Getting Around The Writer's Block

By Matter

This is my very first blog post. Anywhere. I ghost write blogs for clients. I pitch bloggers. But a blog of my own, with my name on it?…not my style. My own personal thoughts – well, I still like to capture those the old fashioned way …on paper, with a pen, in a journal that nobody else will ever see.

So you can imagine my dismay this morning, when I stumbled downstairs in the steamy summer pre-dawn hours, tied my running shoes, and clicked on my Treo. There it was, staring up at me from between a team meeting and a client call on my calendar: WRITE BLOG/Matter Chatter. OK, I thought – no big deal, I don’t blog, but I write all the time – love it, in fact – so, I’ll write a blog post. Just have to think of a topic.

I thought about it on my run. I thought about it while walking the dog, throwing in laundry, emptying the dishwasher and changing a diaper (and the crib sheets). I thought about it while negotiating the fine balancing act of the breakfast table with my three kids (imagine a round table, food mostly getting into mouths, a dog barking at a passing car, the general din punctuated by rapid-fire commentary: ‘cookies for breakfast, mommy?’ ‘wait, I don’t want banana bread!’ ‘where’s the milk?’ ‘can I come with you to work today?’ ‘I don’t want to go to tennis’ ‘can Ollie come over to play?’ ‘where’s Lucky?’). As I pulled my coffee cup out of the trajectory of an airborne Apple Jack, I realized: what I was experiencing is what we in the business call WRITER’S BLOCK.

Which hit me two ways: one, why did it take me so long to recognize this as writer’s block? And two, in an ironic, neat and tidy plot twist, I realized that this was the topic for my very first blog.

Relevant to our everyday life in PR, writer’s block is an affliction that can strike at any time, with any project, whether it’s your first blog or your hundredth bylined article – and a good agency person has to have a way to get through it and produce a final piece that is by turns creative, smart, simple and on-message.

So, I did what I always do when seeking inspiration– I asked other people for ideas. At Matter, my colleagues are creative, smart, funny and unfailingly willing to help. This morning was no exception – within two minutes of sending an informal polling question about how to deal with writer’s block, I had 24 pieces of great advice.

The most popular was some variation on “walk away for a while” (take a break, change gears). How to take a break in a way that gets the mind ready to write? Try reading something unrelated to the topic you’re writing about, like a highlight of David Ortiz’ homerun last night. Stand up, breathe deeply, or take a walk outside the office to get away from the blank screen – this has the physical benefit of actually getting your blood pumping too (hopefully to the left side of your brain). Have a cup of coffee, or a snack (or wine, if you’re working after hours – and will have time tomorrow to go back and edit), to rejuvenate yourself and get that blood sugar back up. Throw a ball against a wall, try to catch a glimpse of something that makes you relax and helps your brain re-focus – whether that’s water, the wind moving through the trees, a child playing, a bird flying, or a really great store window.

One intrepid soul told me he finds an article at random, picks five words and forces himself to use those words in the release/pitch/article he’s working on. The words might not always stay in the finished piece, but that technique gets points for just forcing you to start writing. Which is a good segue into the second most popular piece of advice, which was: just start writing. Erasing, moving things around and editing is easy – staring at a blank page is frustrating and unproductive; just the act of putting something on paper can start the writing flow.  Which reminds me of the advice my dad used to cite for conquering writer’s block: you’ll never finish until you start.

Other advice for getting around the Block? Give Google a go: search similar topics, start brainstorming from there; find a good quote on the topic, and use that as inspiration; fire up the thesaurus and find some words that could be inspiring, tap into your music library for some background noise (one writer prefers jazz, another country).

But by far, the funniest advice I got this morning for dealing with writer’s block was “ask someone else to write it” – now why didn’t I think of that?