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Blink. Blink. Blink.

The cursor mocks me, awaiting my first keystrokes to poke tentatively onto the blank white expanse of the computer screen.

“Whatcha gonna write fella? Well? We’re burnin’ daylight here. Let’s see it!”

I’ve done the research, conducted the interviews – and I have no idea what to write. I hear the chuckle of my old j-school prof in my head: “Deadlines don’t wait for inspiration,” says he.

Fine. I’ve got writer’s block. Time to pull out an axe to split that sucker. Luckily, I’ve got a few choppers in the toolkit.

  1. Don’t sweat the lede.You can burn up a lot of time agonizing over that perfect first sentence (lede, in journalism jargon).
  2. Just start writing.It may be disjointed, it may be awful, but it’s a start. Once you’ve got some momentum, things often fall into place. Once you’ve got a draft, you’ll often find those first few paragraphs were just your brain getting warmed up. Chances are that fancy lede you were looking for is about paragraph four. Salvage any essential facts from grafs one through three and toss out the rest.
  3. Start with the awesome quote.You know it’s going to be in the story somewhere, so let’s start with that. What sentence would lead into it? What comes right after it? Build the story from the middle or build it in pieces and stitch it together. The story has to flow from beginning to end, but the writing process doesn’t have to.
  4. What’s the “nut graf?”That is, what’s the “nut” of the story? Imagine you have to sell it to a hard-nosed editor. You’ve got one brief sentence to make your case. Go.
  5. Write the headline.Imagine you’re done. What headline would you write for your story? This can help you focus – a good headline hooks your readers, gives them a reason to engage. Why should they stop and read?
  6. If you still find yourself staring at the blank screen, fingers poised frozen over the keyboard, get up. Walk around the building, look out the window, take some deep breaths. Sit down and try again.
  7. Talk it out.Find a colleague and tell them your story out loud. Be prepared to break off the conversation and trot back to your desk when things start to click into place in your head. Return the favour when your colleague needs it.

It may take one or more of these tools to vanquish writer’s block, but alone or in combination, they’ve always worked for me. What about you? How do you do break through?