly, often you’ll end up writing what you wanted to all along.
- Stupid — Like silly but more so.
- Exaggerate — One of the hardest parts of writing is precision. So to jump start your word brain, try writing a completely over-the-top version of what you mean. Often you’ll find that the end result doesn’t need as much tweaking as you expect. Sometimes it even gives you new metaphors and descriptive words to play with.
- Opposite — In emergency cases, try writing the complete opposite of what you mean. For example, if you’re trying to convince someone to give your new project the OK, start by writing as though you were trying to convince them your project is a terrible idea. Now you have a list of points to counter! Or maybe you’re writing an ad for your company’s product. Start by imagining the worst ad ever for that product. “Our soap will leave you smelling like a stable on the stable boy’s day off! It will leave your skin callused, with a differently patterned irritation rash every time!”
- Casual/Slang — Sometimes the mental block is due to language, such as writing a formal business report or an economics paper. You can get around this by writing a first draft using much more casual language. This allows you to get the main ideas out first, and then worry later about how to phrase “we’re for sure gonna sell a bajillion thingies by next financial semester thingy” so that you don’t sound like you’re graduating from elementary school.
- Offensive — As a last resort, this one can work beautifully. If you’re so frustrated that you’re starting to hate the assignment, hate yourself, and pretty much hate the entire world, use that anger to fuel your writing by wording your thoughts in the most offensive, obnoxious language possible. Use rude words–lots of them. Insult your audience, your product… everything. At the very least it will help to dissipate your frustration, but on top of it you’ll find the exercise so much fun that you’ll start to move on to “silly” and sooner than you expect you’ll start producing something you can actually use.