Overcome Writer's Block by Interviewing Yourself
by Marti Smiley Childs and Jeff March

Many people enjoy writing as a form of creative self-expression. But it can become a source of torment when writer's block sets in. Confronting writer's block can be somewhat like trying to force yourself to fall asleep when you have insomnia -- concentrating on your need to doze off only seems to prolong the time you spend staring at the ceiling.

People may find getting up to read or taking a sip of sherry effective in conquering sleeplessness. Likewise, the shackles of writer's block can be loosened using certain strategies.

Writer's block often results either from stress imposed by a looming deadline, or from disorganization. A writer can be overwhelmed, for example, by the volume of information gathered for a report. Suppose you've been assigned to calculate future staffing needs for your department, or to determine how a proposed city ordinance may affect your business, or to explain a new policy to employees. When you're unsure where to begin, you may discover how to proceed by "interviewing" yourself.

Try composing a list of questions to ask yourself -- for example: What is the fundamental subject of this report? What is the purpose for writing it? For whose benefit is it being written? Why should readers be interested?

Suppose the answer to the first question is that the report is intended to announce a new policy. Well, then, how will this new policy affect people? How does it differ from the existing policy? Why has it been enacted? What does it require readers to do? What are the consequences of inaction?

Next, sift through all of the information you've collected and list the points that should be included in your report. Don't try to place them in order; just jot them down.

Using those points, create an outline to help you organize your document -- and your thoughts. Use your definition of the fundamental subject of the report to compose a "theme" statement, against which you will measure all content. The theme statement of this article you're now reading is "the shackles of writer's block can be loosened using certain strategies." Your theme statement might be, "The company plans to initiate changes in security procedures in response to the recently completed crime prevention study." Use that theme statement to guide you through the writing process. Every sentence you write must somehow relate to that theme statement.

Using your outline as your foundation, start building the structural "walls" of your document. Do that by expanding on your outline points, referring as needed to the data that you have collected.

Some people insist that the first step in writing is to plant yourself firmly in your seat at your keyboard. However, if you're really stuck, doing so may be as counterproductive as trying to force yourself to sleep. Sometimes alleviating your mind of the immediate burden may be more helpful. Get up and stretch. Pace around the room. Clip your fingernails. Drink a glass of water. Take some relaxing deep breaths. Look out the window -- or go outside and walk around the block. Be observant. Something you see may serve as a metaphor to help you convey the point you were struggling to make.

As thoughts begin to crystallize, write them down. Don't be fussy about sentence structure as you work on that first rough draft. Your mission at this stage is to compose your essential thoughts. You'll rectify spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and grammatical problems when you edit the document later.

If you find you're lacking some information, don't let that distract you either. For the time being, insert a note in the text reading "NEED MORE INFO HERE," and continue writing. Don't risk losing one thought while you try to expand upon a statement you've already written. You'll fill in blanks more completely in subsequent drafts.

Don't feel compelled to write your report in proper sequential order. If you're most confident about one particular section within the body, start writing there. You may prefer to write the introduction after the body begins to emerge with greater clarity.

Aside from organizational difficulties, writer's block also can be caused by boredom or fatigue. Sometimes the best strategy for coping with "burn-out" is postponement. Giving yourself a break can help you develop a needed fresh perspective. If your schedule permits, move on to something else temporarily. Set the material aside overnight and sleep on it -- but in the process, try to avoid giving yourself a case of insomnia.

YES! You also can alleviate your writer's block by assigning your newsletters, brochures, reports and Web site content to EditPros.

EditPros / writing, editing & employee training
423 F Street, Suite 206, Davis, CA 95616-4153
(530) 759-2000, http://www.editpros.com

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