How To Write An Article With Zero Inspiration (And Do It Quick)

No Inspiration Journal - Sticker Mule

Photo: Sticker Mule

So you have writer’s block, or you could be behind on your blog-posting schedule. Your creative well might’ve run dry, or you’re just not looking forward to writing yet another article about the property market.

Well fret not then, because you’ve come to the right place. I’ve spent most of my life writing articles I didn’t care much about, with tight deadlines to boot.

Doing that taught me a very valuable lesson, and that is you don’t need inspiration to actually do the work. Also, writer’s block doesn’t really exist.

Before we start

All right hold up, keep your pitchforks. I shouldn’t make light of your situation. Writer’s block is a serious thing after all. You might be trying to pump yourself up or adhere to a strict deadline, and nothing seems to stoke the flames of your writerly heart.

Well then I guess now’s a good time to bring up an important approach to this method—you’ll have to first alter your mindset.

We’ll be going through this with the intent of doing the work. It’s not about writing your next magnum opus, nor is it about moving your audience to tears. The goal here is to simply finish.

Keep that in mind every time you want to look up the perfect word from the thesaurus, or when you feel like ditching the entire draft altogether.

Startups like to call this putting out the minimal viable product (MVP). Simply put, an article of this nature isn’t going to have all the bells and whistles, but by golly you’re going to at least have something by the end of it.

Prepare your canvas

Now that we’ve got that established, it’s time to lay out your workspace. It can be a word processor, a notebook, or even on the back of a receipt. Just sit down with your medium and be with it. Think of yourself as a sprinter at the starting line, poised and ready to take off.

That means no scratching that sudden itch to rearrange your spice rack or to clean the house. No whipping your phone out either. Treat the blank page as if you’re having dinner with it. Treat it with respect, and it’ll respect you back.

Now, if you’re like most writers, your brain’s probably associated writing to pain, and this is where you’ll start to feel the most resistance in this entire practice.

Suddenly, everything else—yes, even chores—seem much more preferable to the task at hand. Resist, take a deep breath, and remember your purpose. To finish.

You don’t need to finish well, nor do you need to finish first. Use these expectations to calm your panicking brain. Once you feel ready, you can move on to the next step.

Hands writing in a book on a table

I prefer analogue mediums for their lack of distractions. Photo: Cathryn Lavery

More than words

Did I mention that you should’ve done your research by now? If you haven’t, then go ahead and do that. Don’t dive too deep in the beginning though. Just learn the gist of your topic then come back to the blank page. This is because you won’t know what you actually need until you begin writing.

Now, at the top of the page, instead of the title, write down your main point of the article. Mine was simply: how to bang out an article quick. You’ll notice that the title differs from what you’re actually reading now. That’s because changes will happen. We’ll get to that later.

Next, you’ll want to decide how your end result is going to look like. Is it a magazine article? A blog post? Do you have a lot of sidebars? Or is it just pure text?

Then, roughly label the main points of your article so that you know what goes where. It’s like art. First you draw the outlines, then you colour it in. Of course, you can always do things the other way round, but if you’re writing for speed, then nothing beats the outside-in method.

So if you take this post as an example, my labels were: who would benefit from this, prep work, the writing process itself, the editing phase, key points, final thoughts.

If this were a scene in a novel, it’d look something like: establish Brian’s janky room, show his poverty and addiction to drugs, his girlfriend goes out smelling of perfume which is weird because they can’t even afford food, Brian acts on his suspicions and stalks her.

Now that you’ve segregated the page into their respective sections, I want you to put down one sentence just so that the page stops being blank. I know you’ve already done so with your outline, but that’s not counted. Go on, mark your territory. Mine was: So you have writer’s block?

Did you do it? Good. You’ve now officially started.

Intermission

I know that some of you are going to be like: This just isn’t me. I can’t move on to the next sentence unless the previous one is exactly how I want it.

I get it. I’m like that too. But save your best performance for another time. What’s our purpose again? That’s right. To finish. Besides, it’s safe to assume that you won’t be putting out your best work if you’re not feeling inspired right now anyway.

And who’s to say your judgement is to be trusted? Are you an editor for a renowned publishing house? A bestselling agent? Arianna Huffington? No? Then why believe your mind when it tells you that your writing sucks?

Get over the perfectionism. I promise you that you’ll get better the more crap you put out. Now, are we ready to really write, at least for this page? Yes? Good.

Man playing violin on the street

Think of this less as a performance and more as practice. Photo: William Recinos

Here we go

Now, I want you to focus on one of the partitions you’d set earlier. Think about the point of this part and just free-write your way through it.

The section could be about music and writing, but if you find yourself veering off into mascaras and kittens, that’s okay too. As long as you keep going.

Just write as if someone with a gun told you that they’d shoot a leg if you stop for more than ten seconds.

Your job here is to make the page look as much as the final product as possible (remember MVP?). Just focus on the aesthetics, not the content. By the time you’re done, your section should look like it belongs in the article.

Don’t worry about being super accurate just yet. When I first drafted this article, I went off on a tangent about drawing, drugs, and Rubik’s cubes. You don’t see those sentences anywhere now, do you?

Trust yourself. Fight the instinct to beautify that last sentence. With any luck, the words will start to flow, and you’ll know it when this happens. Make sure to remember that feeling if it does. This is what it means to write without your internal editor.

Do this until your draft looks the part. If it’s supposed to be a thousand-word article, write until you get there. If it’s a blog post, format it in a way that resembles your usual style.

You want someone to look at your document—without reading—and think “That’s a blog article right there (or a chapter of a novel, or a newspaper story, what have you).”

Again, don’t sweat it if your words don’t tie in to the subject, because you’ll be working on exactly that right now.

Man looking through magnifying glass

Chill out. No one’s gonna scrutinise your work… yet. Photo: Marten Newhall

The actual work

If you’ve gotten this far, then you’re pretty much done. You see, your brain needs some coaxing before it fancies itself a writer, and having something that resembles the final product helps it do exactly that.

Staring at a page of words makes it easier to produce another page of words, even if you have to rewrite the entire thing. You can’t edit a blank page, I believe the saying goes.

Now you can turn on your internal editor. Here is where the real writing takes place.

Re-read the entire thing. Does it flow from one partition to the other? Is there any research you’ve yet to do? Did you actually find a better angle in one of your paragraphs? Take note of them and get to fixing.

An important thing to remember here is that you should never ditch your current project for another one. If you find that only one sentence works, rewrite the entire piece around it. Do not simply give up on your original idea.

Writing is problem solving, after all. Find it in you to see things through no matter how crappy you think the final result will be.

This is an important habit to cultivate, because it’ll help you through the many facets of writing, especially if you decide to write novels.

Many authors have a tendency to jump onto their next big idea in the middle of a manuscript, only to repeat the process and end up with five half-written manuscripts instead of a finished one that could actually pass off as an MVP.

So practise finishing your shit now when the word count is low. Your future self will thank you for it.

A bird in hand

…is worth more than a hundred uncompleted drafts, or something like that.

If all goes well, you’ll have an article decent enough to publish (after a couple more rounds of proofreading, of course), and you’ll have once more gained the upper hand over the dreaded writer’s block.

This is what got me through years of writing long articles on topics I didn’t care much about, and I sure do hope that helps you get over your humps as well.

Because let’s face it, it’s still possible to feel less than inspired when you get to write what you do want to anyway. But I bet you probably already knew that.

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31 thoughts on “How To Write An Article With Zero Inspiration (And Do It Quick)

    • Lol it’s all about the MVP. Put it out there, get feedback, reiterate (insert improvise, adapt, overcome meme here).

      Love that you love the MVP, as well as the fact that you dropped by!

  1. Nice job, Stuart. Another helpful article with some great tips. I like that you said, “writing is problem solving.” That’s a good way to look at it.

    I’m terribly guilty of giving up on writing projects. I have so many incomplete projects and drafts. You’ve inspired me to focus on finishing something!

    • I took this super important advice from Chuck Wendig, so yeah, finish your shit, no matter what it is. I’d argue that it’s more important to focus on finishing than on the quality of your project. Keep on keeping on!

    • Work is the only way indeed. I personally am wary about researching too much, because while it’s necessary, I’d actually prefer to vomit the draft before I decide what to research.

      I love your style of taking inspiration from research though. I might need to try that!

  2. I recently took a TV script writing course with Brent Forrester (The Office, Space Force) and he said much the same thing. We started by outlining our episode idea, then putting the scene concepts on index cards and working out the right order. Then, we wrote what he calls the “vomit draft” – just start at fade in and keep writing until you get to fade out. After that, you can do your editing/fixing. It’s such a great method of writing for any style. I love that you’ve used the same basic concept here – just write and get something on paper. It’s amazing how well it works!

    • Whoa, I actually thought I was using a pretty silly method of writing, but it’s super cool to know that people like Forrester (I love Space Force!) does it that way too.

      The course must’ve been so cool! Did you blog about it? Because I’d love to read about that. Thanks for visiting!

  3. This is another one of your posts that I am bookmarking! You’re right about how making that first little bit of progress, however small, can help spur you on to keep going. And you make a good point about making it look like a post or article or whatever it is you might be writing. Once you can conceive something clearly, it makes it easier to go on because you get more confidence.

    • To be honest I never really felt like writing that article, but once I drafted it to look like one, I went on and finished it, lol. So I’m glad that you feel the same about the aesthetics part of writing. Thanks for stopping by as usual, Hetty! Am here waiting for your next post :)

  4. This is also the approach that I prefer. First, I write the skeleton of my short story, and once that is done I start adding the meat to it and give it the life it needs. I had no idea it was called MVP, but it looks like it has another fan, haha.

    • Lol MVP is just a term I borrowed from the tech startup (or startups in general) world. Yeah, this structured way of approaching writing is a great way to get down to it when you don’t know what’s what yet.

      But sometimes you get those inspirational days and can just let the words fly, and that’s fun as hell too. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. It does seem to help to sort things into topics first rather than trying to just dive right in. The sprinter idea is a good way to think of it. Get the first draft done and then you can edit it. I’m guilty of hesitating because I want to get it right the first time, but I know that I need to let go of that. First drafts are messy. It’s just their nature.

    • I get that ‘this sentence needs to be good before I can move on’ feeling too, but sometimes it does us good to try projects we don’t really care about, just to know how it feels to throw caution into the wind.

      Here’s to embracing imperfection!

  6. Pingback: Weeknote: 15th November 2020 – Technovia

      • Ha – I think, judging by the evidence I see on your blog, that your talents extend beyond the words to the things that they represent. I can write ‘I can write’ but the concept behind those words is something much more than those three words alone.
        I think. :D

    • Who knew that simply sitting down and writing could be so painful? I’d actually liken that feeling to before I go on my runs in the morning, maybe worse.

      Thanks so much for your lovely comment!

  7. This is such a great article Stuart and I’m glad I got back here.

    Like you, I also believe writer’s block doesn’t exist. Because, all the times I challenged myself to write, words came crawling for sure.

    What I think is also important is having a schedule because when you do, it’s easier to think of present and even future content.

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