This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Have you ever experienced writer's block when you were supposed to be drafting a letter or a speech or an essay or a research paper?
You know what I'm talking about, right? Writer's block. That condition where you stare (panic-stricken) at a blank page.
Because. You. Cannot. Think. Of. A. Single. Thing. To. Say.
Some writers don't believe in writer's block. They're all "writer's block is a figment of your imagination." And I try not to believe in writer's block either. Except, of course, WHEN I AM EXPERIENCING A MASSIVE CASE OF WRITER'S BLOCK. And then I totally, totally believe in it. I believe in it the way a kid believes in the Tooth Fairy which is why I recently sent an S.O.S. email to the Tribune staff to ask what they do when they're stuck.
A few of them encouraged me not to mention the dreaded phrase. "The first rule of writer's block is that you do not talk about writer's block," George Pyle advised, while Kurt Kragthorpe observed that writers talking about writer's block is a lot like golfers talking about a shank. Even saying the words aloud invites bad luck.
Still, Trib writers rallied and sent me some excellent suggestions, which in the interest of public service I am passing along to you.
Start in the middle.
More than one reporter suggested this technique and guess what. It works! Sometimes when you don't know how to begin, starting someplace else can serve to set the right wheels in motion. This is true for newspaper stories, essays, research papers, even novels. Eventually you'll see your way to a beginning.
Write the ending first.
If you already have a sense for how your piece will end, start there. Then go back, jump in a car and drive toward your conclusion.
Just go ahead and spill your guts already.
Not sure about the middle or the ending? Then scatter any and all of your thoughts onto a sheet of paper and see what you've got.
Now look at what you've got and try to see it through fresh eyes.
Pretend you're someone else looking at your notes like your editor, for example. Or your teacher. Or a reader in your intended audience. Which bits of information are going to be the most intriguing to them? Which of those bits will help you build a story?
Try distilling your story into one sentence.
Doing this will help you to focus on the bottom line. What's your story really about? Refer back to this sentence whenever you feel like you're adrift in a sea of words.
Momentarily step away from what you're writing.
Take a walk. Ride your bike. Do a little dance. Get down tonight. Sometimes physically moving from Point A to Point B can bust up a mental logjam. Many of my best ideas, for example, come to me while I'm driving down Ninth East. Now if I could only remember what those awesome ideas are when I pull over. …
But don't step away for too long!
Don't let your walkabout ultimately keep you from the task at hand. A deadline is still a deadline, regardless if it's self-imposed or related to your job.
Do one more interview or unearth one more piece of information.
Sometimes writers feel blocked because they realize at some level they don't have enough information. Go ahead and make another call.
But don't let your research stop you from actually writing.
Sometimes writers allow themselves to be sidetracked by the research part. Digging up more information becomes an excuse not to write. Give yourself permission to write badly at first and get started. You can always revise later.
When you're stuck, talk to another writer and ask for advice.
Which, as you'll notice, is exactly what I did.
Ann Cannon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/anncannontrib.