Writer’s block afflicts all great writers.
Suddenly the words just won’t come out and you’re stuck sitting in front of your notebook or computer screen full of frustration.
There are plenty of great articles out there with general tips about how to beat writer’s block. Now think about writing not just in your first language, but your second (third or fourth).
What do you do then? How can you get the words to form in your non-native language?
The tricks for this type of writer’s block involve reorienting your brain to think outside the box of your mother tongue. Try these five steps to fight writer’s block in your second language:
1. Sing along to a song
Try listening to your favorite song in that elusive language and singing along by heart or by looking at the lyrics. Beyond the fact that singing (and dancing) are proven strategies to boost your mood, your brain will thank you too for a reminder that whatever language you are frustrated to write in can be fun!
According to Benny Lewis of Fluent in 3 Months, singing in another language has been shown to expand vocabulary, review slang and help with an accent when speaking.
Now, consider how it can help motivate your writing too.
2. Translate (and cook) a recipe
Kill two birds with one stone — hunger and writer’s block.
Try cooking a recipe written in your second language, maybe even one that stems from the culture. As you read and translate the recipe instructions, you will be forced to think and analyze your second language.
Grab your computer or dictionary to look up words you don’t know and keep it close as you continue with the writing process.
Next, as you eat that delicious meal, get yourself in the mood to produce the language in your writing.
3. Write a journal entry
Start with what you can definitely write about: your own day.
Begin with basic sentences that simply chronicle your day or the day before. No need to add fancy transitions. Just focus on getting the words down and crafting cohesive sentences.
If you’re still feeling stuck, start to elaborate on each activity with more and more detail. Test yourself with how much vocabulary and wordplay you can use to describe even the most boring activity.
You never know, your next journal entry could turn into a masterful personal essay of its own.
4. Brainstorm an outline
Now it’s time to focus on your writing task. Maybe it’s an academic paper, cover letter or a bigger project, like a novel.
Try first to break it down to a simple list and start generating that relevant vocabulary. This is a great opportunity to also use references from books, the internet or other sources to start you on the right path with phrases or terminology that is specific to whatever you want to write. Don’t forget to cite your sources!
Next, organize the list into an outline that can quickly transform into a fluid piece of writing. Then just like with your journal, begin to expand and elaborate on each to create cohesive paragraphs.
5. Convince yourself with confidence
The worst thing you can do is to deflate your own ability to speak your second language.
Writer’s block is natural and is not a reflection of your mastery of whatever language you are attempting to write in. Think instead about all of the years you have studied this language and things you have written in the past to get to this point.
You can do this! Pretend you are a native speaker and get the words down on paper. You can always spend some quality time editing later.
What are your strategies to beat writer’s block in a foreign language?