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Actionable tips on beating writer’s block

Anna from Revue
Anna from Revue
Hi there,
Sometimes the deadline for this newsletter rolls around and… I just don’t have a topic idea in my back pocket that I can use for my next issue.
It can be a scary feeling — but it’s one that all newsletter writers struggle with. Below, I’ll outline some strategies for finding that elusive flow, and gather tips from people who have found creative ways to beat writer’s block. 
Overcoming the scaries
The best advice I can give to get past that “uh oh” moment is to take a breath and impose some structure. 
In a normal week, I’ll note down interesting things going on in the industry, or interesting conversations I have with colleagues and creators. That generally offers enough inspiration for my next newsletter, and I get to work. But sometimes I don’t manage to land on a topic and it goes right down to the wire.
There will be times when ideas just don’t come to you. For those times, create your own writer’s block checklist. Keep a note of the moments/places/people that have sparked inspiration in the past and go to those places when you need a newsletter topic. Here’s what mine looks like:
  • Email inbox: This is without a doubt the best place to find ideas. I go back through conversations I’ve had with readers where they’ve explicitly told me what they want to read about, or where they’ve told me about the newsletter they write. You lot are an inspiring bunch.
  • Groups and forums: I’m a big fan of Ernie Smith’s Newsletter Nerds group, and Josh Spector’s Newsletter Creators group — both on Facebook. A great way to gauge what’s a hot topic in the newsletter industry is to see what others in my line of work are talking about. 
  • Twitter: I follow lots of very smart creators on Twitter, and I need to keep on top of their concerns — which means scrolling my timeline and Tweeting out questions sometimes counts as work. 
  • Colleagues: I work with people who think about email all day, every day. I hear about things that are going well, and challenges they’re tackling, which can both be excellent sources of inspiration.
The one common factor here is community. As a creator, it’s fantastic to have a group of readers to engage with, but it’s equally important to find other people who do what you do to bounce ideas off. I can’t emphasize this enough: newsletters are about community.
You’re in good company
Great writers from the worlds of TV, literature, and, yes, newsletters, have shared their wisdom on overcoming the dreaded writer’s block. I’ve gathered a few tips that I’ve found most interesting and useful below.
Dan Harmon (Community, Rick and Morty)
In a 2016 Reddit AMA, Harmon shared some concrete advice that has saved me time and again. The jist of it is: if you’re worried that you can’t write anything good, just write something ‘bad’, then put your editor’s hat on, and tear it apart. 
I’d recommend reading his response in full (warning: there’s some coarse language in here, and it’s a big-old wall of text, but it’s worth it! If you’re reading on mobile the text in this screenshot will be tiny — find the link to this section here):
Editing your own work can be hard — and a great way to get past that is to pretend you’re not editing your work. Top tip for this: Leave at least a day between writing and editing. You need to come at it with fresh eyes. And I know you don’t need me to tell you this, but: that means it’s always better not to wait until the last minute to start writing. 
Kiese Laymon (Long Division)
Just this month, Laymon answered a few questions for Literary Hub — and the stand-out answer for me was his advice on describing your writer’s block to get through it:
“I try to describe the “block” and once it’s described I decide what I need to go through it. Then you have to turn around and describe the feeling of running through it. We’re writers. We don’t run through anything without describing what we ran through.”
I loved this because “writer’s block” can be such a vague phrase that covers all manner of things. Sure, the result is that you can’t write. But the causes can be myriad. Use this technique to map out your next steps. For example, try translating “I have writer’s block” into…
  • “I can’t think of an interesting topic” — time for a fact-finding mission.
  • “I have an interesting idea but I wrote about something similar recently” — try a different angle, use different examples. If it has value, your readers will be interested.
  • “I have an idea but it will take too much time to research” — if your deadline is too close, save this one for another week. It can be tempting to rush out a half-baked piece, but you won’t thank yourself later. Don’t worry, you’ll have writer’s block again.
  • “I think the quality of my writing is bad” — we all have those moments of second-guessing ourselves. This is a great opportunity to employ Dan Harmon’s advice from earlier in this newsletter and just write something, even if you think it’s not up to scratch, and go into editor mode.
Whatever the cause of your writer’s block, name it out loud — then get on to tackling it. 
Rivka Galchen (The New Yorker, Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch
Also speaking to Literary Hub, Galchen very much hits the mark when describing her cure for writer’s block:
I find reading to be a remedy for: anxiety, rage, boredom, writer’s block, even allergies. I do best when I’m spending many more hours reading than writing. I sometimes think of writing as just a very intense form of reading, it’s just that you have to generate the words that you’re going to then read. I like to read at night in bed, until that magic moment when I’m deceiving myself into thinking my eyes are still open, that I’m still reading, but really I’m just dreaming that I’m reading. In that way, I think sleep is another good way through writer’s block. Especially little naps.
You never know what will come to you when reading other things. Yes, even things that have nothing to do with the work you’re meant to be doing. Staring at a blank page doesn’t work — so try staring at a page with some words on it instead!
How to prevent writer’s block in the future
A few more quick tips to make your life easier:
  • During the week, get into the habit of jotting down ideas and topic areas that come up in conversation over the course of your day. They don’t have to be fully fleshed out — this is an input-gathering process that you can pare down later. 
  • Know when you work best, and schedule your creation time in those hours. For me, that’s early morning before the world (and my inbox) wakes up.
  • Focus, and turn off your wifi. You heard me. Once you’ve gathered your research and just need to get words on a page, you’ll be grateful for the lack of distractions. 
  • Move to a new spot in the house or the office. A change of scenery can work wonders.
  • Try a service like BuzzSumo — search for a keyword and see what people are saying about it. Great for sparking creativity.
Writer’s block happens to all creators at some point or another. But by breaking down the cause, and putting in some safety nets, you can make sure you’re equipped to deal with it next time it comes around. 
Maybe try out that Dan Harmon technique, or step away from the screen and open a book. I’d love to hear if any of these tips work for you — as always you can find me by replying to this email — but I’d love to hear from you on Twitter, too. Share your own process/top tip by replying in this thread and we’ll include the best ones in next week’s newsletter!
Now, onto the news in the newsletter world…
The week in newsletters
Lots of great stuff this week, starting with Not a Newsletter:
The June edition of Not a Newsletter is a great resource for post-Apple announcement questions
Mashable’s Jessica Coen heads to Morning Brew as content chief
Ken Doctor: Six months after launching a local news company, here’s what I’ve learned
The future of newsletters is still bright
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Have a great week,
Anna
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Anna from Revue
Anna from Revue @revue

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