Writer’s block happens when you have been thinking about something you have to or want to write. You have even had sentences or whole paragraphs flowing in your mind. But when you try to start at the top of the page, suddenly you cannot remember anything. After a few minutes of struggle, you tell yourself you “are not in the mood” and you will do it later. This leads to procrastination, frustration, and a late rush to get the job done.
Here is a way to work with your mind so that you will rarely experience writer’s block, and you will get your writing task done faster with better results. Steps 2 and 3 will take about 5 minutes each. And Step 5 will take 5-7 minutes.
#1. Budget your time.
- Allow about 30% for preparation which includes answering some important questions and thinking through the answers.
- Allow about 30% for getting the first draft written.
- Allow the remaining 40% for polishing.
#2. Ask yourself what is my purpose, what outcome do I want?
- As a result of reading this, my readers will do… what? Put this question at the top of a page, put Do underneath on the left-hand side and jot down as many short answers as you think are relevant to what you want your readers to do. Do you want them to agree, understand, accept, approve, sign, recognize, return, and/or send something?
- On the same page, put Learn/Know underneath on the right-hand side. Jot down as many short answers as you think are relevant. What do they need to learn or know to do what you want them to do?
- Once you have done these steps, you will have a clearer picture of the outcome you want as a result of writing this document.
#3. Now focus on what you know or need to know about your readers/audience.
Almost every written document has a primary audience and a secondary audience.
- The primary audience is the person or persons who will actually read the document. Think about your content from their point of view. What do they already know? How do they probably feel about what you are asking them to learn and do? The key is WIIFM – What’s In It for Me? What are the benefits to your readers of doing what you want them to do?
- The secondary audience is anyone who will be affected by the outcome you want. They may or may not read the document, but you probably need to consider them. If your primary audience is a senior decision-maker, your secondary audience may be the people who will be involved in implementing the outcome. You should do the same thinking about them as described in 3.1.
#4. Gather the information you need to write the main body of your document.
You have already done the thinking (and making a few notes) about your purpose and audience. This step may involve checking the history of the issue between you and your audience, and perhaps some additional research. It’s tempting but don’t gather more information than you need.
#5. Create a Mind Map.
After the first four steps, you now have a lot of thoughts in your long-term memory. Your long-term memory has an infinite capacity and is a wonderful resource for you so long as you understand that it works on a reminder and re-creation process. That is, so long as you have the right reminder, you can re-create anything you have in your long-term memory.
However, your short-term memory has a very limited capacity and is easily overloaded. This short-term memory overload is a huge factor in writer’s block. When you start trying to get all the great ideas you have generated in your long-term memory into print, you get stuck.
The Mind Map technique is a very effective way of drawing out all your ideas and capturing them one at a time on one page.
- Use a blank piece of paper arranged landscape style.
- In the middle of the page, write your topic in 1-4 words.
- Draw a small oval around the words.
- Draw a short line from the oval and ask yourself, what is one thing I have to write about (one sub-topic)? Write 1-2 words to reflect that sub-topic.
- Ask yourself what is another thing I have to include (a 2nd sub-topic)? Draw another line from the oval and write 1-2 words to reflect that sub-topic.
- As you record one sub-topic, you will be reminded of another one and another one. Keep drawing lines from the oval and capturing each sub-topic as it comes to mind.
- Soon you will find you want to add more information to each sub-topic. Draw and write on additional short lines branching out from that sub-topic line.
- Look over your mind map and ask yourself, “Is there anything else I might include?” Don’t worry about including too much at this stage. Just aim to record everything from the thinking and information gathering you have done. You can decide later on what you will include and leave out.
You can find more information about Mind Maps at Power Up Your Brain with Mind Mapping.
#6. Draft quickly.
Now, having worked on the above 5 steps for 17-20 minutes, you probably need a break. Stand up, move around, and stretch. If you can go outside for a few minutes, do so. If you can work on something else for an hour or so, do that. If you can start the draft after a night’s sleep, that would be ideal.
Here is the best way to do your first draft.
- Block off time early in your day – arrange not to be interrupted.
- Turn off your email, internet, social media, and your phone.
- Review your notes on your purpose and your audience and have your Mind Map where you can see it easily.
- Start writing wherever you are most comfortable – the easiest sub-topic.
- Once started, you will “get in the mood” to keep writing. Don’t wait, just write.
- Write freely, don’t worry about the “best” word or sentence. Keep writing as you can polish it later.
- Calm your inner critic. Tell yourself you can do this and you can keep writing.
- Stay away from Google and any other temptation to look up more information.
- Aim to do the best you can with the time and energy you have now. Remember, “done is better than perfect.”
Now that you have your first draft done, you have conquered writer’s block. Give yourself a big cheer and a pat on the back.
Next month, I will talk about polishing that draft. I will include how to attract and hold your reader’s attention and make it so easy to read that your reader cannot possibly misunderstand.