Losing Your Lexicon
by Kathy Callahan
Losing Your Lexicon
Kicking Writer’s Block can be Difficult, but the Tricks to Doing it are Simple
Kathy Callahan is a communications consultant working with the gaming industry. She can be reached at (702) 415-9806, or by e-mail at KBC17400@aol.com.
It has happened to all of us. You’re on a tight deadline, staring at a blank screen, and…nothing happens. What can you do to get your creative juices flowing? This isn’t just about creative writing, but any type of memo, letter or presentation—any time you need to put words on paper.
Here are 10 tips to help you overcome that dreaded writer’s block and get it done now.
Just do it
There’s no substitute for sitting at the keyboard and getting to work. If you procrastinate, or wait for the moon and stars to align to get started, you may never get there. So, invest some time at your desk, and put your mind to the task. Block out your schedule, so you’ll have some uninterrupted time to concentrate. This is a good time to close your door and turn off your e-mail to minimize distractions. I know the little tone and envelope announcing, “You’ve got mail,” is just the thing to get me off track when I’m looking for an excuse to lose focus.
Just do it—version 2
OK, so you’re at the keyboard. You’ve been staring at the screen for the last 10 minutes, and you’re getting progressively more frustrated. Here’s where it pays to get something—anything—on virtual paper or on the screen. Start jotting down thoughts, bullet points, phrases and random sentences as they come. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar or complete sentences. If you’re more graphically oriented, try sketching out your ideas on a large white board. You can do the polishing later, but at this point, the main thing is to get something from your brain onto paper or the monitor.
Just do it—version 2.1
Accept the fact that your first draft will not be your best. It never is—for even the best writers. Finish something. The main thing is that you have something on paper, and you can go back and fine-tune it. Careful wordsmithing as you go along is a sure-fire way to get bogged down on the first sentence.
Start before the beginning
Before you ever start to write, think of what you want to say, then put together a basic outline. Simple is good. A few bullet points that indicate a general flow are enough to get you going. For important pieces, first ask yourself about the strategy for writing it—i.e., what do you want to accomplish with this particular memo or piece of communication—then go from there.
Write from the middle
Maybe you don’t have a clever introduction completely worked out, or you’re not sure exactly how you’ll want to begin. So jump right into the middle—into the meat of the subject that you know best and where the words will flow more easily. Then go back and write the beginning.
Talk it out. There’s nothing like a good colleague or colleagues to brainstorm with or to bounce ideas off of. Talking through what you want to say gets the process started. If you don’t have anyone to talk to, pretend like you’re explaining something to your favorite aunt.
Take a break
This sounds directly contradictory to the previous points and may even seem counterproductive. But sometimes what you need to get going is to take a break. I wouldn’t go to this step first, but only resort to it after you’ve been at work for a while and come to an impasse. A graphic designer I know goes to a movie. If you don’t have a couple of hours for a movie, then take a walk or get a cup of coffee—anything to get up from your desk and have a change of scene. You can also take a break from the computer by trying your hand at pencil and paper. If you have the luxury of a lot of time, walk away from the project until the next day.
Taking a mental break can help you clear your mind, while your subconscious is still busily working away at the problem. You’ll come back able to refocus on the task and get back to the “just do it” mode.
Don’t beat yourself up
If you’re worried about your writing—that you don’t write well, you can’t say it “right,” you’ll never be able to finish by the deadline, etc.—you may be creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Try to think positively instead, or seek assistance. If you really do need additional help in an in-depth way, try a professional development seminar or workshop. Check with your local chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators or Public Relations Society of America. Even closer at hand, if you’re in the finance department, go to your property’s PR person and ask for assistance. Believe me, we’ll come to you when we’re working on a spreadsheet. We feel the same way about math that you do about writing.
Read good writing
While it’s not a short-term solution, it helps to read good writing, for example, in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times or other well-written pubs.
Build in a reward
Reward yourself when you reach a goal along the way. Maybe it’s a cup of coffee after half an hour of hard work, a good stretch or a piece of chocolate after a paragraph. These mini-breaks can keep you going.
In the end, don’t be discouraged by what historian and novelist Wallace Stegner said: “Hard writing makes easy reading.” Good writing takes time and energy, but it will pay off by communicating your message clearly to your reader.