I’ve found my Achilles heel. When faced with the task of writing about myself I suffer from a severe case of writer’s block. All my creativity disappears, I completely forget how to string a sentence together and question whether I am supposed to be a writer at all.
My Guardian blog posts about life as a journalist apprentice are the hardest things I’ve ever had to put together. And I’m not alone. I’ve come across more than a few journalists who are brave enough to admit they have a love/hate relationship with writing – particularly when it comes to writing about themselves.
One day the words will seem to write themselves, the next it feels like trying to wade knee deep through wet sand and the longer you leave writing that first sentence, the harder it gets. But I’ve struggled on and invented many ways to deal with it and (thank god) it has got easier every time.
The first thing to do is take the pressure away. It’s the same feeling of dread I get before going for a run. I get over it by telling myself I’m going to go really slow, just jog for a little while and before I know it I’m having the time of my life running full speed. So I do the same with writing: set a small goal of a paragraph or a few sentences.
Then I find it really useful to do something that relaxes and inspires me. I’ll dig out some really cheesy pop music that I loved when I was 15 or read a favourite writer’s recent column. For you it could be reading a few pages of a book or having a chat with a friend. Just do something that makes you feel something.
When I finally get down to work, I think about what the overall theme is going to be for the piece and spend some time making a list of the paragraphs, with one main point for each and making sure they all lead onto one another. Nothing is more daunting than a blank page so having a few bullet points down immediately makes the task more achievable.
Before I start writing I’ll cover up the clock on my laptop and set the alarm on my phone for an hour’s time. I don’t edit anything, worry about the word count or the content until the hour is up. The aim is to just get words on the page. The worst thing to do is to start of a piece of writing thinking; this is going to be brilliant, world changing, witty or hilarious. Just concentrate on writing the words; you can make it entertaining later on.
Another useful tip I picked up from an experienced freelance journalist, is to remember that you don’t have to start writing an article from the beginning. If you have a killer conclusion or particular paragraph already in mind, write that first and work around it. Another journo swears by going to the toilet first and comes up with some of their best ideas during those ‘private moments’.
If you find your mind wandering in the middle of writing, go back and re read the original pitch or brief. This should make you re-focus and that doesn’t work, take some time away and come back to it. If you’ve had enough writing for one day, finish up by printing out the copy, reading it and marking changes. Start the following morning by making the changes to the document as this will help prompt more ideas and you’ll quickly pick up where you left off.
Starting a blog is another great way to get over those uninspired days. Writing a few fun blog posts makes you realise it’s not so hard after all and when it comes to writing a real article it will be far easier.
The most important thing is: don’t ever tell yourself you’ve got writer’s block because you can’t write. Being able to write like a journalist isn’t all about talent – the people who do it well aren’t necessarily better than you – just more practised.
Finally, instead of getting stressed and overwhelmed, whenever I have to write something about myself, I’ll dig out some old work that I’m proud of, or read encouraging feedback I’ve had and my creativity, confidence and journalistic ability soon returns.