How to beat writer's block
Someone once said that writing is easy. You just sit at your keyboard and wait â€“ till the beads of blood form on your forehead.
For anyone who has ever suffered from writer's block (and thatâ€™s all of us), this will be a familiar scenario.
It doesnâ€™t have to be that way though: you can beat writer's block. But first you need to realise what causes it.
Fight the fear
Usually itâ€™s down to two things: fear and lack of information.
You don't have to dislike a subject to fear writing about it. In fact, your document could be about something that you find fascinating and it might still cause you problems.
The trouble is that we worry that as soon as we put fingers to keyboard, reality will set in. Weâ€™re afraid that it wonâ€™t be perfect, that people may disagree with us or that weâ€™ll mess it up.
Well, hereâ€™s the first truth: all those fears might come true. And hereâ€™s the second: it doesnâ€™t matter. Yes, it doesnâ€™t matter if itâ€™s not perfect. In fact, nothing is ever perfect. The key is to realise that success is not perfection.
To misquote General George Patton, better to have an imperfect report today than a perfect one in six weeksâ€™ time. Because if you donâ€™t write it at all, it doesnâ€™t matter how much potential your document has.
And what could be more galling than avoiding writing a perfect document and losing out to someone who wrote an imperfect one?
Get what you need
If fear isnâ€™t the issue, then probably itâ€™s that you donâ€™t know what to write. In other words, you lack information.
So get it.
Perhaps you donâ€™t know what your reader expects. If so, then filling out a reader-profile questionnaire should help. (You can download one here.)
And if youâ€™re still not sure, why not ask your reader â€“ or someone who knows them better than you do â€“ some well-targeted questions?
Be sure to think the topic through first though, to show that youâ€™re not just being lazy. Brainstorm all that you know already â€“ with a mind map or some similar tool â€“ then put question marks against all topics that need a little more research.
Whatever it is you need to know, acknowledge that, then go and find out.
A few words of warning though: make sure you really do need to know it, and that youâ€™re not just being a perfectionist. Remember, success is not perfection.
Kick-start your writing
Finally, here are a few practical tips to get you going:
Plan first. Planning can be a great way to ease yourself into the writing itself. Besides, itâ€™s critical to separate the thinking from the writing, otherwise your document could end up a jumbled mess that makes sense only to you. Planning first does exactly that.
Pick a leading task. Sitting and stewing will only increase your stress and muddle your thinking. So pick something that you need to do before you can write â€“ such as launching your word-processing program or opening the folder that contains the information you need.
Then do that first. This will begin to put you in â€˜action modeâ€™, and make the writing itself easier.
Planning is a good leading task, incidentally (see above).
Set a time. Pick a time to start writing, and do your leading task just beforehand. As the time to write approaches, you should start to feel energised and able to get going.
Pick an introduction. There are four types of introduction, and picking one of these types gives you (and your reader) an instant â€˜inâ€™. For instance, the Historical intro type contrasts what used to happen last year/decade or whenever with whatâ€™s happening now, and creates a real sense of movement in your readerâ€™s mind.
Give yourself a time limit. If after all this, youâ€™re still paralysed with fear, then simply set yourself a time limit. Resolve to write for five minutes and only five minutes. This usually works where all other methods fail. After all, how bad can five minutes be?
What usually happens with the last technique is that you start writing more quickly as the time limit approaches â€“ which sets you up nicely for writing the rest of the document.
You need to be honest for this method to work though. So do allow yourself to stop after five minutes if youâ€™re really not happy. Then set a time to do another five minutes. You almost certainly wonâ€™t need many five minutes sessions before youâ€™re in full flow.