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By Jennigay Coetzer

Writers blockMost writers suffer from writer’s block at one time or another, but there are ways to overcome this. When I ask participants of the article writing workshops I run what their greatest challenges are with their writing, many of them say they always get stuck on the opening sentence.

When I first became a journalist in the early 1980s, we had to write our articles on typewriters. In the open plan editorial office you would regularly hear the “zzzzzip” sound of journalists, including me, pulling sheet after sheet of paper out of their typewriters to throw them in the bin and start all over again.

But I was fortunate to have a good editor, and with his help, and by pestering other more experienced writers, I picked up some good tips. One day my editor heard me sighing as I sat staring blankly at the keys of my typewriter. “What’s the matter Jennigay?” he said. I told him I was stuck, and he asked me, “What are you trying to say?” So I told him, and he said, “Well that’s your intro, isn’t it? So write it!”

The lesson I learnt here is that often when verbalising what one wants to say before writing it the words come out more naturally and conversationally. Writers often fall into the trap of getting so tied up with trying to be too clever with their written words instead of keeping it simple and getting to the point that they complicate things unnecessarily for themselves and for the reader.

Steven King put it very well in his book, On Writing, when he said people make the mistake of using smart words because they are too ashamed of their simple ones.

Another tip is not to get married to your opening sentence, but to start writing somewhere, even with the middle or end of the article. Think of your first sentence as a hook to hang your story on that can be rewritten, repositioned, or deleted at any time. This takes the pressure off, and sometimes when you get to the end of the article and read it through objectively you will find that you can do without the original first sentence all together.

Jennigay-whitecliffs-5Jennigay Coetzer is a freelance business and technology journalist with 25 years experience, and she writes regularly for Business Day. Email Jennigay at jennigay@icon.co.za for more information about her upcoming writing skills workshops or connect with her on LinkedIn. An ebook version of her book A Perfect Press Release – or Not?, a guide to writing press releases, can be downloaded free from her website: www.jennigay.co.za.


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