Writing for a living is something I’ve wanted to do ever since I was a Junior in college. Now that I’m actually doing it, however, I’ve realized what challenges it brings. For instance, even though I have to do it for a living, writer’s block is still pretty easy to come by. I’m not sure if it’s from a lack of creativity as much as it’s from just getting burned out. My brain gets tired, man! Recently though, I’ve made myself a system to help me keep writing great stuff without exhausting my brainpower. This might not work for everyone, but for now, it’s what keeps me going.
1. Choose a Topic Out of Your Comfort Zone
I had gotten into the terrible habit of writing about the same thing over and over again. This doesn’t please me as a creative or a writer. I took a topic that I love very much, music and touring, and created it as a fallback for when I needed to write something and thus the articles themselves became sub-par, far below the quality I’m capable of.
Now I’ve started choosing topics that I’m not particularly familiar with, but I am interested in it. History and politics are two I’m exploring right now, but who knows what I could do in the future! Maybe I’ll write about medicine or on television. Even movie reviews! It doesn’t matter, as long as I’m challenging myself and putting myself in writing situations (for websites and blogs that like freelancers) that challenge me.
2. Actually Spend Time Learning
To write about something you’re not familiar with, you need to become familiar with it. So actually take an hour or so and research it. Learn enough to write a basic article and argue some points about a topic and how it relates to your life or others. Pretty much any information you need is at your fingertips, thanks to the internet.
An example from my life: I’ve been writing about web design recently. I don’t have too much experience in it, but I’ve been learning about different CMS formats, plug-ins, and the business of freelance web design. This actually comes in handy to me as a creative who owns a website. It’s not something I knew a lot about before but I’m happy to say that I can write about it from a personal perspective to some degree now. Before you go researching just anything though, keep in mind that the knowledge you obtain should be able to be applied somewhere in your life. Think about your story and what you could tie into this topic.
3. WRITE WRITE WRITE
So I recommend, before writing, to start with an outline. Even if you don’t stick to it (I changed the structure of this very article from its original outline, actually), it’s a good place to start. Treat the outline like a guide you get to fill out, should you use an outline. It makes the initial writing a lot easier, in my opinion. However, different people write differently and maybe outlines don’t work for you!
Regardless, with your newfound knowledge, you should be able to write a decent piece. Since you have researched it now, filling in some of the details and not just faking your way through it should give your body quite a bit of meat, and much less fluff. You can take your time on this one but don’t get lazy – if you get lost or distracted for too long in the middle of it, you might lose the voice you’re writing with.
4. Go for a Walk… Or Something
Now that the article is actually done, getting distracted might be a good thing (betcha never heard before that in your life!). Taking a break will refresh you. It will give your brain some space to recover from hard focus, so you can read your piece as a reader, not the author. This will allow you to be critical and proofread, and to add things that fit with the overall message and style.
I personally recommend going for a walk. Even though I love my computer and often find myself on it all day, staring at a screen makes me lazy if I do it for too long. There are too many little distractions on a computer that stop my brain from refreshing or becoming creative. Sometimes I work on other creative things in my breaks and that actually makes me less creative when I go back to write. That’s primarily done on a computer. So going for a walk, in my opinion, is the most refreshing thing you and I can do to refill our creative juices. This has been said by others in the past, and my experience says it’s true.
5. Proof It, Wrap It Up, and Stamp It!
Okay, now that you’ve taken your break, you should be able to go back to your article, piece, what have you, and read it with new eyes. This is crucial for proofreading because you’ll get to see how the article flows together (or doesn’t), as well as move it from outline mode to complete piece mode.
I also recommend, after proofing it yourself, to have a friend or fellow writer look over it. Remember, the whole reason you went for a walk was so you could read it with a brand new set of eyes, but an external perspective is double that asset. When you’re done with all proofing and suggestions, format it and send it off to whoever it’s for. Be ready for their suggestions as well, I might add.
Robert Lanterman is a writer and musician from Boise ID. He also runs Hidden Home Records, a record label focusing on DIY Punk music of all sorts. He graduated from the College of Idaho with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business and a minor in Creative Writing in 2014.