The blank screen or piece of paper has terrified even famous authors for generations. Unfortunately, we poor business mortals suffer just as badly.
Unlike the famous authors of old we usually haven't got time to seek inspiration through bacchanalian debauchery or an uplifting stroll amongst “a host of golden daffodils.”¹ However, there are a couple of tricks we can use, and they work for pretty much everything from an email to a brochure or business proposal.
Don't Try to Get It Right the First Time
One of the mistakes we all make is that we try to get it right the first time. No matter how much we might experiment with a message or concept in our minds, the first time we commit that to screen or paper...by golly, it's got to be perfect. This is foolish, because it steers you straight into writer's block.
There is no need to practice economy if you're using a computer to write. Screen space is available on a limitless basis. Even if you use paper, you'll still need to write an awful lot before you've used up a fraction of a tree's worth. So forget perfect and get writing.
Write Around the Point, Not Straight to it
By that I mean start by writing down anything at all. If you don't yet feel confident about writing down your message, don't try.
Instead write about your message. What you want it to achieve. What you should remember to tell your audience about it. How it will benefit your audience to do what you're suggesting.
This removes the writer's block because now you're not exposing your vulnerable soft underbelly directly to that frightening foe called “audience.” For the moment you're just writing notes to yourself, which normally doesn't cause a block problem.
However, this writing is still very productive. You're working through the message development process by writing down its strong points and most important of all, what's in it for your audience.
Keep That Flow Going to Express the First Version of Your Message
Once your writing is jogging along nicely, it's time to start aiming for the actual message you'll use. But once again, don't risk hitting writer's block by attempting to tackle this head-on. Take a verbal detour and go around the longer, gentler way.
Simply continue writing, but change direction as you go. It doesn't matter how long-winded it is because you're going to edit it later. Just narrow your focus on what you need to convey and write that up in as many words as you want.
Think about your target audience while you're writing. Imagine you're sitting next to them in a bar or on a plane. Shoot the breeze with them. Share what's on your mind.
It Won't Be Perfect. In Fact it May Even Be Something Like This...
The instrument in question is constructed from lightweight wood the interior of which houses a cylindrical core of carbon. It is necessary to sharpen the surrounding wood at the end of this instrument in order to obtain a conical point and expose the carbon core appropriately. Once this preparatory start-up sequence has been implemented the structure involved enables the object to be held in the dominant hand and, through the application of the correct degree of pressure and suitable movement of hand and arm, the carbon point will convey an image upon the piece of paper placed directly beneath it. At this time it is not a meaningful proposition for the foregoing technique to be demonstrated in a live situation, due to the hardware's non-permanent redistribution to a remote location.²
Edit Hard and You Get a Final Message That Works
Now look at what you've written and say to yourself, “OK, that's all fine and dandy, but what do I really mean?”
This is where you get down to business. Chop-chop time.
In most cases, you'll dump all the security-blanket jargon, business-ese and excessive trimmings. That's stuff we tend to hide behind when we're unsure of what we really want to say.
Now it's all there under your nose. It's easy to see where you've over-worded. Replace that with concise, un-fancy English your audience can identify with.
You'll also remove all superfluous information and leave only the facts your audience cares about. This means streamlining the issues, focusing those on the audience, promoting the benefits and developing it all around key points. You don't have to explain every last detail. Direct is beautiful.
Something Like This, Perhaps...
I'm talking about a pencil. It's made of wood with some carbon inside it. If you sharpen one end, you can write with it. Right now I can't show you how it works because I've mislaid it.²
If you're writing hard-nosed ad copy (as opposed to softer-sell marcom messages) the above method works, too, but you need to add another level of processing to it. In my next article I'll share that with you, too. And together we'll get writer's block well and truly beaten.
¹ “I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud” by William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
² “Powerwriting” by Suzan St Maur (Prentice Hall Business / FT Management 2002)