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Overcoming Writer’s Block

Everyone faces writer's block from time to time. Sometimes we have trouble coming up with the right ideas or the right wording, and sometimes we just plain don't know where to start. Here are seven tips for helping people in your organization to overcome writer's block.

Overcoming Writer's Block
Brainstorm. If you're having trouble formulating your ideas, discuss them with a colleague.

Analyze your purpose. What are you trying to achieve? What key messages must you not fail to communicate? Organize around these key messages. I once had a colleague who wrote all his topic sentences first. Once he'd done that, he went back and filled in the details. It always worked. An outline could have the same effect.

Think about your audience. Maybe you're nervous because you're writing your first-ever memo to the CEO. Don't be. He's just like you and me - he wants information he can use, in a form that's easy to figure out. Try to ascertain what it is he really needs to know and give it to him.

Just write, regardless of quality. Sometimes the words just don't come, and sometimes we spend way too long trying to get down that first sentence. To cure that, just write anything. It's much easier to revise than it is to write, and you can come back to it later.

Write a different section first. Many people find introductions especially difficult. Write another paragraph first. Or simply say why you're writing and give some hint at your principle of organization.

Talk directly to your reader. Use simple and straightforward language. I once had a client who had gotten hopelessly tied up in the words of an important letter. When she read it to me, I finally stopped her and asked what she was really trying to say. When she said it, it made perfect sense, and I told her to use what she had just told me.

Take a break. If time permits, go for a walk, go out for a cup of decaf, don't consciously think about the writing task at hand. Give your mind a rest. If all else fails, type up your notes or something related to your assignment. In doing so, you will often come up with new ideas or see associations that hadn't been clear before.

All the best,
P.S. Remember: a selection of my past newsletters is available online at http://www.holton.cc/archive.html.