Words on a Page Writings about writing

Answering questions to break through a block

A question mark

I don’t believe in writer’s block. But I do know there are times when you just can’t write. The words are in your head. But they don’t travel from your brain to your fingertips to keyboard to screen. You’re frozen.

When that happens, you get frustrated. That makes writing even more difficult. It’s easy to fall into a downward spiral of avoiding the keyboard so you don’t have to face that freeze and that frustration.

One way around that problem is to ask yourself some question. Not just ask, but alsoanswer them. Doing that can burn away the mental fog and get you back to writing.

Here are a few tips.

Come up with the right questions

The right questions will depend on what you’re writing at any given moment.

Think of this exercise as interviewing yourself. Probing. Cajoling. Trying to extract information from a reluctant subject. This time, that reluctant subject is you.

To come up with the right questions, you’ll need to understand what you’re writing about. You’ll also need to know something about your audience. That takes a bit of thought. Often, the best way to do that kind of thinking is with a pen and paper. Write down every question you can think of, then zoom in on the best ones.

Areas to focus on

Look at what you’re trying to accomplish with a piece of writing. Do you want to tell a tale? Do you want to instruct? Do you want to inform? Do you want to explain or clarify?

When you’ve narrowed down what you’re trying to accomplish, ask yourself how much information your readers will need. Are they knowledgeable about the subject? Do they want in-depth coverage? Or do they just want an overview?

Think about how what you’re writing will wind up in front of a reader’s eyeballs. Will it be online? Will it be in print? When you know that, you can tailor what you’re writing to the medium. If you’re article or story is going to appear online, link to background information. If it’s going to be printed on dead trees, think about using sidebars.

Some sample questions

These are the questions that I most frequently ask myself when I get stuck. It’s definitely not a comprehensive list. These questions are just a starting point. You can use these as a starting point, and then devise questions of your own.

  • Who am I writing for?
  • Why am I writing this?
  • What’s my angle?
  • What are the main points that I want to cover?
  • How am I going to structure this piece of writing?
  • How is what I’m writing different from anything else that’s been published on this subject?
  • What do readers want to know/need to know?
  • How much background knowledge can I assume readers have?
  • Who do I need to talk to in order to get additional information or quotes to back up my argument?

Answer the questions

You don’t need to write an essay to answer each question. But you should write more than one or two words.

As with coming up with the questions, I find the best way to answer them is grab a pen and paper (again!) and start writing. Remember the goal isn’t to deconstruct your writing process. The goal is to disperse the mental fog that’s preventing you from writing.

This technique can do it, but keep in mind it won’t work in every situation. Sometimes, you’ve just got to move on from something that refuses to be written.

But you’ll never know if the technique will work for you unless you try it.

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