Writers block: web burnout?
December 6, 2004 1:25 PM   Subscribe

I used to consider myself a decent writer. It was one of those things that I did well. Over the last few years though I can hardly seem to link two cohesive sentences together. Those last few years also seem to coincide with my entrance into working on the web. Does anyone have any tips for learning how to write again?

I think that I just got burned out on writing. I was an English major in college. When I first started working on the web, I worked for a washed out online auction company, writing product descriptions. In my current position, I have to write a fair amount - new content, board member newsletters, emails to our members, etc... And I just can't seem to make it interesting. There is no reason that it can't be. I work in an industry I enjoy and I'm preforming well. But, when I go to write, I kind of just lock up until I finally spit out some boring crap.
Any ideas to help me overcome this and enjoy writing again?
posted by trbrts to Writing & Language (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Read some good writing. And take a vacation.
posted by ParisParamus at 1:37 PM on December 6, 2004

Every writer I know goes through an ebb and flow of writing confidence; and that emphatically includes me, since I posted more or less the same question last month

The best answer is to objectively recognize that your confidence is going to go up and down over the long haul. And, realizing that, just stick with it, gritting your teeth and remembering that at some point in the near future you'll start feeling good about what you're producing again.

You can also read the first few pages of something really shitty (like, say, Left Behind) to cheer yourself up by comparison.
posted by COBRA! at 1:40 PM on December 6, 2004

To take COBRA!'s suggestion a step further, one thing that helps me is editing some poor writing. It's usually easier to have something to work with than to start with a blank page (or computer screen). The process of revising and improving even a few paragraphs often helps me tackle a "from-scratch" assignment.
posted by handful of rain at 1:47 PM on December 6, 2004

The best thing I have found for writing is to write frequently. Having an outlet to have your writing consumed is even better, but may not always be appropriate or available. If you do write frequently, but in an uninteresting way, come up with an excuse to write something that interests you more in your free time, and maybe it will carry over into your day job.

Or maybe it won't. But then instead of obsessing over your boring newsletters, you'll be proud of the scathing movie reviews and silly beatnik poetry you do on your own!
posted by cmm at 1:53 PM on December 6, 2004

It sounds like you need to unplug, man!
posted by knave at 2:25 PM on December 6, 2004

Start a secret blog and use it to just churn stuff out. You may surprise yourself and come up with the gems you can use later on. The trick is to keep typing and not worry about quality until later. Everone has 1000 pages of trash they need to get through before they're any good - and those pages regenerate if they're not continuously attacked.
posted by Sparx at 3:32 PM on December 6, 2004

I second several of the suggestions here- but rather than 'secret blog', consider writing in a real pen and paper journal. Not that there's any difference, but you can get more excited about filling up real pages than cold, cruel cyberspace.

Also, subscribe to the New Yorker. The writing will rub off on you.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 3:52 PM on December 6, 2004

Another vote for unplug. Make sure that the TV and computer is off and go back to a pen and paper. The stuff you'll write will initially feel clunkier, but you'll maybe find later that it's better than it first feels. I think the fact that pen-writing is a more fluid activity allows you to quickly get back to a stronger writing style.
posted by seanyboy at 4:43 PM on December 6, 2004

Along the lines of exposing yourself to good writing (sounds like you've had enough bad writing)...type out a piece of writing that you really admire. It can be something that you wrote or something from a famous author, but make it something that's superbly written. Somehow actually typing or handwriting the words gets you into the rhythm of writing good stuff.
posted by equipoise at 5:11 PM on December 6, 2004

do not edit as you go, which is rather difficult, but worthwhile. if you're hung up on a given phraseology, leave it be and begin a new paragraph.
posted by Hat Maui at 6:42 PM on December 6, 2004

Suspend all judgment and JUST WRITE. I read a wonderful article many years ago in Writer. The author believed [and convinced me] that our greatest enemy, as writers, is self-criticism.
His cure? Simply write. He prescribed a set time, or number of words or pages with no editing whatsoever. He felt, and, again, I concur, that such an exercise opens up our creative gates. Later, you can go back and edit but to open the flow, you must JUST WRITE.
Hemingway said "there is no good writing, only good rewriting."
posted by lometogo at 6:55 PM on December 6, 2004

Write, pause, rewrite, pause, rewrite, continue until cooked.

Online writing is the death of good writing. Things are written quickly, proof read quickly, if at all, and posted without time to reflect. Buddha is probably right, using pen and paper is more likely to get you focused on writing well than a keyboard.

You might also read a book on writing to remind you of how to actually do it. Writing well is as much a learned skill as it is an art. Zissner's book "On Writing Well" is fantastic. (He would likely castigate me for all this passive tense among other weaknesses.)
posted by caddis at 8:57 PM on December 6, 2004

I thoroughly recommend Anne Lammot's "Bird By Bird." It's the best book on writing I've ever read.

Otherwise, reading reading reading helps helps helps. Just read everything. I carry a New Yorker wherever I go, plus books, plays, fiction, non-fiction. The more you fill your mind with great words the better you'll be at stringing words together again.

Also, maybe set a goal for yourself. Like if there's a contest you want to submit something to or anything on that order, it will help motivate you. Last year I was in a similar rut, and I decided to apply to grad school for playwriting. It forced me to write a 2-act play in just a month and I ended up getting into NYU, where I am now.

Plus, blogging is good too. Good luck!
posted by adrober at 9:24 PM on December 6, 2004

I paid for an undergrad degree in creative writing in part with a series of shitty tech jobs that involved spending a lot of time in front of a computer screen. The more time I spent looking at a monitor, the more my creative process deteriorated, and the more I wrote only to fulfill assignments rather than for the pleasure of writing.

It's hard (for me at least) to make the switch between working with computers and thinking creatively. If you work full-time, it's tough to have enough time to get things done in your personal life and have the time to relax out of the jumpy-brained non-creative thought process of your dayjob.

In my case, I quit telling myself I could balance tech jobs with creative work (& found a job that didn't deal with computers), but I also made an effort to start reading more & for long periods of time (not just on the bus to/from work), to start taking creative writing classes that really challenged me (getting into grad classes and more serious workshops, for one), and to be more conscientious about relaxing (eat a healthy dinner after a stressful day, don't check email or watch tv before starting on a creative project)..
posted by soviet sleepover at 7:05 PM on December 28, 2004

« Older US Customs Trouble   |   Thunderbird RC1 setup? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.