Having assisted writers for the last 20 odd years in many different capacities (such as professor, coach, and colleague), I have worked with a lot of frustrated and stymied writers. In addition, I have written 17 books and have encountered many writing roadblocks myself which had to be conquered.
Along the way I have developed five favorite ways to successfully knock down those roadblocks and continue the writing journey. Join me as we explore these strategies.
It dawns on you one day….. You might not realize you are confronted with a roadblock. All you know is you cannot write, or you do not know where to start. Or perhaps you cannot figure out how to make the writing gel so that it is compelling on the page…. These, my dear fellow authors, are all different forms of roadblocks. Now don’t be fooled, there are many roadblocks you encounter along the journey of writing. However, the good news is that the strategies we develop, the momentum of success which we build from conquering even these first five, will strengthen us for the marathon ahead. This article will help you buzz by those roadblocks in order to charge ahead towards success.
The roadblock counter-strategies which I share in this brief article take the form of techniques. Indeed, I divulge some of my trade secrets which I use to assist students, faculty and business people to break the chilly stalemate between the keyboard and the blank screen. Be diligent, keep this list close at hand, give these strategies a try, and be ready to choose a remedy when you encounter your next writing emergency. This is your survival kit. Therefore you must become familiar with it in a non-stressful situation; please consider the following points.
Fingers poised over the keyboard…and begin…
Roadblock 1: I can Say it, but I cannot write it. Sometimes a piece that we are writing just lends itself more to telling. Sometimes we are more gifted as a storyteller or orator than a writer! Nonetheless when we have to put that same account into written form, what are we to do? One solution is so simple people miss it because of that point. Speak the piece aloud! You might use a recorder, voice activated software, or perhaps a really great friend will take notes or transcribe. Basically, the process is the same in all three methods: speak the project, rather than write it. It is amazing how this strategy can unjam the writing roadblock for people. Some authors even discover it moves them towards developing better writing skills over time.
Roadblock 2: Who is my Audience? Road block 2 oftentimes lurks at the crux of Roadblock 1. However many of us never learned (or in deference to our English teachers don’t remember learning) about audience. Without this understanding, it is very difficult to have a clear view of who we are writing for in our literary eye while we write. However, this trick works wonders for many people with whom I have shared it: when you sit down to work on your writing, close your eyes for a minute and imagine your readers sitting in chairs in front of you. Perhaps they are gathered for an afternoon at the neighborhood coffee shop and are eager to talk about your newest book. Now, in your mind’s eye, visualize them sitting to the left of your computer screen; imagine a few of them in detail: their clothes, facial expressions, posture… Now with them clearly in “sight,” start writing to them as if you were telling them the story. I have seen many roadblocks fly out of the way with this technique. Triumph!
Roadblock 3. No idea where to start. Have you even been stuck at the beginning? You just can’t find the correct first scene, the opening line is just not the right one, or you need a whiz-bang hook to grab your readers’ attention. However, regardless of how long you stare forlornly at a blank screen, you just cannot find the correct phrase or hook. No matter how long you try, or how many pages you delete; it just is not to be found today, yesterday, or last week. You are not road blocked; this is deadlock roadblock. The good news is what somebody forgot to tell you: Skip the beginning! In fact many of experienced authors find the best beginning after having written the conclusion of the book. That approach seems backwards, but it makes sense if you think about. Free yourself from the chains of first paragraph paralysis by beginning on the second paragraph, page, or chapter. Begin wherever your strong point is. This section of the book is clear in your mind’s eye. Go there! Let the writing juices begin to flow and you will be fired up to take on the world of the word!
Roadblock 4: Lost: I don’t know where I am going. Sometimes authors feel like they need a literary GPS to help them find their direction through their own words. Great news: you recognized that you were lost! Just imagine your poor readers otherwise! They did not write the book; how much worse it would have been for them if the words had meandered chapter by chapter aimlessly? You saved them and now the solution is what our 2nd and 3rd grade teachers were telling us and we did not believe. After 3 books I finally believed them and will pass this gem onto you so you do not have to wait so long: use an outline. I do not mean be shackled and bound to every word of the outline, but use an outline as your guide, framework, and structure for your literary work. When you need to change something substantially in the outline, add or delete it, and make sure it fits consistently and fluidly. However, keep referring to the outline during your writing and editing to stay on track, and in the flow of the manuscript. Your readers will have a much clearer picture of where you, and they, are headed.
Roadblock 5: Literary Laryngitis. “But Kathy,” you say “I lost my voice!” Sometimes when people get deeply invested in the details of their writing, it can become disjointed and it does not sound like one voice any longer. This lack of voice might develop because you are referring to many facts, figures, quotes, or diagrams, you wrote sections of the book in different sittings far separated in time, or other reasons. Whatever the reason, you need to get you voice embedded in the text again. One great remedy is to read the section aloud and determine if it sounds like the other sections. If it does not, start revising, heavily. Another is to remove direct quotes that you might be using from other sources and instead paraphrase them. Readers want to hear the current author, not all the other “experts.” They have your article or your book in their hands; therefore, let them hear you!
As these brief successful writing articles continue, I will discuss more ways to discover your voice, become empowered in your writing, and I will suggest new writing techniques. Writing is a wonderful way to share your vision with other people. Thank you for letting me offer some suggestions for making your experience both more enjoyable and more successful.