By Yellow Duck Lisa Rubenson
The presentation. The web page. The speech, the pitch, the post. It doesn’t matter what the form. For some, the idea of having to write anything at all is as much fun as a root canal or being chased by zombies (pick your own worst nightmare).
Why is it so painful? Is it because the minute we sit in front of a blank computer screen, all our ideas get up and walk out the door? Yes, sometimes. Writer’s block can be debilitating and costly, and not just to one’s ego. It upsets the best-laid marketing plans for many who seek to grow or promote their businesses.
Writer’s block strikes indiscriminately. Some say they have it, because their brains are wired more for math, science or people skills than for the written word. Others suffer because they can’t shake the image of the red-pen-wielding English teacher who scarred them for life. Most writers would agree that work stops when perfectionism gets tangled up with self-criticism. I’d add to this mix of –isms, a tendency to feel overwhelmed with the amount of information you want to cover. So much to say, so little time.
We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to get it right the first time out, because the stakes are high. We want to present our business and ourselves in the best possible light. Writing something and sending it “out there,” is like getting a tattoo. Once the ink is dry or the print/send/upload button has been pushed, there’s no going back. Well, there is, but it’s painful and most people can still find evidence of what you wrote in the first place.
What to do? Some experts say, don’t overthink it. Just start typing until you get a decent sentence. Others say, don’t even think about writing without a solid outline. What happens when you try both of these tactics and still, nothing comes?
Before we go any further, let’s do a little visualization exercise. Picture yourself sitting next to your Muse – that imaginary person whose only job is to help you create. (Mine’s a cross between Glinda the Good Witch and Chelsea Handler.) Writer’s block is the bully who sits behind you and kicks your seats. What should you and your Muse do? Treat writer’s block like the mean-spirited middle schooler it is, of course – show it some kindness but, at the same time, assert yourselves. (This is where the Chelsea side comes in handy.)
Here are some of my favorite go-to tactics for breaking through writer’s block:
• Quit resisting it. Maybe writer’s block isn’t so much a bully, but a built-in project manager. Its job is to stand there with a clipboard and ask, “Do you need more information about your topic?” If the answer’s yes, then writer’s block wants you to go back out and research, regroup and brainstorm themes for your piece until you’re ready to write again.
• Revisit your goals. Are you trying to say too much? Narrow down your topic to one or two key points by asking yourself: “if I only had thirty seconds – or 140 characters – to pitch/tweet my entire message, what would I say?” Arm yourself with a prioritized list of bullet points that support these essential ideas, and – presto, change-o – you have a working outline.
• When in doubt, tell a story. Facts and figures may be fine in some circumstances, but don’t underestimate the power of narrative (case studies, testimonials, anecdotes) to illustrate your point. These might be a great way to start your piece; then, later on, you can get “back” to business.
• Embrace the cut and paste. Blessed be these commands that allow us to reorganize our thoughts on the page in seconds. Just like moving furniture around in a room before you settle on what looks best, try rearranging things until you have your high-order thoughts (themes that support your main message) on top of the page and low-order thoughts (subordinate points) down below.
• Tackle themes first, facts later. Once you’re satisfied with the order of things, you can always go back “out” to your original research or data and plug in the facts you need to support those sections.
• Live in the denial. Sometimes saying you have writer’s block makes it worse. Avoid thinking about yourself as a victim. Instead, stay in control of your writing process and use the “down time” to think more about what you want to say.
• Ditch labels. Don’t call yourself a procrastinator either. It’s the passive aggressive cousin of writer’s block, and it doesn’t need any more power. You need time to think, so build it into your writing process. Think about your project when you’re exercising, shopping, sitting in traffic. By the time you sit down to write, ideas will have been simmering all day.
Do these things, then put your hands on the keyboard and watch the words flow from your fingertips. Trust me, they will come (if they don’t, call us!). Writer’s block is no match for you and your Muse.
Lisa Rubenson is a freelance writer in Charlotte, with more than fifteen years experience in marketing communications. When she is not helping others craft messages, she writes fiction and creative non-fiction. Lisa is part of the Yellow Duck Marketing network and finds that the Duck Pond is the perfect place to write, ruminate or re-enact a scene from Rear Window.