Storytelling Tip: Beating Writer’s Block
Today’s tip from JerryBrownPR’s Tips for Telling Your Story on the Experience Pros Radio Show
Listen to the Radio Version
By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Counsel
If you write a lot, it may be a problem you face a lot. As the late journalist and playwright Gene Fowler put it: “Writing is easy. All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”
So there you are: Beads of blood on your forehead and you’re still stuck. Now what?
Start by listening to that little voice in your head that will tell you why you’re stuck. Not the one called Rationalization. The one called Honesty. With yourself.
What you do next depends on what the Honest Voice tells you. For example:
You’re not ready to write
Symptom: You know what you want to write about but you can’t get started because you don’t know the answers to the who, what, where, when and why of your story.
Solution: Quit writing and do more research.
Symptom: You’ve done your research and still aren’t ready to write.
Solution: You may just need to let things settle for a bit. Go do something else and come back to your writing when you’re rested or in a better frame of mind.
I do my best writing early the day. Sometimes I’m just too tired to write. And that means it’s time to step away from the keyboard. Because, when I’m too tired, staring at a blank screen won’t do any good.
You don’t know what to write about
Symptom: Your deadline’s approaching and you don’t have any idea what to write about. A frequent problem for people who write a lot, particularly when there’s a deadline — for a weekly blog or monthly newsletter, for example. Or that big presentation you’re making next week.
Solution: Long-time reporters and columnists are always looking for their next story. Follow their example. If you regularly contribute to a blog, for example, keep an eye out for future topics. I regularly save links to news stories or other things I come across that might make good topics for my blogs. Questions from clients are another source of topics. If a client is struggling with an issue then chances are that others are, too. That makes it worth writing about.
Another thing to consider: Is your deadline self-imposed? Can you bend it or ignore it without anyone else noticing or caring? If so, consider giving yourself a little more time. Not always possible. But sometimes worth considering when you have the option. Just don’t do it all the time or you’ll quit writing. It’s like skipping a trip to the gym. Once in a while is okay. Too often leads to never.
You’re in work-avoidance mode
Symptom: Every time you’re ready to begin writing, you find something else to do instead. Like going to the gym, writing is easy to put off or avoid.
Solution: Just do it. Put it on your calendar. Force yourself to stay at the keyboard until you’re done writing — or at least done for the day. Or allow extra time for your writing because you know you’ll spend part of that time doing other stuff.
The time you spend in work avoidance can actually be productive if the creative part of your brain is working out what you’ll say next.
I often write in spurts. A few sentences or paragraphs. Do something else to avoid writing. A few more sentences or paragraphs. Do something else to avoid writing. Keep repeating until done.
That may not sound like a great solution, but I find it works. It’s like the time spent between sets when lifting weights.
You know what you want to say, but not how to say it
Symptom: You’re looking at that blank piece of paper and have absolutely no idea where to begin or what to say once you do. A frequent problem for people who don’t write a lot and aren’t comfortable putting words on paper.
Solution: Start talking. Who are writing for? What do you want to tell them? Why will they care? If you’re lucky enough to have someone who will listen, talk to them about it. Tell them what you want to say to the audience you’re writing for. Or talk to yourself about it.
What are you trying to say? Talk it out. Then put that on paper.
You need help telling your story
Symptom: You recognize you don’t have the writing skill to tell your story the way you want.
Solution: Admit you need help and get it.
Okay, this is a shameless plug for what I do for a living. Good advice, nevertheless, if you need help.
I’ve worked with enough designers and read enough books about layout and design that I can help clients with simple document designs.
But I don’t have the skill to do complex designs. So I get help when I need it. And a good designer will almost always do a better job than I will on even the simple design jobs I can do when I have to. So, I get help for those, too, when I can.
That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?
Jerry Brown, APR, is a public relations professional and former journalist. He specializes in helping clients develop the content they need to tell their stories. He also helps them develop strategies for getting their stories heard, understood and remembered. And he provides media training and presentation coaching for clients who need to tell their stories to reporters or in front of an audience. 303-594-8016 | jerry@JerryBrownPR.com.
Listen to Jerry’s Tips for Telling Your Story every Tuesday at 11:05 a.m., Mountain Time, on the Experience Pros radio show on KLZ 560AM in Denver or at www.560thesource.com on the Internet.