Writer’s block, otherwise know in editing circles as “Blank Page Syndrome” is the lack of motivation and feelings of nervousness, inadequacy, or even imposter syndrome that hit when you’re confronted with the expanse of a blank, white document. The feelings that come up can and do affect every writer’s process. They can cause you to feel inadequate; to believe you have nothing valuable to say… to literally experience being stuck.
To help overcome writer’s block and to create articles that are well-organized and thoughtful, the way out is planning. The good news is that you learned how to plan or outline essays in middle school, so you have the foundation in place. Doing this kind of work for more professional writing is a different process.
What are the basic writing planning methods?
There are many approaches to planning, and the one you take should match your thought processes. If you’re more of a visual thinker, then going for a visual planning method like mind-mapping, flow charts, and other diagrams may be best.
If you’re a linear thinker and appreciate a simple list or outline, then creating something like that is likely best for you.
Once you get the hang of a planning method, you can always use a combination of two or more. You can even invent your own. Really, the process of planning is built on very few principles. You want to always keep in mind who you’re writing for.
As you consider your writing plan, there are three core considerations:
- Who is your avatar or your ideal client/reader? What needs do they have that your article is working to solve?
- What is the underlying purpose of your writing? For example, are you writing to educate or inform? To bring new research to bear or to the mainstream? Perhaps you’re writing to connect your business to a specific topic or idea.
- Finally, how do you want your ideas laid out on the page? Is an essay the best presentation or can a listicle work?
Need a primer on the basics of blogging and how to do it well, read this piece.
What is a mind map and how do you use one?
A mind map is a visual diagram and can look different to anyone who uses it. The first idea that goes on your page is your central question or the main issue that you are addressing. If you have a working title in mind, then this would work as well. In the center of the page, write out either the title of the article (as your core concept) or the main question or working hypothesis of your article.
Then, draw lines out from the central idea that denote core ideas, subtopics or themes you want to cover in your article. From each of these subthemes, other ideas can emerge. The idea with the map or tree as it’s visually showing in front of you is to explore each topic to where it ends in your article.
Here’s what this can look like (courtesy of Mindmeister.com)
Surrounding this main question or idea is a web of keywords and phrases. As you come up with something you would like to address in your article, make a line from the central question to this related idea.
While this method may not seem organized, it’s not really supposed to be. Instead, mind mapping is about brainstorming. It’s about getting all of your ideas onto the page so as to make your mind less jumbled. Once your words are on the page, you can draw lines between them and the central idea in order to create connections that may be used during the writing process.
What is a more linear writing plan?
Linear writing plans are more organized, for best use after you have a grasp of the ideas you want to focus on. Usually, this method is more of an outline for the article or blog post to come. A good outline includes bullets for an introduction, each section of the body of your article, and then for your conclusion. If you have taken our writing class, we outline the 5 parts of an article as your headline, introduction, body or list, conclusion, and call to action.
A few notes about overcoming writer’s block and outlining: don’t get stuck worried that you don’t have a “proper” outline. Roman numerals are not required much to the chagrin of 8th grade English teachers. Here, all you need is a basic structure to teach you where you’re going point to point. That can include numbers to denote steps (e.g. step 1 then step 2, then step 3, etc.) or it can simply be a list you create that lays out the order.
Are either of these methods better than the other for fixing writer’s block?
While linear writing is definitely better for actual organizational purposes, it’s just as important to explore all of your ideas before setting out a legitimate outline. And if creating a web of ideas appeals to you far more than a linear outline, then there’s no harm in taking that approach.
The best advice is to allow yourself to get creative. If you’re the type of person who constantly changes their mind, try the sticky note approach. Write your ideas down on sticky notes and place them on the wall as your canvas. Then you can physically move your ideas around to discover the order, layout, and flow that works best for your writing and your reader’s injection of the material. You can do this same technique using a whiteboard or chalkboard too.
In our writing class we teach that however you get yourself organized, the core idea is to lay out your ideas and then ask yourself a few questions:
- What’s missing?
- Does the order make sense?
- Are there tangential topics that can be removed for clarity or consistency?
- Is it too short or too long?
- And would your avatar benefit from this article as it’s outlined?
Of course, because outlining your writing is a planning stage, not all of your ideas have to be perfectly laid out or defined. Planning is a step to eliminate your writer’s block or the anxiety or woes that come up when you stare at a blank page. Planning gives you a more gentle way to get your ideas collected and see if there is a synergy to your thoughts. Ultimately, nobody else will see how you plan your writing, just you! So it’s okay to constantly re-arrange, or cross things out.
While your writing should be as polished and stylized as possible, your planning stage doesn’t have to be. It can be messy as most creative projects are. But, planning will help you discover where your blocks to writing really live. Then, you can work your way out of your writer’s block in an easier way. You will have fewer words to erase and over time that as your planning speeds up, your worries about writing will diminish.
One last thing. For some people, writer’s block is not about how to get your thoughts organized. It’s more about the mental game of writing. If this is part of your situation, then read this article next so you can eliminate what’s REALLY frustrating you about writing.
Need help? We offer writing classes and training to get you unstuck and make writer’s block a thing of the past. Whether you are writing a book, marketing a business or product, or writing on social channels, we can help. Reach out to learn more today.