In general, I tend to think of writer’s block as that time when you’re completely stumped and have no idea how to start writing something. You’re sitting in your comfortable desk chair, your hand-selected tunes queued in a new Spotify playlist, your double latte is hot and fresh in your favorite mug, and then smack! You can’t think of one word to write. If anything, you start a sentence, then erase it. You start another one, then leave it incomplete and start anew. Then you go back and erase that one and so on. To me, this is the standard writer’s block and one that we’ve actually discussed here on our blog several months ago.
As I was working on another blog article for CI, I started to realize there’s another type of writer’s block that I hadn’t previously considered. I’m not sure what to call it, because it’s more subtle and insidious than a full-on “block.” Enough so that it might even go unnoticed for a while. I’ll try to describe it here.
So you’re sitting at your desk again, this time with your favorite Pandora channel on (just trying to mix it up a bit), with your skinny iced Caffe Americano (trying to watch your waistline today) in your other favorite mug at the ready. And you’re writing. No “traditional” writer’s block in sight. As you proudly finish your third paragraph and move to the fourth, you begin to notice the problem. You’re totally off the mark. You’re up to bat in the big game, you keep making contact with the ball, but you just can’t get on base. In short, your writing stinks. What’s missing?
For a while, I didn’t know the answer to that question. Recently, I was experiencing something just like this scenario. Something wasn’t right—why was my writing coming out so flat? Why did it seem like the point I was trying to make was somehow obscured? Why did it feel like there was no passion—THAT was it! Passion.
For me, the words flow more freely when I’m writing about a subject for which I feel passion. That subject can be real or it can be fiction, but I have to be somehow inspired by the “story” I’m telling. This discovery holds true for creative writing, blogs, even a presentation deck for a marketing strategy, or a press release.
So how do you find that passion when it’s missing in action?
First, you have to know what you’re talking about to be effective. In creative writing, you need to know who your characters are, where they live, what they wear—everything about them and their setting. For technical or business writing, you need to know your subject well. This all seems obvious, but sometimes it’s the missing link.
Second, you have to care about the subject. If you don’t care, you might be able to generate content, but your writing will suffer. At least mine does. I’ve discovered two ways to help me locate that passion or reason to care, depending on the type of writing I need to do.
If the writing is more personal, try to take yourself back into the actual moment where you experienced that personal event, whether it was an emotion, an idea, whatever. Listen to the same music, look at pictures—whatever gets you in that frame of mind. This can apply to fiction as well. Get to know your characters by taking notes about who they are and their history—even things that will not be in your story.
If the writing is more professional, it can actually get trickier in some ways, or at least different. If it’s a presentation or web content about something technical, it can help to get really familiar with the subject matter. Study the information available, the product or creative work if applicable, any relevant research, and read product briefs. Then answer the question: what makes this idea, strategy, or product so freakin’ cool? Why is it unique? Try to find that reason to care about the writing subject.
Usually, with a little study, I find that reason to care, and the writing comes a lot more easily. The result? Instead of merely struggling to write about some new smartwatch, I’m zipping out content about a smartwatch that I now realize is super cool and I want to tell my friends about it. Or I’m newly inspired by a communication strategy that I really think will accomplish amazing things because it’s well researched and forward thinking.
I still don’t know what to call this type of writer’s block. A quick Google search didn’t turn up anything, so we’ll just call it “that other type of writer’s block.” In the meantime, I’ll go back to Spotify for another playlist and have a sip of my iced coffee with half and half (forget skinny) in my favorite mug.
By Jim Hodson