I can pretty much promise you that if you suffer from writer’s block – you know, that endless period when you sit in front of your blank screen, virtually incapable of getting started – I can tell you why. And how to fix it.
If you are like most of the people who suffer from this malady, the most likely reason is, you haven’t thought through four key elements: why you’re writing, what that writing needs to achieve, or what you want to say, and how to say it. And the sticking point is most likely what you want to say.
As I like to tell participants in my business writing workshops, there’s the good news, and there’s the bad news. Then there’s the worst news, and the best news.
The good news: Writing is easy.
The bad news: Thinking is tough.
The worst news: You have to think before you write.
The best news: Here’s how!
Here’s what you need to think about before you begin to write:
1. Ask yourself:
a. What am I writing? A report? Instructions? A “regular email”? What is the piece?
b. Who am I writing to?
c. Am I writing to inform? To persuade? Of what? To do what?
This is where you’ll decide why you are writing.
2. Next, list the results this piece of writing needs to achieve. What will happen when you are successful?
3. And how you’re going to say it? What “tone” will you use, remembering that “tone” is the relationship the writer sets up with the reader. How would you describe the relationship you will create or reinforce to get the results you are looking for?
4. Now that you have primed the thinking pump, you’re ready to decide what you want to say. It can be pretty tough to start writing before you think through the first three steps. That’s where what you want to say will come from.
List the items you want to talk about. Edit your list against three criteria:
1. What do I want to accomplish with this piece of writing
2. Why does the reader need this information?
3. How will the reader use this information?
Next, no matter how interesting each thing you want to say may be, if that point does not serve, to your complete satisfaction, one or more of the above three points, ruthlessly edit it out! Your goal is to have all of the information your reader needs to meet one or more of the above three tests, and nothing else!
Beware of distracting, or overloading your reader. Lack of clear understanding can easily lead to lack of any action or decision. It’s not necessary to tell your reader everything you know about the subject. First of all, he or she probably doesn’t care to hear all of it, and secondly, probably will not read such a torrent of information. Select only the information that serves your purpose, and meets the reader’s need for, and use of this information. Truthfully. As one workshop participant put it, tell your reader “just enough.”
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Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations, executive coaching, consulting, and writing services. To discuss how we can help, call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email firstname.lastname@example.org