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Writing tips

  • Editing, Proofreading, Writing tips

    How to edit and proofread at the same time

    Hands typing on laptop keyboard.

    How to edit and proofread at the same time

    This is an unusual proposal if you know anything about publishing.

    But I’m going to show you how to get your document or project ready to go in one efficient process.

    I’ll  share some editorial shortcuts with you that I’ve learned from my 14 years as a professional editor.

    With this process, you’ll find and correct typos, grammar and punctuation errors, and you’ll identify inconsistencies and anything else that’s not right.

    What's the difference between editing and proofreading?

    Before we start, let’s look at the difference between editing and proofreading.

    Editing is often called copyediting, and it’s done after the writer has finished the writing. It requires a deep and meaningful look at the content, and includes checking sentence structure, grammar and punctuation. Depending on the type of edit, it may also include a copyright check, fact check and marking up any design errors.

    Proofreading is completed after the edit. It is the last stage of the editorial process and requires a comprehensive and thorough reading of the edited content. No small details should be left out. Proofing also includes checking any headings, page numbers, URLs, captions and, most importantly, signing off the project.

    Getting started – the essential checklist

    The checklist is our most important tool and it’s best to create it manually – especially if you’re editing onscreen.

    A notepad and pen is all you’ll need. 

    What you’re going to do is write a list of things you’ll need to remember as you edit, as well as those things you’ll come back and resolve after the edit.

    The reason you’re writing things up in the checklist to resolve later, is that sometimes an issue you spot during the first read resolves itself later in the text.

    Divide the task in two

    Next step is to divide the process in two. 

    The first stage is the edit (the first read), and the second is working through the checklist (the second read).

    There’s one important thing to remember. 

    You can’t do a good job in the second read, unless you create a very good checklist during your edit (first read).

    So take time in your edit to note down anything that isn’t consistent or that lacks clarity.

    Girl at desk on laptop next to lamp.

    The tools you need

    Other tools are needed if you’re to conduct a quality edit.

    Have your dictionary on a short cut on your desktop, and make sure it’s one that uses local spellings.

    In Australia we use UK spellings and the reference used by publishing professionals is the Macquarie Dictionary.

    Synonym finders such as Related Words  and Thesaurus.com can also be found online and it’s a good idea to have a short cut to one of those as well. 

    When a word is overused, copy it into a good synonym finder, locate a word that means the same thing and substitute it to avoid repetition.

    LOCATE THE HOUSE EDITORIAL STYLE GUIDE OR USE OURS

    Find out if there’s an editorial style guide that applies to what you’re writing.

    A style guide can range from a few pages to 25 or more pages in length.

    If you’re writing for a company ask them if they have a style guide.

    It will contain the preferred spellings and expressions they use. This is especially important for things like lists and capitalisation.

    I always read through a client’s style guide before commencing an edit, and then refer back to it throughout the process. Every company has its editorial idiosyncrasies, and it’s best to know these upfront.

    Often the client will ask you to use a commercial style guide such as the Chicago Manual of Style or, if you’re in Australia, the Government Style Manual. This is great because it gives you a reference point.

    If you don’t have access to a style guide, download the Textshop Editorial Style Guide from our homepage and use that.

    Time to begin the edit – the first read

    It’s always a good idea to keep your level of interference in check when you’re editing somebody else’s writing.

    Take care not to change the meaning of anything the writer has written and, if in doubt, add a comment or question for the writer rather than arbitrarily change something.

    Work through the edit systematically and add any issues, such as those mentioned below, to your checklist.

    It’s better to include more items in your checklist, than have a query in your second read of the document that wasn’t noted in your checklist during your first read.

    Two hands holding a magnifying glass over a piece of paper.

    As you work through the document write all the abbreviations and acronyms used by the writer in your checklist.

    EXAMPLE – Notice of Meeting (NOM), Annual General Meeting (AGM), Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), Australian Taxation Office (ATO)

    Write down any words that are used in unique or unusual ways.

    EXAMPLE – World Health Organization (WHO) – note I’m adding this because we’re retaining the US spelling. (Usually we’d change it to ‘organisation’.) Other examples might be unusual names such as Browne (Brown) and Marc (Mark), and any expressions used that differ from house style.

    Capitalisation is not always straightforward.

    Organisations may differ in their preferences for what is upper case and what is lower case.

    EXAMPLE – Universities often upper case ‘U’ when writing ‘University’ and medical colleges generally upper case ‘C’ in College.

    Write these types of idiosyncrasies down in your checklist as you edit.

    If you come across anything troubling that you can’t resolve without further research note it in your checklist, but also highlight it on your screen or draw a circle around it in pencil in your document.

    Remember, the answer to your query may reveal itself as you work through your edit. If not, you have it noted to come back to in your second read.

    In any edit, you’re looking for more than typos.

    You’re reading for idea or word repetition, lack of clarity, poorly structured sentences, and grammar and punctuation errors.

    Here are some of the things you need to check for and correct as you edit.

    US spelling in Australian writing

    EXAMPLE – organization, color, licence and journaling.

    Change these to organisation, colour, license (verb, or licence – noun) and journalling.

    Girl sitting in chair reading book.

    Using the same words over and over

    Spot the problem here:

    We couldn’t wait to visit the markets in Tuscany, where we hoped to find fresh ripe tomatoes and fresh ripe peaches.

    Let’s fix it by consulting our synonym finder.

    We couldn’t wait to visit the markets in Tuscany, where we hoped to find fresh ripe tomatoes and juicy peaches.

    Inconsistency of terms

    Yesterday the newspaper reported there were six new cases of coronavirus, which meant COVID-19 wasn’t under control and covid restrictions had to be extended. 

    Did you spot the problem?

    COVID-19 was written in three different ways. For clarity, we’d use one term for the virus all the way through the piece of writing.

    Spell words in the same way every time.

    EXAMPLE – I co-ordinated the teamwork on Tuesday, so Annabelle could take a break from coordinating.

    Abbreviations and acronyms

    For abbreviations and acronyms we spell them out in the first instance and then use the shortened form from that point on.

    EXAMPLE – the Australian Tax Office (ATO) is busy doing tax returns this time of year, so when I phoned the ATO they placed me in a queue.

    In longer documents this practice can get messy and that’s why we note it in our checklist.

    Don’t forget the punctuation

    As you edit, check for misplaced commas, semi-colons and sentences that are too long.

    Don’t just check the words.

    Are the headings correctly sized?

    Are the spaces between paragraphs even?

    Do all tables, photos and illustrations have captions?

    Are the page numbers consecutive?

    Do all the links work?

    Red jar with three pencils in it.

    The second read

    After you’ve edited the document, you should have a comprehensive checklist of items to take into your second read.

    To complete the process, you’re going to work through the content again, but this time with your checklist.

    For an optimal result your edited text should be in Word or PDF format.

    In the second read you must do the checklist work manually.

    NEVER use ‘Change all’.

    Seriously, no matter how short on time you are, don’t use the function on your keyboard that supposedly corrects every example of the error.

    It will quite possibly insert multiple errors into your document because it will misinterpret closely aligned words.

    To check abbreviations and acronyms, work through the items one at a time using the ‘Search’ function on your computer. It should be in the top right-hand corner of your screen.

    Let’s say you’re checking that the Australian Taxation Office is spelled out in the first instance and the acronym (ATO) is used in every instance after that.

    You’ll search throughout the document for ‘Australian Taxation Office’ and change all the long form usages to ‘ATO’ – except for the first instance, of course.

    If you want to ensure ‘Browne’ is spelled correctly, you’ll search for the incorrect spelling – Brown.

    Drawing of man writing a checklist.

    To standardise capitalisation throughout the document, you’ll need to check every instance manually, unless you have a search function that will isolate upper case and lower case searches.

    For example, if you’re checking that ‘University’ is upper case all the way through, type in ‘university’ and check every instance.

    This might sound tedious, but you pick up speed and get through it quickly.

    Use the search function to check for double spaces by hitting your space bar twice in the search bar.

    Check commas are correctly spaced by hitting your space bar once followed by a comma. 

    Do the same to check for spaces before full stops.

    You’ll find a vast array of things you can check using the search function, and the more you use it, the faster and more efficient you’ll be.

    A well-edited document

    After checking and resolving every item on the checklist you should now have a well-edited document.

    My checklist method enables the editor to see the document with fresh eyes and to focus on the small, important details.

    When a proofreader works through a document reading it from beginning to end, just like the editor before them, they’re more likely to miss errors.

    This process is the best way I know to conduct a comprehensive edit.

    It incorporates the important elements of a proofread, but adds features that allow you to itemise and resolve queries, and it utilises the Word program to search for errors and inconsistencies.

    If you’d like to chat about your editing needs, please send me an email via the button below.

    By
  • Common errors, Editing, Writing

    Which or that: how to choose

    Overhead view of two cute kittens looking up at camera.

    Which or that: how to choose

    Do you get frustrated trying to work out whether to use which or that? 

    A lot of people find it confusing, so you’re not alone. 

    Let’s look at it here with examples.

    Which and that can both function as relative pronouns – don’t lose interest because I used a grammatical term.

    Bear with me and I’ll show you the difference between these two words.

    But first, let’s break it down and look at what a clause is and what a sentence is.

     

    There are four types of clauses – but there are two things they all have in common.

    They all contain a subject and a verb.

    A subject is the person or thing being described or doing the action.

    A verb is a ‘doing word’ that expresses the physical action, a state of being or a mental action.

     

     

    A sentence is a group of words that has a complete meaning within itself.

    It typically contains a subject and a predicate

    (the part of the sentence that contains the verb saying something about the subject),

    and it conveys a statement, command, exclamation or exclamation.

    A sentence contains a main clause and one or more subordinate clauses.

     

    Bold brown fabric section divider.

    There are two scenarios to consider

    When it comes to making a decision about which or that, there are two scenarios to consider.

    You need to work out whether the relative pronoun – which or that – is introducing a non-essential relative clause or an essential clause.

    1. WHAT MAKES IT ESSENTIAL (THAT)?

    An essential relative clause is one that is essential to the meaning of the sentence.

    If we take the essential relative clause out the sentence it will be affected.

    In fact, the sentence won’t make sense or be complete without it.

    For example – The passenger boarded the bus that was filled with tourists and suitcases.

    In the sentence above ‘that’ is introducing the essential relative clause.

    It contains essential information about the noun that precedes it.

    So if we remove ‘that was filled with tourists and suitcases’,  the sentence won’t be complete or make sense.

    This is how we know to use ‘that’ and not ‘which’ – the information after ‘that’ is essential to the meaning of the sentence.

    ‘That’ is an important indicator of an essential clause because it introduces important details to the sentence.

    The computer that Jack left at the sports shop turned up at his house today.

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    2. WHAT MAKES IT NON-ESSENTIAL (WHICH)?

    Now let’s look at non-essential relative clauses and the role of ‘which’.

    Non-essential relative clauses contain added information that can be left out without affecting the meaning of the sentence because it’s considered decorative and non-defining.

    For example – I noticed the garden was full of pastel-coloured roses, which were perfumed and lovely.

    If we leave out ‘which were perfumed and lovely’, the sentence still makes sense. It might not contain as much information, but it still functions as a sentence. 

    Sometimes the non-essential clause is in the middle of a sentence, not at the end of it.

    For example – I went to see A Star is Born, which starred Lady Gaga, and I thought it was great.

    In this sentence ‘which starred Lady Gaga’ is the non-essential relative clause.

    It can easily be left out of the sentence without affecting the completeness or the meaning.

    Sure it leaves out some interesting information – but it still functions as a sentence.

    This is how we know it is a non-essential relative clause and we should use ‘which’ not ‘that’.

    There is one vital detail that must be considered when using ‘which’ for non-essential clauses in sentences.

    A comma should always precede ‘which’ unless it is preceded by a preposition (in, to, on, after, for, with, under etc). 

    For example – The church, which was being rebuilt, was not open for visitors.

    Note:  it is also okay to use spaced en dashes instead of commas.

    For example – The church – which was being rebuilt – was not open for visitors.

     A sentence with a non-essential clause with have either two commas framing it or one comma and a full stop.

    Today I walked to the market, which was five blocks from my apartment.

    Today I walked to the market, which was five blocks from my apartment, to buy some mangos.

    Bold brown fabric section divider.

    Which or that? Some tips to help you decide

    If you are trying to work out whether to use which or that, try inserting a comma before ‘which’ and if it doesn’t make sense you know to use ‘that’ instead.

    The Prime Minister was in a meeting, which required the attendance of the Minister for Health. (Incorrect)

    The Prime Minister was in a meeting that required the attendance of the Minister for Health. (Correct)

    Inserting a comma above before ‘which’ shows us that we’re using the wrong word, but if you substitute which for that the sentence doesn’t require the comma and is more meaningful.

    Illustration of man and woman discussing which or that

    Remember, if you insert a comma before ‘which’  does the sentence still make sense?

    If it doesn’t, it means you should replace ‘which’ with ‘that’.

    For example – The shop that sells fresh flowers is always preferable to one which sells chocolates. (Incorrect)

    For example – The shop that sells fresh flowers is always preferable to one that sells chocolates. (Correct)

    Bold handpainted banner1

    Using which or that incorrectly can change the entire meaning of a sentence

    The Australian Government Style Manual provides the following examples to demonstrate how using which or that incorrectly can change the intended meaning of a sentence.

    The research findings that were likely to cause embarrassment were never circulated.

    The sentence above makes it clear that the research findings not circulated were the ones likely to cause embarrassment.

    The research findings which were likely to cause embarrassment were never circulated.

    The sentence above is ambiguous – were all the findings withheld or just the embarrassing ones?

    The research findings, which were likely to cause embarrassment, were never circulated.

    It’s obvious that none of the recommendations were circulated.

    In the first example, the use of ‘that’ makes it a defining or essential relative clause – so it provides defining, essential information that defines the subject.

    The second example is ambiguous and you shouldn’t write sentences like this.

    The third example, with the pair of commas framing the clause, is a non-essential relative clause.

    The information inside the commas is decorative and not essential to the main point.

    Bold brown fabric section divider.

    Deciding whether to use which or that should be clearer now.

    It’s like the two cups of coffee in this photo. They appear to be the same, but there are subtle differences that could get you into trouble.

    If you drink your coffee out of the cup on the right, you might be bargaining for more than you can manage.

    Overhead shot of two cups of coffee demonstrating which or that.

    A little note from me

    If you’d like to chat to me about writing or editing, including optimising your content for Google, please reach out to me via the button below.

  • Travel writing, Writing tips

    Travel writing tips from an editor

    A couple walking on the beach in the Bahamas in their swimsuits for the blog post travel writing tips from a professional editor.
    A couple walking on the beach in the Bahamas in their swimsuits for the blog post travel writing tips from a professional editor.

    Travel writing tips from an editor

    Being paid to travel and write about it sounds like a dream job, but good travel writing is a unique genre that involves uncommon skills. 

    You need to be a compelling storyteller who can share a sense of humanity with your reader. 

    Readers are looking for content they can trust, written by somebody with a depth of experience about the place they’re visiting.

    They want a writer who can expertly evaluate the environment and provide authentic advice about questions they may not have thought of.

    New York Times contributor and seasoned travel writer Tim Neville explained it like this:

    ” You need facts, and lots of really captivating ones, but the best travel writing also includes some subtle statement about who we are as humans and how to make the most of the precious time we have on this great big earth.”

     

    Why is this place worth visiting?

    What happens when you do visit?

    Is something at stake?

    Is there conflict?

    Is there some dialogue with locals you can incorporate? 

    Drawing of woman asking questions and wagging her finger - travel writing tips

    The story doesn’t need to revolve around an earth-shattering event.

    It could be a simple adventure, such as finding a historic library amid the cobblestone laneways of Rome, but the writer must take the reader on the journey.

    And, as Neville reminds us, “By the end, I want to be left with a subtle nod to something bigger than just travel.”

    Travel writing should also reflect changes occurring in the travel industry – both from the perspective of the destination and that of the traveller.

    There’s little point attempting to write authoritatively about a travel destination if you haven’t talked to the locals and done research at ground level. There’s even less point if you haven’t researched the demographic you’re writing for, or identified your niche readership. 

    Mont Saint-Michel, in the South of France, is visited by more than 2.5 million tourists annually. 

    How do you explore this magnificent place without being trampled by other tourists?

    How do you find its secrets to share with your readers?

    The answer is an overnight stay. 

    Book early and you can reserve a room in one of the small hotels or B&Bs.

    It’s an unforgettable experience, and only a handful of other visitors will be joining you.

    Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy, France
    Stay overnight at Mont Saint-Michel, get up early and you might have it all to yourself.

    Consider Venice where the authorities will soon be charging day visitors a new tax in an effort to reduce the number of tourists descending on the fragile city for short trips.

    But look more deeply and you’ll find a local group, Venezia Autentica, which is coaxing tourists away from the crowded piazzas and offering tours and experiences with local guides and artisans.

    They offer tourists authentic cultural experiences that support the local community and ‘positively impact the city’.

    The takeaway here is to dig deeper, peel away the tourism industry veneer and look for meaningful experiences and hidden treasures to write about.

    Many travellers are yearning for more authentic travel experiences, and a lot of locals in tourist destinations want visitors to have genuine interactions with the local community.

    Pont Chiodo is the only bridge left in Venice without a parapet (handrails).

    Once upon a time none of Venice’s bridges had parapets, but this little treasure is all that’s left.

    Although, there is one other – a mysterious bridge on the island of Torcello in the Venetian lagoon, known as Devil’s Bridge or Pont del Diavolo.

    It has a tragic folktale attached to it, which you can check out via the link.

    Don’t overlook these gems in the back streets and focus on the joy travellers feel when they find them.

    Pont Chiodo is the only bridge left in Venice without a parapet (handrails).
    The only bridge left in Venice without a parapet is Pont Chiodo, which is privately owned.

    Another example of locals taking action is in the Cinque Terre, where a UNESCO-sponsored youth program is helping to restore the decaying terraces and stonewalls that for centuries enabled the vertical farming of lemons, apples and vineyards along the rugged coastline.

    If you research the Cinque Terre online, you’ll find multiple references to the desperate measures being considered to restrict tourism – again because of overcrowding.

    So what do you do as a travel writer? You consider the jewels strewn among the back streets. You search for more authentic travel experiences to share with your readers.

    In Florence, write about the Laurentian Library, which was designed by Michelangelo, instead of the pleasure found marvelling at David in the Accademia Gallery – after long hours in the queue outside.

    In Venice, consider writing about the Jewish Ghetto in Carneggrio (the first ghetto in Europe), instead of more famous and hectic sites of interest such as the Rialto Bridge or Doge’s Palace. 

    The Architectural Digest describes Michelangelo’s Laurentian Library in Florence as “a revolutionary, and rarely crowded, masterpiece”.

    Designed by Michelangelo and constructed in the 1500s, it is considered to be the beginning of Mannerism.

    From the freestanding black marble staircase to the pew-like rows of reading benches, it is an astounding achievement.

    Less than a kilometre from Michelangelo’s David, the Laurentian Library is relatively unknown to tourists.

    View of Manarola- Travel writing tips from an edito
    You can hike to other Cinque Terre villages from Manarola in one to two hours.

    The word ‘ghetto’ is derived from the Jewish Ghetto in Venice, which was instituted in 1516. Known as ‘Campo del Ghetto’ it has an ancient and difficult history marked by tragedy and persecution.

    While the ghetto is of tremendous historical significance, along with its five synagogues and world-class museum, visiting tourists are often completely unaware of the existence of this important place.

    In Milan, write about the Botanical Garden of Brera, where Mozart once roamed, instead of sending readers to get trampled in the crowd at Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

    Or, instead of urging readers to join the never-ending queue at the Milan Cathedral, encourage them to pop around the corner and climb the 250 steps up the staircase to its roof. It’s almost half the price of the elevator and twice the fun.

    Walking on the cathedral rooftop with more than 3400 marble spires, statues and gargoyles will literally blow their socks off.

    Pauline Frommer says it perfectly: “Travel writing is not about travelling well, but about writing well.”

    Go on a treasure hunt and find the Botanical Garden of Brera hidden away in the centre of Milan. You’ll find it through a small gate at the end of an unassuming street.

    Created by Maria Theresa of Austria in 1774, the garden contains two gingko biloba trees that were planted in 1786. (Ginkos are the world’s oldest living trees dating back 250 million years.)

    The garden was also used by apothecaries and doctors to study botany and, according to legend, Mozart once walked around this secret little garden.

    Botanical Garden of Brera in Milan-Travel writing tips
    The Botanical Garden of Brera is one of Milan's secrets.

    Think laterally and dig deeper to avoid the overcrowded main attractions.

    Instead of waiting in line for hours to see the interior of the Milan Cathedral send your readers off on an adventure.

    Show them how to climb the staircase up to the roof. It took 600 years to build the magnificent Duomo di Milano and the workmanship on the roof is worth the climb.

    In an interview with the BBC, the inimitable Paul Theroux spoke about the importance of travelling and writing, and he summed it up with this quintessential quote:

    Travel in an uncertain world … has never seemed to me more essential, of greater importance or more enlightening.

    13 travel writing tips from an editor

    1.

    Write in first person and past tense.

    2.

    Identify your reading audience and pitch specifically to them. When you’ve defined your niche stay with it.

    3.

    Plot out your travel story, and have a clear narrative that links the beginning to the end. It should never read like an itinerary, or a series of unconnected facts or thoughts.

    4.

    Don’t tarry about getting to where you are in the world, and where your story is set. Your reader will want to know if your story is relevant to them before investing too much time reading.

    5.

    Avoid travel clichés. Be imaginative and make up your own quirky turns of phrase.

    6.

    Use emotion. How did the trip affect you or change your worldview?

    7.

    Detail is crucial – remember what you leave out is as important as what you include.

    8.

    Don’t use words like ‘superb’, ‘stunning’, beautiful’ or ‘breathtaking’. Use a synonym finder and find interesting more imaginative substitutes.

    9.

    Show, don’t tell. This rule applies to any type of writing, but more so in travel writing. Don’t tell your readers what to think. A good idea is to imagine you’re describing things to a blind person.

    10.

    Practise using all your senses when you’re taking notes at your travel destination – smell, taste, sound, touch and sight. This will help you describe things better in your writing.

    11.

    Include meaningful quotes and anecdotes from locals. This will add colour and context to your story. Take care to quote exactly and spell names accurately – and don’t run off without jotting down their contact details.

    12.

    Always check your facts. This is very important. Verify things people tell you and follow up your own observations. Only use reputable websites for research and double check on a second reputable site.

    13.

    Invest in a good camera and learn some basic photography skills. It’s much easier to pitch a travel story when you have great images to go with it. Remember, if you photograph people ask them to sign model releases; otherwise, the photo won’t be accepted for publication. You can find sample model releases here.

    Would you like to know more about writing and editing?

    When I write blog posts like this I’m grateful for my years of experience as an editor and writer.

    Working in a publishing house taught me how to massage content to fit on a page. 

    Writing and editing to an exact word count is a skill that isn’t easily learnt either. I learnt that as a newspaper subeditor.

    If you have any questions about creating content, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I’d love to hear from you.

    Travel writing tips copy
  • Writing

    7 tips to overcome writer’s block

    Woman standing on beach at edge of water holding sarong above her head in relaxed carefree mode.

    7 tips to overcome writer’s block

    Most of us are not as lucky as Nobel Prize laureate William Faulkner, who said he only wrote when he was inspired – which happened to be at 9 am every morning.

    Writer’s block can be problematic to workflow and may undermine self-confidence. It can also lead to more serious health issues when frustration turns into self-doubt, stress and anxiety. 

    So what can you do to overcome writer’s block? 

    Here are seven research-based ways to get you moving again.

    1. Do some mindless work

    Have you ever noticed that a great creative idea comes to you when you’re doing something mundane like taking a shower or washing the floor?  

    More than a decade ago researchers Kimberly Elsbach and Andrew Hargadon, from the University of California, proposed that creativity could be enhanced by episodes of ‘mindless work’.

    They pointed to studies by Alice Isen that demonstrated there were improved problem-solving and unusual word association among workers with demanding jobs when they incorporated mindless tasks into their daily workflows. These included photocopying, cleaning and unpacking supplies. 

    This evidence is suggesting that going offline will help get your brain working in innovative ways. Do something simple and easy. Put space between yourself and the task at hand. Pull some weeds out of the garden, prune the hedge, go for a walk, or do a simple cleaning or tidying task. 

    Note, though, that mindless work doesn’t include reading your Facebook newsfeed, or any other online activity that substitutes cognitive tasks with visual distractions.

    Indian fabric section divider

    2. Write to yourself

    In his 50s author Graham Greene encountered writer’s block for the first time.

    He discovered that keeping a dream journal provided an avenue for expression that freed him from conscious anxiety.

    Free writing, stream of consciousness writing and brainstorming are all exercises that enable us to write to ourselves without fear of judgement from others.

    This can free up obstructions and impediments, and clear the way for fearless creativity.

    Self doubt and lack of confidence can drive creativity to ground, so developing ways to protect yourself when you need support can help keep you on task when you don’t want to deal with criticism. And let’s face it we all have times when naysayers can really affect our confidence.

    3. Get granular

    Forget the big picture for the time being.

    Drill down to the details and focus on one issue at a time. Write a list of all the things you should have done this week, even if they’re not work-related, and work through them crossing off each item as it’s completed.  

    Purchase a personal planner, or organiser, and map out your entire day or week. Buy planner stickers and use them to mark up important events in your planner.  

    Get structured and organised. Don’t worry if it’s not your usual style, try it anyway. Inserting order into your daily timetable, even if it’s a temporary fix, can help minimise any chaos that might be crippling your creativity. 

    That feeling you get when you complete something that’s been hanging around for ages might be the kickstart you’ve been waiting for. 

    Indian fabric section divider

    4. Ask yourself questions and set a deadline

    Write questions to yourself.

    Who is my audience?

    What do l need to deliver?

    Does my interpretation correlate with what my manager wants?   

    Asking the right questions will help clarify the project and identify any red herrings. Examine your answers and ask more questions if necessary.

    If discrepancies arise between your questions and answers, consider how to resolve them and collaborate with colleagues if necessary. 

    If you don’t have a deadline, set one for yourself. Don’t set yourself up for failure though.

    Put realistic pressure on yourself to give ‘you’ a little push. For example, make an appointment for the day following your deadline so there are real-life consequences if you don’t meet it. 

    5. Redesign the task

    Does your thinking start with a conclusion? Indian philosopher J. Krishnamurti said that ‘to think from a conclusion is not to think at all’.

    He explained that it was ‘because the mind starts from a conclusion, from a belief, from experience, from knowledge, that it gets caught in routine, in the net of habit.’

    Does this sound like you? If it does, discard your conclusion and redesign the task.

    Skip the beginning and start at the end. Work backwards. Tip your ideas upside down and dive into the creative process anew.

    Work through your process to arrive at the conclusion – don’t allow your thinking to become routine and habitual. 

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    6. Take care of your brain

    When the brain’s frontal lobe, or Broca’s area, is damaged, it can result in aphasia. This is an impairment of the mind’s language capacity that hinders speech.

    When writer’s block affects writers, it results in an inability to write down the words they want – to make connections and create stories. 

    For several years, neurologists have produced studies demonstrating that the prefrontal cortex is crucial to creative thinking.

    More recently, a series of clinical observations has emerged that demonstrates the ‘facilitation of artistic production in patients with neurodegenerative diseases affecting the FTD [prefrontal cortex]’, such as frontotemporal dementia.  

    This fascinating paradox is being examined further, but what we can take away from the research is that brain health is complex and essential to cognitive reasoning. 

    Good diet is one important way to keep your brain healthy and functioning optimally.   

    Dr Jenny Brockis wrote in Better Brain Health, that while it’s beneficial to eat particular foods for brain health, it is the combination of different foods, or the diet in general, that matters most.  

    So look at a Mediterranean-style diet, as well as the components of it – such as leafy greens, vegetables, fish, olive oil, whole grains, nuts and healthy fats.

    Put them all together in a consistent way and make eating for brain health a regular part of your life, not a novelty or fad. 

    7. Creativity needs sleep

    Keeping your brain healthy is also dependant on getting enough sleep.  

    Years ago, a report in Springer’s nature journal concluded that sleep played a major role in the development of insight.

    By consolidating recent memories it is possible, the authors concluded, that the ‘representational structure’ of memories is changed during sleep and this process allows ‘insight’ to develop.  

    We also know from many tests over a long period of time that divergent thinking, a cognitive method used to generate multiple ideas about a topic and explore lots of different solutions, diminishes when people are sleep-deprived.

    Most of us know, too, that vivid insights can be experienced when people are sleeping or just waking. 

    According to the US National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, sleep deficiency can have detrimental effects on our bodies and our brains. It is linked to increased heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke’.  

    The bad news doesn’t stop there. Not getting enough sleep is also linked to human error and serious accidents.

    That’s because sleep helps the brain to function properly, and a lack of it can make it difficult to make decisions, solve problems, control emotions and minimise risk-taking behaviour. 

    How much sleep do you need? Experts say it varies across individuals, but six hours is generally to little and eight hours is usually adequate.

    This is not to say that some people won’t need 10 hours sleep a night to function optimally. 

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    Is it more than writer's block?

     Sometimes a prolonged inability to be creative can be a sign that something else is wrong.

    It’s important to differentiate between, for example, depression and writer’s block.

    If you think there may be more to it than a temporary lapse of focus and motivation, you should seek expert medical advice.

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