Blast through writer’s block with this seven-step technique

breakthrough278How do you vanquish writer’s block? Some say to just start writing, even if you later have to delete half of what you’ve written. Some say to begin with the middle and add the introduction and conclusion later. Some say to make a list.

We say: grab some paper and a pen, and step away from your computer for half an hour.

This technique will not only cure your writer’s block, it will make your writing clearer and more logical for your reader.

Working out what goes in

Making a list of what you want to write about isn’t a bad starting point, but it has its limitations. The main drawback is that whatever word you write down first determines the next word you write down, and so on.

And once you have your list, it’s very difficult to change its order. So the entire structure effectively becomes governed by whatever word happened to pop into your mind when you sat down to write.

The other disadvantage of list structures is that they do nothing to unlock what’s actually in your mind.

Your mind stores things not in lists but in ‘files’. Consider this: if asked to list 20 things you own, you’d probably have to think quite hard. But if you were asked to list everything in your home, you’d soon hit 20. Easiest of all would be: ‘Name each room in your house, then name five things in each room.’

The reason is that you are sorting the ‘home file’ in your brain into folders – one for each part of your home. Once you’ve done that, it’s much easier to access the information.

Stage one: brainstorming

This seven-step technique is split between two stages. First, brainstorming.

You can apply the filing cabinet technique to help you brainstorm ideas, by drawing a mind map. This is a graphical representation of everything you know about a subject. Click here to see a mind map for planning an away day, for example.

To create a mind map, take the following steps:

1. Note down the subject in the middle of the page.

2. Write the aspects of the subject around it.

3. Look at each aspect and think about what its folder should include. Draw a line for each new idea or piece of information and continue this process, radiating outwards.

4. Keep asking questions such as Why?, How?, What?, When?, Where? and Who? until you’re satisfied you’ve put down everything you know about the subject.

Stage two: creating a logical structure.

Now you have all the information you need at your fingertips. But you still need to sort through it a bit further before you’re ready to start writing.

Classify each item in your mind map as A, B or C, where A = essential to everybody, B = essential to some readers and C = not important.

5. Pick one of the As as your starting point, label it number 1, then number the remaining As in a logical order.

6. Do the same for the Bs.

7. Cross out the Cs.

Once you have done this, you’re ready to form your ideas into a structure that your reader will find logical and easy to follow. Use the As for your body text and the Bs for your boxouts, appendices, sidebars and graphics.

Ready, set, go.

This is just one of the techniques you can learn on our High-impact business writing course, which is available both in-company and as a public course.

The definitive guide to transforming the writing of individuals and teams