Writer’s block. I have it right now. I am writing on my computer right now, unsure what I’ll type out. But you know what? That’s ok. I’m listening to Chicago, drinking water, sitting at my dining room table – and writing. Writer’s block happens to every writer. So, what do we do to combat writer’s block?
Chicago battled writer’s block with 25 or 6 to 4
Like I said – I’m listening to Chicago, mostly because I watched a rockumentary on Chicago the other day (Now More than Ever, The History of Chicago). In this rockumentary, they explained the song “25 or 6 to 4” as a song about dealing with writer’s block. Robert Lamm was sitting on the floor, trying to write a song. To battle his lack of ideas, Lamm wrote about everything around him, and how he felt that night (or rather early morning). Lamm was tired, so he included the line “wanting just to stay awake.” In his attempts to stay awake, he splashed his face….and so comes the line “Getting up to splash my face.” Of course the title itself references the time on the clock – it was 3:34 or 3:35 (so, 25 or (2)6 (minutes) to 4 AM. Lamm battled writer’s block by writing down insignificant details – and ended up composing a classic American rock song.
Glue your butt to a chair and write!
I already knew the meaning of the 25 or 6 to 4, but hearing Lamm explain the meaning hit me with like a burst of fresh air. This explanation told me there’s always something to write about, even when there’s nothing to write about. Lamm was certainly not the first person to teach me this lesson. One of my favorite professors told me in a first year writing class that writer’s block is a myth. Sometimes you just have to glue your butt to a chair and write. This might be the best piece of advice from all of my college years. This advice keeps me writing more than anything else quite frankly. I make time to write, I make space to write, I sit my butt down and – I write.
There’s a time to edit and a time to print.
Another piece of advice I got from the same class (and the same professor): Sometimes you have to stop editing and hit print. In the case of her class, print was a literal thing – we turned our papers in on paper so we had to print our papers up. Nowadays, I’ve taken the “print” function to be a more symbolic. My writings of now all appear on my various websites. I have a deadline for each and every one. Sometimes when I’m running short on time, I have to just grin and bear it. Sometimes it means I publish articles that honestly, I’m not too proud of. Stil, the article is out there – published and read by judging minds. I don’t care. I keep my consistency when I don’t fudge on the deadlines. When I keep my consistency, it means I write more.
Sure, you can edit after publishing, but…
I will admit sometimes I go back and re-edit a few minor points, on published articles. This especially happens on faux paus, like using worse when I ment to use worst, or perhaps getting a fact wrong. At the same time, I feel a sort of ethos in not editing too much. If I go and change the entire structure of the article, the thesis, or what have you, I am taking away my own authenticity from the reader. Besides, the same medium which allows me to edit on the fly, also can be very unforgiving. Screen shots, history, cache, and the like can and will record every single word you write, including the embarrassing typos. So sometimes it just seems like the smart thing is to let things set – for better or for
Going back with Chicago.
One thing I learned in the aforementioned Chicago Rockumentary – Chicago recorded a second version of 25 or 6 to 4. The band recorded this version in the mid 80s, after Peter Cetera left the group. If you knew Chicago circa 1984, you knew they were all about the Cetera power ballads, so with his departure, a huge “what now?” loomed over the band.
In trying to figure out the what nows, Chicago looked to the past. They took one of their most beloved classic songs, and rewrote it in a modern context. The results, I’ll be honest, are a bit odd. The lesson, however, shows us that sometimes we need to get back to the basics. We need to go back to what really has worked for us in the past. In this specific instance, maybe Chicago’s experiment failed on a commercial level. Whatever. The song reminded the band what Chicago is all about. One of the points of the writer is to remind themselves about who they are as a person, and going back to our roots might very well help us remember.
Failure is part of the process.
If you’ve been reading this website for a few years, you’ll know that I have more than my fair share of duds. When Google told us what search phrases led readers to websites, I found some truly bizarre terms. So…I decided to write an article using just these search terms. The results were….well….what can I say, you might make some sense out of the article if you’re creative. While I love that article, I also didn’t see any new hits linking to that article.
That article might be considered a failure because if it were a success, it would be my top article. Ok, ok, so that’s totally not at all how SEO works, but my point being – despite the failed attempt to drive readers to my website, I still tried something brave (uhh, very brave). I learned that this specific experiment was not the way to go, and at the end of the day this matters more than a thousand random viewers getting suckered into giving me hits. Taking chances gives us a lesson, even if taking chances leads us to failure.
Learning what works is also part of the process.
In January, I flew to Texas and got the H1N1 virus. I was so sick, I could hardly move. I couldn’t write, and that week was the first (and only) time I’ve missed publishing an article on Audioperfecta.com. That week was also the week I got the most hits on audioperfecta. A couple weeks prior, I published an article on the great Elvis Costello. Somehow. Costello himself saw the article and shared it to his social media pages. I was, despite my weakened and near death state, ecstatic!
The lesson here is to fly to a new state and get really sick. No, I’m kidding – the lesson I took from this experience was it never hurts to write about a musical artist with a rabid fanbase. I’ve seen this before when I tweeted something about Evanescence, or when I wrote about seeing a Ween cover band. The fans love it when their band gets praise – and they’ll gladly give you views and positive feedback when you write about these bands.
This lesson goes beyond just music blogging mind you. In the case of aaronjedwards.com, my most read article of the last year happens to be about my experiences working Tuesday through Saturday. I published the article last August, but I originally wrote the article a few years prior. The original article was a comedic piece, and my girlfriend and editor recommended I not publish the article as my coworkers might not understand my comedic approach (and might take offense). Well – since I had no job in August to worry about, I decided to pull the trigger and publish the article. Still, a lot about me has changed in the two or three years since writing the article. I decided to retool the article into a pros and cons, advice type of article.
Long story short – the lesson I learned in transforming a comedic piece into an advice article – people are obviously more receptive to the latter. In turn, I have helped a lot of people with that article. Now, when I’m tempted to write a comedic piece, I question what other form the article might take. That isn’t to say comedy has no place – but if I want to get my point across, and if I really want my writing to be impactful, comedy might not be the best medium.
Structure can be your best friend, but also your worst enemy.
I could probably write an entire article on this point, and this point alone. In the last year I’ve lived and died by what I like to call “structured” articles. This specifically applies to audioperfect.com, but can apply to pretty much any writer’s repertoire. By structured articles, I mean a series of articles that have a predefined structured. Let’s look at the, Cover vs Original series, This series compares the original version of a song to various covers, and asks the question: Who did the song best? This series of articles is my go to series to write about when I have nothing else to write about, because there’s always a cover that inspires me. The cover vs original series really works well when I just don’t feel anything else.
At the same time, if I write too much on one series, my writing appears stale. Audioperfecta is not a website solely devoted to comparing cover songs vs original songs. I try not to publish two of the same series in consecutive weeks. While this means I must rely on other writings, it also makes my brain think outside of the box a bit. At the very least, not using the same series makes me think about using other series – maybe even start a new series.
When writing, no secret is safe!
I used to have a secret that I swore I would take with me to my grave. Ok, a couple people knew this, but this secret was never going to be common knowledge – and then I wrote about said secret. The secret in question is my love for Kelly Clarkson’s music. I’m a music snob, and I have a reputation to keep dang it! I’m also a music blogger, and this love for Kelly Clarkson worked really well in an article.
As writers, it’s important to realize that our secrets sometimes just make good stories – and as long as we’re not hurting anyone – it’s fine to swallow our pride and just write about that secret. The critics be darned, we have an obligation to compelling content. So go ahead and admit that you love that popular reality TV show. Chances are, you’ll gain a following. Chances are, you’ll see a few of your fans feel the same way. Besides, writing about your deepest, darkest secrets is a good way to break your writer’s block.
And that’s how you cure writer’s block!
I am at 1700 words right now. Pretty darned good for not knowing what I was going to write about. I probably could have written more – but the time to hit the print button looms closer and closer. Regardless, I hope my advice and my experience has helped you in your never ending battle against writer’s block. I hope you see this article as a beacon of light and inspiration.
Finally, I hope you write about your secrets. Seriously, I want to hear about your obsession with the Real Housewives of New Bedford. Did Brandy finally kick her cheating husband to the door? Did Stella finally tell Donna what a downright dirty person she is? Yeah – I really don’t know anything about that show, but that’s another reason for you to write about it! I can watch the show vicariously through you.