Writer’s block on a deadline is one of the most stressful parts of freelance writing for me. I usually know exactly what I’m supposed to be writing about — that’s not the problem. But sometimes I just can’t figure out how to write anymore or where to start. This happened a few weeks ago when I was working on an article for a client, and I had to pull out my entire arsenal of tricks to battle writer’s block so that I could hand it in on time.
I’m sharing my favourite tips here in case they help others as well. These work for me as a freelance science writer, but can be applied to anyone doing non-fiction, technical or content writing that needs to be handed in on deadline.
How to find the story
- Outline the piece. I often don’t know where to start because I don’t yet have a good idea in my head about the story I need to tell. I’ll know the topic, angle and the word limit, but not how the piece is going to flow from beginning to middle to end. That’s where outlining helps me. My favourite method is to just list parts of the story as bullet points in a Google Doc and place them in an order that makes sense. If that still doesn’t work, I move on to my next few tricks.
- Use pieces of paper. Instead of creating a list of bullet points, I use pieces of paper to write down all the things that I know need to be in the story, and shift them around to create the outline. There’s something about physically touching and moving pieces of paper that helps me make sense of the story. If I get stuck here because I don’t seem to have everything I need, I move on to the next steps.
- Listen to the interviews again (or look at transcripts) to find quotes from interviewees that I definitely want to include. These will go directly in the outline, and usually it immediately opens up part of the story, because I need to think about how to introduce these quotes and how to continue the story after that.
- Go back to the research and note what I absolutely need to include in the story. What is the key piece of information? What is new and exciting or different? What are people likely going to want more details about? All those things also go directly in the outline (or on pieces of paper) so that I’ll make sure to include them in…