Congratulations! You landed a new freelance writing assignment, and you are looking forward to the day that paycheck hits your bank account. Only one problem. You still need to write the darn piece.
Whether you are new at freelance writing or a seasoned pro, it is common to feel the sudden paralysis that overcomes you the second you open up a new document and are staring at a blank screen. It’s even worse when the deadline is inching nearer, and you would rather do anything else than sit down to write.
You are not alone. In fact, I have battled this for many years and come up with useful strategies to overcome the blank screen syndrome and get your article done on time. You can use this approach for blogging, emailing, and basically any time you need to write something but the cat has your tongue.
1. Don’t Start at the Beginning
A lot of people get stuck at the beginning of the article or blog post and for good reason. Teachers and professionals have been shouting at us about how important the opening paragraph is. Make it appealing! Make it funny! Keep the reader reading! Talk about performance anxiety before you even get to your first header.
Unless a witty or smart opening has come to my mind before I sat down to write, I just skip it. Instead, I think about the headers I want to address in the article. For example, if the article is titled “5 Ways to Pay Off College Faster,” I will avoid the opening because I know I will just start with something cliché like, “College costs are so expensive.” Instead, I will list out my five points/ways to pay off college faster. Once the headings are down, I will then write the body of the article and might even move to the conclusion. It is not rare for me to have the whole article done and still be missing the intro.
The magical thing with this approach is that by the time you write the body and conclusion, you have already written 700-2,000 words. Your writing brain is no longer stuck in a rut, so it is usually easier to churn out a clever intro.
2. Forget Perfection; Just Write
Another hang up for writers is that they want to write everything perfectly the first time. That’s just not going to happen, especially if you are new to writing professionally. Stop wasting time by trying to pick the perfect words and just get something down. You have time to go back and change it and make it better. Give yourself permission to suck the first time. No one is going to see that first draft, unless you send it in (but please don’t do that).
3. 15-Minute Sprints
On the days when I am dragging and would rather deep clean the house than write, I set my phone’s timer for 15 minutes. I have found this to be the best window of time for me. It isn’t too long, allows me to get a huge chunk of work done, and motivates me to keep going after the timer rings.
I don’t just set the timer, however. Instead, I make a game out of it. I set a word goal and try to beat that before the time is up. If I am extra slow that day, I will work for 15 minutes and then reward myself with a show or Youtube video for seven minutes. I then just alternate back and forth until the work is done. This is definitely not the most productive use of your time, but it can be helpful to make progress on your work when your brain would rather do something else.
4. Another Beat the Clock Trick
If I have a lot of work to do and have a few hours of set aside to do it, I will open up a new document and schedule goals for myself in 15 minute increments. This usually looks like this:
- 10:00-10:15- 300 words for credit article
- 10:15-10:30-300 words for credit article
- 10:30-10:45-300 words for credit article
- 10:45-11:00- finish and edit
- 11:00-11:15- catch up time/break time
- 11:15-11:30-300 words for student loan article
- and so on
Every time I finish a small chunk of work, I check in with my schedule, cross it out, and either write how many minutes I am ahead of how many minutes I am behind. Some days I will complete the whole schedule 30 minutes behind, but the point is that I finished the schedule.
5. Write Every Day
Writer’s block isn’t a regular occurrence for me because I have trained myself to go every time I open up a blank document. The routine of writing every day, even if it isn’t paid work makes it a habit. It creates muscle memory. It is very similar to how runners train. If a runner, even a pro-athlete takes weeks off from running, that first run is going to be a rough one. Most runners I know will still walk or jog to keep their muscles warm if they are recovering from a race or hard work out.
You have to keep your writer muscles warm by forcing yourself to write every day. It doesn’t need to be award-winning, but you need to challenge yourself. This will help you get in the groove faster and put out more content each week.
6. Create Freelance Writing Triggers
Many of our actions are based on triggers. For example, many of us might eat at the same time each day due to the time on the clock rather than actual hunger. Create triggers in your writing routine to help train your brain to get down to business faster. I know some writers create a playlist that they only listen to when they are working. Others will only work in a certain spot of the house and not do any other activity in this spot – i.e. a chair and side table in your room or your office desk opposed to your bed. You could even make it a habit of writing 500 fun words first (like a fun blog post or a fictional story) before jumping into client work.
Creating a trigger might take a week or two, and you will have to train yourself. Don’t think this trigger will happen automatically if you aren’t consistent. For several months, Starbucks was my to-go place for productive writing. I had to sit in the same spot each time I went and order the same thing. This routine allowed me to get more done in a shorter time. Any time I had to sit in a different spot, such as the bar, my productivity for the day tanked.
Stop wasting money by staring at a blank screen. You are a talented writer, even if you can’t think of the right words right away. Whatever you are writing, don’t get overwhelmed by the sight of a blank screen. Just start now and perfect it later down the road.