Communication skills

Six ways to overcome writer’s block without thinking too hard

- September 19, 2023 4 MIN READ
writer's block concept. A woman pen in hand lying facedown on top of a notepad.

 

Writer’s block is a myth. There, I said it. Yes, you will have days where you can’t think of anything to write about. Sure, the words won’t come as naturally as they used to. But it’s not like an evil imp has cast a spell of “blankus pagius” on us, or anything, explains Tom Valcanis.

If anything, writer’s block should be renamed the “information deficit” or the “confidence gap”.

You have to write what you know. What if you don’t know anything?

(Well, I’m sure you know lots of things, you clever people, you!)

What I mean is, what if you just don’t have the confidence to pin down a topic, do your research, and then start writing?

It happens all the time. For fiction writers, they have to come up with something first. Or do they?

As business communicators, do we have to do the same?

Here are six ways to overcome “writer’s block”  writers who have been there before

  1. “It’s ‘Dear Doris and Bertie’ at the start and then I take that off at the end.” – Warren Buffett

Okay, that doesn’t sound like advice for stuck writers. Doris and Bertie are Warren Buffett’s sisters, investors in his firm Berkshire Hathaway. What he’s talking about is his annual investors’ newsletter. He writes his letter as if he was personally addressing it to his sisters – not hedge fund wizards like Warren – so he can better explain complex topics in simple terms. Sophisticated investors may want to know the F-Scores and book-to-market ratios of his wise stock picks but jargon alienates mum and dad or newbie investors. By appealing to non-experts, he can reach more people with his message.

  1. “The key to good style, far more than obeying any list of commandments, is to have a clear conception of the make-believe world in which you are pretending to communicate.” – Steven Pinker

Writing is kind of like arguing against your arch-villains in the shower. You always win, everyone claps, and you get a big novelty cheque at the end. There are readers of your emails, blogs, and reports, but that is a fiction in your head. You can’t stand over their shoulder as they read, that would be weird. Typing a text into a phone resembles a two-way conversation, but it really isn’t. It’s a conceptual space. Once you have a grasp of that, your writing will tailor itself to its audience.

  1. “Write one paragraph as badly as possible.” – Joel Saltzman

Writer and humourist Joel Saltzman’s brilliant If You Can Talk, You Can Write implores students of his to write a paragraph as badly as possible as homework. He says just because something is “writing” it has to come across a certain way. Nope. Writing is just talking on paper. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking writing must be “serious” because it’s “forever.” I mean, your receipt for that Big Mac you bought in 2007 was written down, how serious was that supposed to be?

  1. “Be clear.” – William Strunk and E.B. White

“Since writing is communication, clarity can only be a virtue,” they write in their classic style manual, The Elements of Style. If you read back a sentence and can barely understand it, no one else will either. Start again as if you were explaining it to a five-year-old. And just like Groucho, get a five-year-old to read it, too.

  1. “Lower your standards at the beginning of the process.” – Roy Peter Clark

Back in the day, if you messed up a sheet of paper with bad prose, you’d have to rip it away from the pad and throw it in the bin. Today, we have a new form of torture: instant editing thanks to word processors. How many times have you tried to write a sentence and murdered it with your backspace key? Even if you think your writing sucks (I do three million times a day, because I’m a professional) just keep going with it. To quote another great writer, Ernest Hemingway, “the first draft of anything is shit.” Stick with it, don’t expect to strike gold the first time you break earth, and rewrite again and again if you have to.

  1. “The idea is to be brief until you find a reason not to be.” – Bruce Ross-Larson

Complicated ideas need to be explained in complicated terms. Do they? I don’t think so. Just like Warren’s advice, you don’t have to over-explain yourself if you don’t have to. “I want a payrise.” Well, okay then. Let’s talk about it. Do you need to talk your way into it over email? Perhaps your attempt will raise your boss’ hackles and have you talk your way out of it. “Your emails are too long to read, and time is money,” your boss will say. See, you should have read this blog post before I even wrote it!

With all this in mind, you can overcome any block in your process; that extends to emails and Tweets (Exes? X-posts? Elons?) anything and everything you can write down.

Above all – be kind to yourself!


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  • Andrew Caska

    Caska IP Patent Attorneys

    'Flying Solo opened up so many doors for us - I honestly don't know where I'd be without it"