4 ways to overcome writer’s block

Posted on 8 March 2016 by Lucy Gregory

Philip Pullman on writing

This quote from Philip Pullman sums up writing perfectly. However experienced you are – and however much you love it – writing can be a torturous process.

And then, as if the pressure of a deadline, a technical subject and a critical boss weren’t enough, you’re struck by writer’s block.

Given the choice, most of us would crawl under our desk and wait for the document in question to disappear. Sadly, this isn’t an option.

So how can you overcome writer’s block in a busy work environment? Here are four practical techniques to get the ball rolling.

1) Plan your ideas

Most people struggle with a first draft because they’re trying to do two things at once: work out what they want to say and how they want to say it.

Instead, separate these processes. Plan your ideas first, then turn them into a draft. There are lots of different techniques to choose from including mind mapping, storyboarding and creating a skeleton. Choose whichever one works for you.

I tend to write a list of bullet points with headings and subheadings. I move them around until I’m happy with the overall structure of my document. Keeping the plan on one side of my computer screen, I start my draft in a second document, referring back to the plan as I go.

2) Answer three questions

1. What do I want to achieve?
Every business document serves a purpose. Unless you work out what that purpose is, your document will lack focus.

2. What are my main messages?
Your main messages are your headline points, the reason you’re writing. They’re your calls to action, your conclusions, your advice, your recommendations.

Many people start writing before they’ve really thought about the key points they want the reader to take away. The result is a waffly, meandering document, with the main messages scattered throughout. A diligent reader will pick them out with a highlighter, a less dedicated reader will give up.

So work out your main messages before you start your first draft, and use them to structure your writing. They should be clear, consistent and easy to find – preferably at the beginning of the document.

3. What information does my reader care about?
Writers tend towards arrogance, thinking the document is all about them. Wrong! The reader is always the most important person. Instead of focusing on what you want to say, focus on what your reader wants to know. It makes for a much more effective document.

3)Break your document down

Starting a large document can be particularly overwhelming. Once you’ve prepared a plan (see above), break the document down into manageable chunks.

Maybe tackle a couple of easier sections first to build your confidence. But don’t spend time finessing them. The priority at this stage is to get a full first draft on paper. If you’re stuck on a section move on and come back to it.

4) Get some distance

This tip is really about overcoming editor’s block.

When you’re heavily involved in a document, it can be hard to judge your own writing. Every paragraph seems logically constructed, every sentence beautifully crafted. But there will be flaws in need of fixing.

Put your document aside for a few days. Don’t look at it. Don’t talk about it. Work on other things. The aim is to get enough distance so when you look at it again, you can read it objectively.

If you really don’t have time for this, ask a colleague to review the document for you. You want someone who will give constructive criticism and whose views you respect. Otherwise the exercise is a waste of time.
So there you have it – four techniques for overcoming writer’s block. While they’re certainly not foolproof, they’ll help you towards a decent first draft. Good luck!