You were part way through whatever it was that you were writing. Blog, essay, newsletter, brochure. But now you’ve been staring at the computer for a good hour. You’ve written four sentences you hate, three that are unfinished, two that basically say the same thing, and one that you think might be the BEST thing you’ve ever written but is completely off-topic.
Hello, writer’s block, it’s sooo great to see you.
But don’t stress out, we’ve all been there. Even the greats experienced moments where writing a single sentence seemed like the feat of ages. They, too, feared the soulless blank page and felt the dread of failure creep into their minds.
So how do we rid ourselves of this nuisance? A lot of times it’s just plain old lack of inspiration, nothing we write feels good. But sometimes we can’t seem to write ONE DAMN SENTENCE without using the same words we’ve repeated over and over and over. And other times we struggle to write in the correct tone or voice, making our laid-back client sound like a peppy tween or our anticipated newsletter like an academic paper. Whatever it is, your personal book collection, or your public libraries, can help!
Jump-Starting Your Imagination
Reading expands our imagination because it stimulates the right-side of our brain. When we’re absorbed in a novel our mind’s eye is transported to another world and our brain function starts to increase. Reading a really good story can even impact our creativity and imagination for a few days. So, one of the best ways to relieve writer’s block is to take a break and read a novel. If you’ve got a few days to burn, this tactic is sure to deliver.
If you’re looking at a time crunch, maybe try the alternative method below. Just blow the dust off that old bookshelf and grab a few books. Or, hopefully you recently read the first blog in this trilogy and already got those cobwebs out. Better yet, your shelf was never dusty at all. Regardless, we’re going to end your writer’s block with help from the books on your shelf.
Quickly Cultivate Your Vocabulary
When you write about a specific topic, certain buzz words of the industry tend to get stuck in your head. And once they’re there, it’s hard to stop typing them. It’s like the verse of a song replaying over in your mind. You can google synonyms all you want, but more often than not your substituting in words that don’t mean quite what you’re trying to say. This is because you can't see the context in which these words should be used. Reading, on the other hand, teaches you words through context, not only increasing your mental dictionary, but also teaching you HOW to use new words.
The same can be said for sentence style and structure, or what we often call voice. Maybe you have trouble switching out of your academic mode to write more colloquially, or vise versa. Skimming the pages of a fantasy novel, cookbook, or even academic critique can help you find the words you want.
You’re probably thinking, I came here for a how-to, not to read an entire book to expand my vocab and sentence style.
Don’t worry, we’ve got you. Here’s the quick version:
Step 1: Think of your topic and the types of words you’re stuck on.
Step 2: Consider the audience you’re writing for, ie. VOICE you want to write in.
Step 3: Browse your shelf and look for a book that’s in the realm you’re searching.
Step 3.5: If your book has chapter titles, quickly skim them to find what’s going to be most
Step 4: Take 15-20 minutes to read and jot down any words or phrases that feel pertinent or jump out at you. It’s not necessarily about using those EXACT words as much as it’s finding the spark from them.
Having Tea: Recipes & Table Settings - By Tricia Foley, written by Catherine Calvert
Let me just say, if any book has influenced my vocabulary, pushed me to write with depth and emotion, it's this recipe book. No joke. This woman delivers vivid, sweeping sentences like no other. For me, it’s perfect for inspirational, photography, and environmental writing. When I read these pages I feel moved to write from within my soul.
Words I found inspiration in: ebb, gleam, sun-dappled, toppling, rolling, equipage, elaborate, reflecting, brimming, lush, restful interlude, delight, lavish, scorching
Influenced sentence example: San Francisco’s sweeping landscape of lush rolling hills drenched in a cool blanket of fog will stand as an unforgettable backdrop for your lifestyle photo shoot.
The Lonely Crowd - Written by David Riesman
Recently, I was stuck trying to think of words and phrases that described consumerism. I mean I must have typed consumer or consumerism twelve times. So I picked up The Lonely Crowd and went directly to Chapter VIII (I’m not going to bother with the chapter title because it's ridiculous unless you’ve read the book. But hey, if you’re into a detached look at the American Middle Class this book is for you).
Words I found inspiration from: obligation, social structure, conformist, tropism, American penchant, impose, mass-media, sincerity,naivety, pressures, indifference
Influenced sentence example: You hold the authority to disregard family persuasion tactics and conformist consumerism to build a non-traditional wedding void of forced obligations.
Let me be honest for a moment. When I did this exercise I failed to adhere to step 2 - to keep my audience in mind. Which resulted in a few sentences that were a very harsh critique of the modern wedding industry. I had to tone it down a bit after our client first read it. We were going for a light push towards non-traditional, not an all-out dismantling of weddings. So please, always keep your audience in mind when you select a book to help inspire.
The Hobbit - Written by J.R.R. Tolkien
Tolkien is so descriptive, whimsical, and transportive that I often look to him for help. Typically, it’s for words of light and dark or fun bumbling sort of sentences, but the other day I couldn’t think of a word better than bad for a business social media post and I thought I would pull my hair out.
Words I found inspiration from: immovably, eminent, furtive, nibbling, cringe, flummoxed, grievous, dire, wary, fleeting, confound, dubious, foreboding, smoldering
Influenced sentence example: You’re having quite a grievous day. Even the smallest of tasks feel like immovable walls before you.
A Future in Ruins: Unesco, World Heritage, And the Dream of Peace - Written by Lynn Meskell
This is a serious book. It’s not something I would pick up for a casual instagram post or a witty blog. I know when I choose this I’m hoping to draw inspiration for something like a museum, cover letter, an informational newsletter, etc.
Words I found inspiration from: expertise, examination, dissemination, mastery, mechanism, infrastructures, resources, pursuits, underpinnings, comprised, anomaly, influence, exertion
Influenced sentence example: While we know that current state of museums is fraught with uncertainty, we at the [institution] have dedicated ourselves and our resources to continuing the dissemination of knowledge.
We all need a little help now and again. So pick up a book and read. Read to help expand your imagination, to transport you to another world or time. Read to help diversify your sentence structure, tone, and vocabulary versatility. Read to help overcome your writer's block, to take advantage of the tools right beneath your nose.