It happens to us all, regardless as to whether you are a professional writer or simply someone attempting to complete any writing assignment involving a level of creativity. It is all too easy to push it down the list of priorities and to invent excuses to avoid tackling it right up to the deadline.
The exception is of course, when the subject is so familiar that it requires little thought with material that we are used to explaining without significant effort. Even then, it must be recognised that some individuals have the ability to write fluently whilst others struggle despite perhaps having excellent verbal communication skills.
Developing a structure and focus
As with any other professional undertaking, there are proven techniques to overcome the “writer’s block” problem. The first and most important is to generate a simple list of the points that need to be covered. This will, in itself, trigger some of the vital research processes which may, in turn, lead to further exploration and refinement of the scope and focus of the piece as source material identifies avenues previously not considered.
All too often, copy is written largely from the perspective of the marketer and this frequently masks the real benefits to the consumer that would ideally be the focus. The importance of an “outside looking in” perspective is hard to overstate. In other terms, what is it that the recipient of the information really wants to know? Banging on about the wonderful performance of a product or service is meaningless unless there is a tangible and relevant benefit to the user. Obvious? Perhaps. Ignored. All too often.
Getting a contemporary understanding of the issues
Research and empathy with the end consumer thus plays an important role in deciding what – and how – to communicate. Developing an understanding of the consumer’s mindset is, in itself, a mechanism by which to counter writer’s block. Looking at competitive sites and viewing them through a user’s eyes is not only revealing but can stimulate the creative spirit in the most weary of writers. From the good, the bad and the excruciatingly bad, all of the sites will have something to add to the “do’s and don’ts” list.
Newsgroups, blogs and forums are an excellent source for stimulating an understanding of and interest in the issues that may concern or motivate potential customers on any particular topic. The comments made by contributors can also provide useful expressions that, when adapted, allow a writer to speak to members of their target market in a relevant and authoritative “voice”. This is essential, because regardless as to how the writer may communicate in everyday life, when presenting solutions to customer needs, it is essential to speak in an appropriate tone that will engage and interest readers from the target audience.
As an example, colloquial expressions may be fine for music, video etc with a young audience but for drier, finance, retirement planning, and other issues directed at mature or serious audiences, a more sombre tone will be needed. Setting this tone correctly will of course greatly improve the effectiveness of the communication, without in any way reducing the relevance of the message.
Although most writers today will have a natural tendency to work with a word processor, the creation of the initial information framework is often best done on paper, where discarded thoughts may be crossed out as others evolve, without actually erasing those initial ideas. Conversely, those completely at home on the keyboard will have little difficulty in “dumping” copy onto the page before rearranging it into the final version.
Some find comfort in taking existing copy, dropping it into the new unit of work, then re-working it. However, this latter technique frequently leads to more problems than solutions because of differences in thought patterns and syntax used in the previous work. There is also a real danger of replicating old (or even plagiarised) material – the latter being one of the most unacceptable practices of all.
Other un-blocking techniques
The same techniques that work in re-focusing attention on any protracted exercise should work for writing. From making a cup of tea; taking a brisk walk in the fresh air to gather your thoughts; focusing your attentions on other tasks for a period to clear your mind; or simply changing focus from writing to additional research. Any of these should help in getting you through a stumbling block. If all else fails, you may even want to revisit the focus and purpose of the piece: if you are really stuck it may simply be that you have set yourself an unworkable task!
The techniques mentioned in this article should go some way to overcoming “writer’s block.” However, realism as to your own abilities is needed and it may actually be beneficial to engage with professional writers, because the initial financial cost may be largely irrelevant compared with the optimum results of effective communication.