7 questions to answer honestly if you have writer’s block
I’m going to say it: writer’s block isn’t a big deal. A good writer will rarely suffer from it. And no, it’s not because they have a natural flair and can just effortlessly put words on the page. Combating writer’s block is about being honest with yourself, recognising the danger signs and finding clever ways to prevent it.
Have you diagnosed yourself with writer’s block? Looking for quick tricks to get the creative juices flowing? If you answered yes, you’re not alone (there are 29,500,000 results when you type it into Google). But you’re probably taking the wrong approach to fixing it.
A good writer will rarely suffer from the dreaded writer’s block because they’re not afraid to keep trying things until they get the desired result. Whether that’s the punchy headline that captures attention or snappy copy for social media. A good writer never sits staring at a blank screen. Ever.
There’s no better feeling as a writer than being able to present a selection of headlines, concepts or copy with some really strong contenders. But to get there you need to get through that creative lull.
Beating writer’s block starts with being honest with yourself. Asking yourself why you’re struggling to think of ideas. Or why you’ve left it until the last minute before a deadline and you’re overcome with sheer panic. How will you ever think of something good enough in time?
It’s time to answer these questions honestly:
1. Is it writer’s block or is it actually fear disguised as procrastination?
Everyone wants to nail it on the first draft. But that’s rarely the case. Even Hemmingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit.”
So, ask yourself: do you actually have writer’s block or are you lacking the confidence to get started?
Sometimes it can feel like your mind is completely blank, but if you need to just face the fear and start writing. There is a high chance you might produce shit. Or you might write the bare bones of something brilliant.
Just start writing. Laugh at what your brain comes up with, then refine your ideas. Especially when it comes to writing headlines, a lot of them are going to be absolute garbage, but I promise if you write enough, there will be some gems in there.
Struggling specifically with the first sentence? You’re not alone. It’s every writer’s nightmare. There are plenty of ways to grab your reader. We’ve dedicated an entire blog post to techniques to try. Read: How to write the perfect opening sentence.
2. Do you have a plan or are you just hoping inspiration will strike?
So, you’re not scared, you’re just stuck? But have you written anything down? If you’re answering no, that’s where you’re going wrong.
Planning is key. Figure out the key points or themes you need to cover. They don’t need to even be full sentences at this point. We tell people in our workshop that they’ll find they actually write faster by organising their thoughts first then finding the best words and phrases to express them.
For tips on planning, read one of our most popular blog posts: How a giraffe's bra can help you write better copy.
3. Are you applying copywriting techniques or are you trying to pluck ideas out of thin air?
As the years have gone on, my perception of creativity has changed. I initially thought it was associated with flashes of inspiration. And that perhaps just people are more creative than others.
Nowadays, I realise creativity is about knowledge too. Knowledge of copywriting techniques. Knowledge of creating rhythm. Knowledge of understanding what works and what doesn’t. Logic and creativity actually go hand-in-hand.
As I said, writer’s block doesn’t isn’t a big deal. Why? Because if you have a toolbox of copywriting techniques you can depend on, then you should always be able to experiment. Maybe that’s using a formula like AIDA (attention, interest, desire, and action). Or perhaps you need to use a tool like the A Thousand Monkeys Fantabulous Headline Generator.
4. Have you had a wee lately?
We’re just checking. It’s easy for time to fly by when you’re procrastinating. My most brilliant ideas come to me when I'm doing something completely unrelated to work. I have a little light bulb moment and I return to my desk with something new to try.
I asked the team about this too. Our project manager Rozi reported that peeling easy peelers also has the same effect.
Now we’ve cleared that up, jump to the next question.
5. Is it possible you’ve got stuck in a rut and feel worried about asking for help?
When you’re tackling a deadline alone and all the pressure is on you, it’s easy to feel like you’re going round in circles. The way to break the cycle? Ask someone for help. Or simply just explain what you’re trying to do.
Conversations around the dinner table at home often go like this:
Me: I’m thinking of headlines for XYZ, but I’m really stuck and none of my ideas are quite right.
Partner: Have you thought of [insert super simple idea that I’ve missed]?
Me: That would be really good. Maybe I could pose that as a question. Or make a list of three. No, no, I think if I do this and that, it’ll sound great. Thanks. You can eat your dinner now.
Even better, if you have children, ask them. Kids think completely differently from adults and you’ll get a completely new perspective on your problem. It might not be sensible, but it might spark inspiration.
6. Are you looking for inspiration in different places or being sucked into social media?
Many people fall into a trap when thinking of ideas. They have one that they think will work. They tweak it. They change a word. They wonder why it’s still not quite right. Sometimes you just need more inspiration to find the right idea, words or concept.
Writing a label for a beer bottle? Leave your desk. Go to Tesco and look on the shelves. Crafting headlines? Look at famous examples and figure out why they’re effective. Need a concept for a marketing campaign? See what your competitors are doing and decide what you can do to be even better.
Inspiration is everywhere. But don’t use it as an excuse to mindlessly scroll social media.
7. Is it time to admit to yourself you’d benefit from some copywriting training?
We all need a refresher every now again. There’s no shame in admitting that. In fact, your manager will thank you for it when you’re coming up with fresh, brilliant ideas.
All good writers know occasionally it’s useful to have someone challenge them. We need different techniques to try, tools to put into practice and ideas on how to make our brains think outside the box.
It’s also easy to get consumed by the marketing in your sector. A classic example is our clients working in Higher Education. They get trapped in their bubble and don’t look outside university marketing for inspiration. Young people don’t want to see another shot of a diverse group sitting on some grass!
Our workshop is designed to help you build a toolbox, so you’ll never have to make the excuse of having writer’s block. You’ll be confident trying new things and won’t worry when the first thing that you write down is rubbish. Find out more about our workshops