Weekly Writing Tips: Getting Over Writer's Block

The Weekly Writing Tips are a collection of best practices for writing and reporting at Global Voices. July's tips are brought to you by Brazil editor Taisa Sganzerla.

Queridos amigos (dear friends),

Welcome to the fourth and last installment of July's Weekly Writing Tips!

Today we'll cover an issue you might have experienced once (or, like me, a thousand times) in your life: writer's block.

A few months ago, journalist Pamela Drunkeman had this to say about the activity of writing in her column in the New York Times:

Three or four days before any deadline, I descend into a frenzy. I barely see my children. I stay up late panicking, eating cookies and vowing to change professions. My husband once asked: ‘Does it always have to be a herculean extravaganza? Can’t writing be a normal job, where you wake up, calmly do it and then go home?’

I relate so much with this. Sometimes, my partner will ask me, “How much time do you need to finish that up?” and I'm never sure on what to say — could be 30 minutes or three hours. Who knows?

It turns out that writing (and other activities that demand creativity) aren't like regular jobs. This can be frustrating at times since you feel like it's completely out of your control.

But there are a couple of small steps that you can do to regain control. This is how I do it:

1) Start with the first paragraph: If I don't have the first paragraph ready, I'm unable to move forward. Basically, because I don't know in which direction my text should go. So what I do is to concentrate absolutely on the first three or four sentences, even it means re-writing them 100 times when I still have another 600 words to go.

Some people have told me they're quite the opposite: They need to have the last paragraph ready to know where they want to get to in order to start writing. Find out if any of those work out for you!

2) Draft the skeleton of your story: Write short sentences summarizing the main points of your story: the facts and figures (or your main arguments, if it's an opinion piece) that you want to get across. Put them in order, considering relevance, how interesting they are and complementarity. Then, unravel those sentences into paragraphs. Adjust first and last sentences of each paragraph to make them ‘connect’ to one another.

3) Write like no one's watching! I struggle a lot with my own sense of judgement and self-criticism when writing original pieces. But I realized that none of this happens when I translate. When translating, I have a very specific method: I start by writing the translated text VERY roughly, as quickly as possible, without blinking or taking a second look. Then I take a break for 30 minutes before I go through it all very carefully, checking the original text and making the appropriate changes.

I found out that this is something that works out for original writing as well.

Basically, just write down everything that is on your mind without worrying about style or grammar or critical reception. Then you'll have something to work with, like a kind of raw material — even if in a first read it looks like something written by a fifth grader.

I realized that it's a lot easier to turn an OK text into a great text than trying to spit out something perfect from the start.

4) Write anywhere! I've been doing this a lot: Whenever an idea for a story crosses my mind, I just write them down on a list on Google Keep. If I'm on a bus or waiting at the airport, I just start drafting the main points of the story.

Trust your insights — don't dismiss them from the start, even if at first they sound stupid — but don't trust your memory! Write them down and you'll thank yourself later :-)

5) Test your theories: This is for opinion pieces: Before turning them into articles, share your theories and opinions with your friends. See if they're receptive or skeptical, take note of their main points of objection, and polish your arguments accordingly. Then, write it all down! Give it a few days rest and you might have an idea for an article!


So, this is the end! In my first WWT I tried to speak from a personal level and be as honest as possible with the issues I struggle most in my own profession. I hope you guys found my tips useful!

Thank you for reading! :-)

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