August 6, 2019

Professional Development

Four Steps to Overcoming Writer’s Block for Op-Eds

By: John Dale Grover

So you’ve got writer’s block. It happens to all of us as we get busy and sidetracked or have too much to say and aren’t sure where to start. Speaking for myself, I sometimes have trouble getting started and then, when I do begin, tend to go on too long.

In the world of op-ed writing, you have to be quick to catch the news cycle, and you must be concise to avoid rejection. Here are four tried and true tricks I’ve used to keep myself writing.

1. Limit Yourself To Only Two Points
Unless you are writing a listicle, op-eds that have too many points collapse under their own weight. You may want to hit a certain word limit in college, but in non-academic writing, you want every word to carry a punch and be worth it.

That’s why you should have two thesis points for your paper. Think about what you want to say and then drill down to only two things you want to get across. If it helps, make a list of points and then eliminate them until you get to the two most important. This will allow you to think through your piece and establish your roadmap, making it easier to get started.

2. Write in 400-Word Chunks
This is something I had to do to stick to op-ed—and not college paper—length pieces. Forcing yourself to write in two 400-chunks accomplishes three things.

First, if you are overwhelmed with starting, setting a 400-word goal is more manageable than writing a full op-ed. That’s why the two-point outline from before is a good start. A two-point outline is a very manageable goal from which you can proceed to write your first 400-word chunk.

Second, because you have your outline, you can write each 400-word chunk based off of each of your two points. This way you already know what you want to write, and because 400 words aren’t hard to do, at that point you might as well keep writing and finish!

Third, because the sweet spot for an op-ed is about 750 words, shooting for 800 gets you there. All you have to do afterward is cut down and refine your piece. Once the writing is done, the hard part is over.

3. Make Writing a Habit
It’s annoying, but it is also true. Practice makes perfect, and making a habit of writing will make your life easier. Set aside time every day to write, even if it is only making an outline at first or writing 400 words.

The catch here is practice, consistency, and volume. Even if some of your pieces day in and day out aren’t very good, that is okay. That point is not to become William F. Buckley, Jr. every time you set pen to paper. The point is to become an incrementally better version of you until the compounding interest of practice makes a noticeable improvement to you and others.

The more you write, the better you will become, and the more confident you will be in yourself. You’ll also start to worry less about getting started because writing will be automatic.

4. Use a Commitment Mechanism
Finally, if you really can’t seem to get started or keep a deadline, set yourself up for some (reasonable) financial pain to do the trick. Tell a trusted friend, loved one, or co-worker that you must have an outline or draft or op-ed pitched by x date. Be specific with what you are wagering and then tell them that if you fail to meet that deadline, then you owe them lunch, a drink, or a certain amount of money.

In fact, you could even increase a little over time what you promise to accomplish while also increasing the pay off should you fail. This commitment mechanism will help keep you accountable since the other person will want to win their bet, but you want to win too. Combining this with making a habit that is on your calendar is very effective.

Try these hacks out for yourself. You might be surprised at how well they work.

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