“It’s easy to write. Just sit in front of your typewriter and bleed.” Ernest Hemingway
Ever get stuck? Of course you have, you’re a writer. It’s never always easy. Luckily, writers from Leo Tolstoy to Stephanie Meyer have been in the same position and enough suffering over the years has yielded a few techniques likely to get you thinking.
Curiosity is key.
How do you get to know about other people? You ask them lots of questions. Treat yourself and your ideas like strangers and you might find out something new.
Try these six types of questions next time you’re stuck.
Imagination allows us to explore that which is not present and that which might not be real. For most of us after childhood imagining (in a playful, non-obsessive way) is an actual effort. Expect it to feel like an uncomfortable stretch.
The “what if” question prompts us to think like a child and momentarily reconsider the world as a place of wonder.
- What if X didn’t exist?
- What if we did it this way?
- What if the standard changed?
- What if X did not lead to Y?
- What if the industry was more heavily influenced by…?
- What if we were able to improve the situation by…?
Don’t expect this technique to directly supply a topic. Use it as an idea generation tool to get you thinking differently about possibility, the future, and the necessity of cause and effect.
Thinking is hard. Or at least the critical thinking is—that purposeful, reasoned, goal-directed thinking used to solve problems and make inferences and decisions. Although our minds increasingly covet internet-packaged answers, the way to approach the raw material gathered is to
“take one fact, turn it this way and that, look at it in different lights, and feel for the meaning of it. You bring two facts together and see how they fit. What you are seeking now is the relationship, a synthesis where everything will come together in a neat combination, like a jig-saw puzzle.”
according to James Webb Young, in his “Technique for Producing Ideas,” in 1939. Synthesis is old hat for journalists and beat reporters who ask themselves these types of questions to provoke synthesis and generate valuable content:
- What do X,Y, & Z have in common?
- How are X,Y, & Z related?
- Is there a casual relationship between these elements?
- What rules govern the relationship between these elements?
- Is there an alternate way that these elements can work together?
When an event occurs that might not be worthy of a story in itself, extrapolative reasoning allows a writer to infer that beyond the event may lie a broader, more significant story.
Force yourself to think more abstractly, and in categories by asking questions along the lines of:
- What is this issue an example of?
- What could have caused this development?
- Is it possible that this cause is a common driving force and might create similar effects on other people and organizations?
- Do these disparate developments share a common location, common cause, or a common class of people?
Like a finish line at the end of a race, setting goals for each piece of content helps authors focus energy, plan, and create purpose-driven documents.
- What is this piece about and what is the central theme?
- Who is in my audience and what do they like or need?
- What is the objective of this piece of writing? Persuasion? Conversion? Education?
Don’t forget about yourself! Writers are prone to day-dreaming, scathing self-critique, hours of mindless cleaning and compulsive internet searching.
A good writer stays as conscious and as aware as a fighter pilot.
In addition to knowing when you work best and at what frequency you need to take breaks, check in with yourself and stay conscious during the writing process by asking these questions:
- Am I focusing on my goal?
- Is this a useful digression?
- Did I decide to do what I’m doing right now?
- Is this a technique that works for me?
- Am I judging myself or punishing myself (hint: it doesn’t help)
- What will it take to treat this snag like a problem that needs to be solved?
Welcome to the future. You’ve finally got your robot helpers. Asking yourself a few simple questions about how technology can help you can increase the speed and efficiency of your idea generation, writing, proofing and publishing process is incredibly helpful.
- Do I need to be more organized?
- Do I need better quality information?
- Do I need help proofreading?
- Do I need to communicate more efficiently with my editors and team?
- Do I need help focusing?
Whatever your stumbling block is, chances are there’s a tool out there to help you, and probably LifeHacker’s written about it, but the tool is only as good as your own diagnosis.
Folks, writing has always been hard. It’s never going to be easy, but it can be extremely rewarding to you and to your readers. Show up diligently everyday, don’t wait for the muse, and don’t bleed on your keyboard.