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Britta Alexander: Overcoming Writer's Block

To succeed in advertising, we must convey our ideas in a vivid, imaginative and persuasive ways. Many of us need to write ad copy or presentations on a daily basis, almost always under deadline pressure. If you’re like me, sometimes you need to dig deep to find motivation and a smart voice.

After struggling with a particularly abusive bout of writer’s block, I asked Britta Alexander for advice. Britta, featured in one of my earlier posts, is the founder of Eat Media and moves fluidly between the roles of writer, content strategist and editor.

Here are her tips:

1.      Give yourself permission to write a sh*tty first draft. In fact, write SH*TTY FIRST DRAFT on the top of your document to let your internal editor know to back off because you’re just freewriting. (Full credit goes to Anne Lamott.) Sometimes you have to freewrite before the real message comes out, and you can’t do that if you are trying to edit yourself along the way.

2.      Do it for 10 minutes. Set a timer and make yourself sit in the chair and write for 10 minutes. If it’s a rough writing day, try 5. The theory is that just like working out, once you get started you’ll want to keep on going. Plan a reward to enjoy at your desk for when the time is up—chocolate, a glass of wine, whatever. Even lighting a candle can keep you company and signify that you are occupying this space at this given time.

3.      Come back to it later. Sometimes it’s just not a good writing day and after 5 or 15 minutes, you just have to say today’s not the day. Or now’s not the right time. Many writers work better during certain hours, like first thing in the morning or late at night. After lunch is usually the worst time. It helps to be in touch with your natural rhythms – the times of day you are most productive.

4.      When you can’t write, work. Props to Henry Miller for this one—today may not be a good writing day, but there’s still plenty of work to be done. If you are writing a novel, you can update your outline, fill out some character profiles, or do some good old-fashioned line editing.

5.      Work without interruption. No checking email during those allotted writing minutes! And don’t get sucked into web research when you are supposed to be writing. I’ve blown many a writing session on “research,” which was really just procrastination. Stay off the web and watch your productivity skyrocket.

6.      Change your perspective. Sometimes the best place to write is anywhere but your desk. (And sometimes you’ll get more out with pen and paper than the computer.) Most of my MFA program was done from bed. That’s the only thing Proust and I have in common.

7.      Cope with distraction. Usually we don’t have the luxury of posting a Do Not Disturb sign while we write. Between meetings and office visitors, there’s barely time to think. Take inspiration from stay-at-home mom Grace Paley, who wrote short stories while raising two young children. “Keep your hand in it,” she told our class at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She wrote on scraps of paper throughout the day, and credits all the hours at the playground for her first book of stories.

Follow Britta @brittaalexander

Disclaimer: I picked up most of this advice from these sources.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Henry Miller on Writing

Stephen King on Writing

Ernest Hemingway on Writing

How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton

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