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Writing Hacks: Writer’s Block

Language is a technology. It’s a particularly strange one that’s made of squiggles and sounds and maps of meaning, but like any other technology, it’s hackable. So’s writing.

Have writer’s block? There are a lot of hacks to push past the blank page. Here’s one.

The most common approach to hacking writer’s block is by training yourself to separate the act of writing from the process of editing. The fastest way to do this is regular freewriting — the high intensity training of writing.

Here’s how it works:

  • Set a timer. 5 minutes a day is plenty.
  • Start with a prompt and write for the entire time. Here are 500 writing prompts.
  • During that time, keep the pen moving or the keyboard clicking.
  • Don’t worry about spelling or grammar or making sense or being interesting or being inappropriate.
  • Stop for nothing, even if all you’re writing is litreally “I don’t know what to write I’ll just write one fish two fish red fish blue fish .”
  • Write bad. Write ugly. Write ridiculous. Nobody will see this but you.
  • For more on freewriting, check out the amazing work of Natalie Goldberg.

Once you’re comfortable with free writing, take your next writing project and freewrite yourself a terrible first draft — from Writer’s Digest

As Ernest Hemingway famously said, “The first draft of anything is s***.” For years, I didn’t understand. When I started writing fiction seriously, I kept trying to get it right the first time.

It took me a long time to figure out Hemingway’s hidden meaning, and longer still to apply it. Over time, as I got rougher with my first drafts, my finished work got better and better.

LEARN TO LOVE ANARCHY

Ignore sequence while writing your first draft. Beginning writers will often say, “I’ve got the basic story figured out, but I don’t know how to present it so it hangs together. I’m never sure what should come next.”

Hemingway…meant that the first execution of your ideas must be as unfettered as possible. Which will result in—yes!—some crap: false starts, pretentiousness, clunky images and clichés. Fine. Get them out now. They’ll contaminate the good stuff only until you get around to your second draft.

What works for fiction writing works for anything: your latest school essay, your maker manifesto, or the mission statement for your startup.

Remember, there are two parts of writing. Writing, and re-writing. They’re both essential, but they work at cross purposes.

First write a crazy first draft. Then set your inner editor free.


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