Writer’s block is a lie…
Yep, I said it. Writer’s block is a lie. It’s a dangerous myth that becomes an excuse for you to be unproductive.
I think that there are some actual underlying issues that make it hard to write.
In fact, I’d like to focus on these three…
— You don’t know what you’re writing about…
— You don’t have a deadline…
— Your first draft standards are too high…
But first, I want to tackle that big lie.
When you create this big concept called writer’s block that exists as a real thing in the world, you are opening yourself up to experiencing its (imagined) negative effects.
A few years ago, I decided to stop believing in writers block. And instead, when I was having trouble writing, look at the underlying issues.
Writer’s block is an imagined problem without a solution. It becomes an excuse not to write at all. But if there is another problem that is actually what is going on, that problem can be solved, and productivity restored.
So I experimented with not leaving in writer’s block. I simply chose not to believe it.
And I stopped having it.
In fact, if I hadn’t gotten an email about it, I probably would not have thought about it or written this essay. But because I did get an email I decided to address it. And not just the concept of writers block — which, as you know, I believe is a big lie — but those underlying problems that are very real, and also relatively easy to solve.
So let’s dive in…
Problem #1: You don’t know what you’re writing about…
This is, by far, the biggest issue that I believe creates the problem people experience as writer’s block.
You haven’t done enough research. You haven’t put together the pieces of your message. You’re staring at a blank screen. You’re relying on creativity from nothing to write. You don’t have a plan, and you haven’t gather the resources you’ll need to fulfill on that plan.
This is almost always solved with research. When I start writing, I start by reading a ton on the topic, especially if it’s something that I am not personally familiar with. And as I read, I am saving articles to Evernote. I will sometimes save 100 or more articles and use maybe 10 of those plus another 10 that I find while writing as my main sources for a promotion.
But that means that I’ve at least gotten the gist of 100+ articles in order to develop my message. And in those articles, I’ve started to capture ideas that are relevant to what I will write about.
Then, the time comes to organize. This is the entire premise of my High-Velocity Copywriting program.
The way to write great copy fast is to outline what you want to say first. Identify the big idea, which falls under one of three broad categories. An urgent problem, a 10X opportunity, or an imminent prediction.
From there, you build your message within the structure of how those are typically written. And you draw from your research to flesh out the skeleton of your outline.
So you capture all these ideas in research. You string those ideas together in a rough outline. Then you flesh out the points and details of the outline with more research.
At this point, you have the roughest of rough drafts. It’s not final copy, nowhere close. But it should capture the eventual flow and logic structure of your final promotion.
And if you have a good outline, it’s almost as if you are editing the outline to write. At which point there is little or no opportunity for the blank page blues, which is what most people experience with writer’s block.
Problem #2: You don’t have a deadline…
If you’ve done the above and you are still not writing, it’s probably because you have too much time to fill.
Have you heard of Parkinson’s Law? The basic idea is that work expands or contracts to fill the time allotted to it. This is, of course, limited by the actual minimum time it takes to do the work. You can’t necessarily make a three week project fit in a one hour block. But most people asking about writer’s block have a different problem.
If you have an unlimited window of time to complete a writing project, there’s no motivation to complete a certain amount in the next hour or day or week. And so you won’t do it. You may call it writer’s block. But it’s just our natural tendency to not do work when there’s not a deadline. (In fact, this is closely connected to why all marketing should use deadlines and urgency to maximize response.)
Alternately, give yourself a deadline. The simplest thing to do, is to grab a kitchen timer and set it for 30 minutes, or 33 minutes, or 50 minutes, but probably no longer. And force yourself to write and just write while that timer is going. Perhaps even set a goal for yourself to write a certain amount in that time frame. But the most important thing is to simply write.
If you do this consistently, you won’t think much about writer’s block at all. Because you will be consistently writing. It may be bad, it may need lots of edits, but you will be writing.
Along with this, give yourself deadlines to complete bigger projects. Put a date on the calendar that you need to be done by. And find a way to make it happen. If you truly honor that date, you will find that there is enough urgency to write to meet the deadline that writer’s block doesn’t really happen to you anymore.
And yet, you may still find some lingering hesitation…
Problem #3: Your first draft standards are too high…
If you know what you’re supposed to write, and you’ve given yourself a deadline, and you still can’t write, it’s probably because you believe your first draft has to be perfect.
Disabuse yourself of that notion right now.
Your first draft can be terrible. And if you are a perfectionist, you should force yourself to write a terrible first draft. Because the process of doing that will help you feel that sense of perfectionism while working anyway.
You never have to show anyone this draft. You just have to get it on paper. You can edit it later. In fact, you can completely delete this first draft once you have a new draft saved.
But it is typically much faster to edit than it is to write in the first place. And so the faster you get to that point of editing instead of writing, the better. And editing is where you can let that perfectionist go to work in a productive way. Yet if your inner perfectionist is screaming at you while writing your first draft, it will only destroy your productivity.
One useful framework for thinking about this…
Dean Jackson has an acronym for content creation: BORE…
Brainstorm. This is the part of the process where you are gathering ideas, without even knowing what will go into the final project. You simply pull together ideas from every source, including brainstorming, research, and any other sources.
Outline. Next you organize your research and ideas into the general structure that will work for the final message. Filling gaps that need to be filled in. Deleting things that need to be deleted. In generally establishing the structure or outline that you can use to create that first draft.
Record. Dean often means this literally. Record yourself speaking your message, then transcribe it. And in some cases, I agree with him. However I can’t do this with client copywriting. I have to actually write. But when you think of it like writing quickly just to record your expression of the outline, it allows you less perfectionism and more flexibility in getting that first draft out.
Edit. Once you have the rough draft or transcription, go to town editing. This is where you make it your final polished product.
The more you separate the steps, the easier it is to create content quickly. Because you are doing things in a natural order that supports efficient output.
Also, the more you follow this process, the easier it is to not believe in writer’s block. Because content creation is no longer about this act of creativity onto the blank page, but instead be collecting, organizing, explaining, and polishing of ideas.
And it’s much harder to experience friction or resistance in that process.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,