1. Write Now. Revise Later.
Here’s a secret: Even award-winning writers hate their first drafts. Just accept that your original takes will always need finessing. Bestselling author Anne Lamott calls these her “shitty first drafts.” And so can you, by using the “write now, revise later” approach, coined by English teacher Harry Bauld. Whenever you’re sitting at the screen panicked like in a Cathy cartoon, just remind yourself that you’ll revise it into a masterpiece later. For now, just get it all out, hide it in a locked treasure chest in your secret nuclear bunker (these are required for 2019, no?), wait a week, then revisit it with a fresh mind and perspective. Voila!
But how, you say? How can I actually sit down and write the damn thing in the first place? Here’s a trick: Time yourself. Remember in high school when you had timed essay tests? Get thee to a Wi-Fi-free space, lock your phone, and set your timer. If you know you only have a half hour to bang out 400 words (and there’s no pressure since at this point you’ve internalized the shitty first draft rule), you’ll do it.
2. Find a New Medium
To me, there’s something menacing about Microsoft Word. I associate it with homework and pressure. If I try to write on it, I’ll freeze. Instead, I use the Notes app on my iPhone. It immediately takes the pressure off because the medium is so casual and puts me in a laidback mood since I’m basically texting my magnum opus to myself. So my inner critic is like, Cool, we’re just texting, going to sit this one out. Like magic!
(Reader, I confess I’m writing this to you on my Notes app. It’s my little secret. I started doing it on long subway rides during my super-efficient phase and it’s kind of changed my life. The other advantage to this? You can write literally anywhere at any time. I’ve edited 1,000-word profiles on the subway at all hours.)
A friend and fellow writer of mine, recently confessed that she writes all of her first drafts — from 100-word marketing copy to 2,000-word pieces — on her Mac’s TextEdit app. Yes, that horrible little white box that looks like a Windows reject from the ’70s. “It tricks my anxious brain into thinking that all I’m doing is writing to fill up that tiny space,” she says. “All I need to worry about is getting this one paragraph right, and then I’ll move on to the next one. It’s less intimidating than starting with a huge, screen-sized blank page and a blinking cursor.”
3. Write to Your Ideal Reader
If changing up where you write doesn’t work, try an Instagram post or some other blogging medium whose confessional nature makes it easier to access your natural voice. Or maybe for you, the solution is writing an email draft to your best friend who’s your ideal reader — the one who laughs at all your jokes and thinks every word out of your mouth is brilliant.
Your first major assignment may fill you with dread if you’re picturing a cruel, evil editor waiting to tear it to shreds. (You’re a writer after all; this imagination’s useful for something). If you’re feeling overwhelmed, pretend you’re writing for this one person whom you admire — and, this is critical, who admires you right back. Picture him or her loving this line or that turn of phrase and, soon, you’ll get your groove back!
Try each approach (or all three if you’re fancy) and let us know how it goes. What are your sneaky tricks to beating writer’s block?
Yelena is a New York transplant by way of San Francisco and Ukraine who’s mastered 3-word Insta captions and 3,000-word reported features. Clients have included luxury resorts, cheeky pet brands, innovative retirement communities, and designer fashion. As a journalist and copywriter for over a decade, she writes editorial & marketing copy from taglines to subject lines and blog posts to box packaging. She’s also a Google Docs fanatic and unofficial Flaming Hot Cheetos ambassador.