Tricks to unblock writer’s block

Dear Joan:
I have recently been promoted to a managerial job in which I must do a lot of writing. In my former jobs I was in a more technical capacity and really didn't have to write very much.

Now, my work is often judged by how I communicate it. The success or failure of a project can rest on whether I word a report or memo correctly to sell my points.

My problem is that I get so uptight about writing I often have trouble starting and even if I do, I spend hours on one memo. Since you write weekly-and under a deadline-I thought you might be able to give me some hints. I know other people struggle with this too, so many people could benefit from your advice.

My nine year old asked me the other day, "Mom, are you trying to write a column?" I stopped mid-stride with a watering can in my hand, "Why do you ask?" "Well, you've fed the fish, straightened your closet, watered the plants...You know, all the stuff you do when you don't want to write."

Out of the mouths of babes.

It can happen to anybody. Novelist Norman Mailer told "Prevue", "After 40 years of writing, nothing is more difficult than going to the office to bring empty pages to life." You see? We're not alone. In fact most of us will do anything to avoid the act of writing-especially if the document is important to us.

If professionals like Mailer are intimidated by the idea of having others judge their work, what does it do to people who aren't writers by nature?

Many executives complain that young professionals are lousy writers. In fact, when "Fortune" talked to successful business executives about what business schools should teach, they said, "Teach them to write better." Better didn't mean fancy. They said it meant clear, brief and logical.

Here are some ideas to try when you find yourself staring glassy-eyed at a blank sheet of paper:

Start anywhere-but start. If you can't think of a clever way to begin, forget it and write the middle. You'll probably think of a great lead in once you get moving.

Write an outline before you start. Writing "notes" can trick your mind into thinking it's not really writing. Go back over the outline and add key points and details until you feel confident about your information and organization. The pre-written pieces can be fit together like a puzzle. Start writing about something else even if it has nothing to do with the project at hand. Once the brain-to-hand transfer has begun, it's often easier to transfer those creative juices to the project you've been putting off.

Write any words that come to your mind about the topic. For example, if you're publicizing a new corporate program, words such as, "benefits to time to register" may all run through your head. Don't worry about sequence. Simply write them all own. You can sort through them later after the format begins to emerge on the page.

If you bog down at your desk, try the cafeteria, lounge, park across the street or conference room down the hall.

Use different colored pens and richly textured paper. They invite you to leave a trail of ink. If you're bogged down on a typewriter, switch to longhand and vice versa.

Dictate your letters or reports. If you dictate, however, don't think of it as the final draft. William Zinsser, author of "On Writing Well" says unedited dictation tends to be, "pompous, sloppy and redundant." He says the time saved by dictation can be a "false economy" if the final version doesn't reflect who you really are.

If you're struggling with a way to communicate an idea, turn to a friend or co-worker and say, "What I'm trying to say is..." Put your idea in simple, informal language then write down exactly what you said. Another version of this is to pretend you're explaining it in a letter to a friend. It works.

Before you begin each document ask yourself, "What do I want the reader to do?" Whenever possible, put the purpose first. We all appreciate memos that clearly tell us-upfront-what action the writer wants us to take.

Just because you are in management don't be fooled into thinking you have to sound intellectual or important. On the contrary, the ability to write complex ideas in a simple, straightforward way is the mark of a true professional.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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