Every writer knows how frustrating writer’s block can be. You put pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard – and the ideas simply don’t flow. Your deadline is looming and what do you have to file? A blank screen and a blinking cursor. Here’s how you can beat writer’s block and write better articles.
When you’re working as a freelance journalist, there’s a lot of pressure to deliver a high output. If you don’t deliver a certain number of words on time, you won’t get paid – it’s as simple as that. But sometimes the pressure of deadlines, a lack of inspiration, or limited direction can make writing a challenge.
If you have numerous articles you’re working on and on-going deadlines, writer’s block can be detrimental. It can make it almost impossible to produce quality and engaging content on demand, and in some cases it could grind your business to a halt.
But luckily, there are ways to overcome it. Here are our seven steps to help you kick-start the writing process and write better articles when you’re facing a blank document.
1. Breakdown your brief in a Google Doc.
Following an editor’s brief to a T is essential. If you start without a plan, you risk filing a piece that will quickly be sent back for a re-write. This will cost you time and potentially money. Therefore, try to begin the writing process by breaking down exactly what your editor wants you to deliver so you know you’re definitely on track.
Start by copy and pasting your brief into a Google doc (read more about the benefits of Google Docs). This will be a space to collect your thoughts, highlight any problematic sections, and plan the logistics of your article.
Then, list the people you’d like to interview below your brief. You can tick these off as you schedule calls. Also, list key statistics you wish to include and any additional notes from your editor, suggests freelance journalist Farah Khalique.
“This gives me direction and once I feel confident that there’s enough to talk about, it’s easier to start writing the piece,” she says. “Planning and organisation is key!”
2. Relate the story to yourself
It’s common to encounter writer’s block when you don’t feel inspired by the piece you’re tackling. This can slow down the writing process. A lack of a captivating angle can make you feel as though you’ve hit a dead-end in your work.
“Find something in the piece that you can relate to yourself in some way. Even if you’re writing a piece about dry legislation, you’ve got to find a way to make it relatable. Latch onto the exciting bit of the story and run with that,” says Farah.
If you need help forming an interesting angle for your piece, try our Editorial Research Assistant. It’s designed to help you research quickly, all without leaving your writing space. You can also group similar interesting sources together with our boards feature to gather your ideas for later.
3. Create a nut graf
Once you’ve decided on the angle for your piece, the next step is to create a nut graf. This is a paragraph that sums up the context of your piece in a nutshell, and usually forms the second paragraph of your story, following on from your lede (find out more about writing your lede here).
It’s useful for helping you navigate your way through an article and write better articles. When you nail the “kernel” or the essence of the story – by giving the who, what, where, when and why – it can act as a roadmap when planning the rest of your piece.
If you’re struggling for words, revisit your nut graf and ask yourself what additional information the reader needs to know to add depth to the framework of the story outlined in this paragraph.
Find out more about how to create your own nut graph here.
4. Set yourself word count targets for each section
It can be daunting starting an article with a large word count. You may be worried that you won’t have enough to talk about, that you’ll lose motivation halfway through, or the narrative flow will stagnate.
To combat this, set a word count for each section of your piece to stay on track and motivate yourself, suggests Farah. “It can be difficult to launch into a 2,000 word piece but breaking it down into bite-sized sections can really help.”
Work off the word count your editor has given you to set yourself individual word counts for the introduction, body text, and conclusion. You may also want to separate the body text out by setting word counts for different case studies and topics to give each section the weight it requires before you start writing.
5. Keep your editor sweet
“I really focus on what the editor has commissioned me to do. Some will really specify what they are after, they will say I want this, this and this – from certain interviewees, to specific statistics,” says Farah.
By keeping their requests firmly in the forefront of your mind and clearly knowing that you need to deliver on exactly what they want can give you focus, says Farah. “This drives me to keep pushing forward with my piece without letting it stagnate. If the brief is very brief, go away and research it, flesh it out and run it past the editor for their thoughts. A properly agreed brief helps to prevent misunderstandings later down the line.”
6. Bounce ideas off other journalists
It can be difficult as a freelance writer working on your own. If you get stuck on a particular part of a piece, there’s no manager to give you guidance or colleagues to ask for help.
However, there are many online freelance journalist groups where you can immerse yourself in a community of like-minded people to generate ideas or find answers to questions that are holding you back.
- Society of Freelance Journalists (SFJ). This is a Slack support group dedicated to freelance journalists and their questions.
- JournoAnswers. This Facebook group offers support and advice.
- Creative Freelancers Unite. This group hosts live Facebook sessions to answer questions from group members and provides helpful writing tips.
When you hit a roadblock in your piece, these online communities are a great place to turn for help.
7. Try not to be a perfectionist!
Give yourself permission to write imperfectly. This is far easier said than done, of course. But being self-critical and fearing the imperfect is one of the most prevalent causes of writer’s block.
Freewriting is a technique similar to brainstorming that can help you write better articles. You can set a timer for the amount of time you wish to freewrite, then give yourself the freedom to write badly for that set interval – don’t think about grammar, spelling, or the topic. This practice can be used to build up writing confidence and keep the process fluid and fun.
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