When Your Writing Mind Goes Blank

Heh. I’ve just spent a couple of frenzied hours scouring the web for video writing courses. I quickly found and bought a class on polishing your writing, and I watched half the course before I realised I wasn’t looking for knowledge on craftsmanship – I was looking for something to get the words OUT.

I resumed the search for courses and found one that seemed promising. Instead of going into the mechanics of writing, it covered the anxieties that writers face. Y’know, ‘How much should I reveal of myself?’, ‘How do I overcome the crippling self-doubt?’, and so on. Still, I wanted to be careful with spending more money, so I found a way to phrase my problem and googled it instead. A Quora page named ‘Why does my mind go blank when I’m about to write?’ caught my interest, and I read some of the answers.

Now I’m writing.

I’ve done this a lot over the years: I’ve felt the need to write URGENTLY, been paralysed by the thought that I have no ideas, and started hunting for something that’ll drag something – whatever – out of my head. It’s like I just stopped knowing my own mind. Of course I know my interests, but when I want to write about them my mind just goes blank.

It scares me how willing I was to throw money at whatever seemed helpful just now, when the answer was free and took me moments to find. It reveals just how horrifying I find it when my mind goes blank. When I want to write, but can’t. Or think I can’t.

So what was the answer that allowed me to finally write tonight? It was this:

If you are of the first type (like me), it typically helps to have a mood, style, image or even a fragment of language swirling through your mind as you sit to write. It could be from a novel you are just reading, something you just witnessed, a piece of music you heard, a movie you saw or even a deep emotional spike you just had (anger, fear, laughter, frustration, etc). These typically evoke responses that are usually framed by the ‘feel’ (for lack of a better word) and sets the mood for what you write. I always rely on music to drive the feel of what I write. There are numerous other hacks too. For example, you could pick the first word you come across at random and begin to construct a sentence in the broad framework of what you are looking to write. The first few words don’t matter except they serve as the base from which you either build on naturally or decide to throw it away and retype different ‘first few words’.

Yep. I keep coming back to this idea of using a tiny fragment to work with. Every time I’m reminded of this technique, I get writing. It’s like my rigid ideas about structure and story planning and sentence structuring and captivating the audience and BLAH BLAH just melts away. Holy crap, does it feel good. I need to put that quote on a post-it and hang it on the fridge.

I can’t believe I almost spent 40 dollars on help I found for free on Google, guys.

Moral of the story: Don’t panic. Get back to basics. Start with the very first building block.

Don’t spend 40 dollars on writing courses until you’ve calmed down.

(See the whole thread on writer’s block here.)

Who Are You Writing For?

When I have an idea for a blog topic, I often don’t know what to say about it. Take drinking, for instance. I recently quit drinking. It was a huge lifestyle change for me, yet I haven’t written anything about it even though there must be oodles of people out there who’d be interested in reading about that particular subject.

I was just trying to find an angle for that subject, thinking: “But I don’t know what to say about it. Where do I start?”. Then a thought struck me. Who would I be writing for?

I’d be writing for people with related experiences, of course. People who have had or are having problems with alcohol. People who want to quit drinking, are quitting drinking or have quit drinking. And what would they want to know about? Probably people’s reactions to my change, whether the process was difficult and what made it so, why I made the decision to quit, and good and bad things that have come out of it. I can think of more – it’s a ripe subject.

That thought, who I’d be writing for, made it a lot easier to visualise how I’d write about quitting drinking.

It’s kind of what I do at work already. My day job is copywriting at a web design firm. When clients need copy for their websites, I write it. To do that I envision myself as a potential customer, trying to address every worry and question they might have. If I’m writing for a cleaning firm, for instance, the customer will want to know in which area they’re located, in which price range they’re placed, which certifications they have, whether they show up on time, how thorough they are, and so on.

You can do basically the same when writing a blog post. Of course you’re not writing for potential customers looking to buy something, but you’re still trying to persuade them to read your writing. That means they need to feel understood, much like potential customers thinking about prices and professionalism do when they’re searching for a cleaning firm.

Of course, writing should be fun. You shouldn’t write a blog post purely with your readers in mind unless that makes it fun for you. But when you think you have nothing to say or don’t know what to say about a subject, putting yourself in the shoes of your intended audience can help you find a suitable angle from which to write.

Just think of what they’d want to know.