8 Writing Strategies for People Who Say They Can't Write
If you want to launch and grow a business, chances are you're going to have to put words on the page. Probably many words on many pages. Which means there's no room for saying you "hate writing" or "can't write."
In many cases, the more important the writing task, the more the would-be writer freezes up. The result can be something of a Mobius strip of anxiety turned into fear turned into more anxiety, and what you're left with is a blank page.
To help you work through writer's block, consider the strategies below. (These tips were compiled by this reporter through an informal survey of her own writer friends and colleagues.)
1. Lose the “I'm just not a writer” syndrome. Everyone has the potential to be a writer. Continuing to tell yourself otherwise is nothing more than an empty excuse. Reverse the energy. You can be a writer. Tell yourself, “I am absolutely capable of writing.”
2. Don’t wait for perfect words. If every sentence has to be a flawless work of art, then you will sit in fear. The sweat might pour, but the words won’t come. Just start writing words on the page. Know that once you have started, you can go back and revise what you have. But until you start, you will never know where you are trying to go. If you are writing on a tight deadline, it is even more critical that you let go of the notion of immediate perfection. One writer friend of mine offered the analogy that writing is like cleaning a messy room: the only way a large mess gets cleaned up is to start tidying one small corner at a time.
3. Talk to yourself -- out loud. It’s less stressful for most people to chat with a friend over a beer than to write a grant proposal (even if the content of the conversation is the grant proposal in question). In conversation, it’s generally accepted that we might have to stop, correct ourselves and continue speaking. Allow yourself that same freedom in your writing process. If that’s hard to do, talk out loud to yourself to get the thoughts flowing.
4. Move words, sentences, paragraphs around the page like pieces of a puzzle. The beauty of writing on a computer is that you can move words and groups of words effortlessly. Just reminding yourself of that tends to make it easier to find your writing flow. If you get your mind set that the words will be seen by the audience exactly as they flow onto the page, it can be paralyzing.
For those overwhelmed by the amount of ideas banging around in their head, jot the ideas down, one by one, in a loose cross between thought-notes and an organizational outline. Then, you can slowly work your way down your list, flushing out concepts into sentences and paragraphs without worrying that you might forget something critical.
5. Crystallize your point into a few words. When you sit down to write a business pitch, a grant proposal or a speech, be sure that you have done your research and know precisely what you mean to communicate. If you're struggling to write, it may be a sign that you are confused about what you want to say. Condense the main nugget of what you are trying to say into just a short phrase or sentence and you'll have a better shot at composing a tight, organized piece.
6. Rid yourself of the Internet. Scores of very smart people spend all day long every day trying to grab your attention on the Internet. They’re pretty good at it, too. Eliminate distractions by going offline and opening a document that only allows you to write on your computer desktop. One writing friend recommended using the Freedom app when trying to write. When you install the application, it blocks all of your connections to the Internet for an allotted time.
Also, having a very specific physical routine associated with writing helps some people get into the writing groove. Perhaps there is a seat at a particular desk that you associate with writing. Perhaps you write best at a certain time of day. Perhaps you need to have a tall glass of ice water when you write.
7. Don’t get stuck by letting yourself think that you have to start at the beginning. Just because they call it the introduction does not mean that you have to start at the beginning. If you know what you want the middle paragraph to be, then start there. Write the portion that you know best first and then work out from there.
8. Set deadlines for yourself. Even if you don’t need to write on a deadline, set deadlines for yourself. And stick to them. One writing friend I talked to said she has friends and family follow up with her to make sure she's keeping to her time goals.
Catherine Clifford is senior entrepreneurship writer at CNBC. She was formerly a senior writer at Entrepreneur.com, the small business reporter at CNNMoney and an assistant in the New York bureau for CNN. Clifford attended Columbia University where she earned a bachelor's degree. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. You can follow her on Twitter at @CatClifford.