Is your writing blocked?

How much time do you spend each day staring at a blank screen wondering what to type? Much more than you think is the answer. Years ago, “Writer’s Block” used to be the preserve of fiction authors who suddenly found their typing dried up. Unable to carry on writing they sat facing their typewriters, jotted down a few words and then ripped out the sheet of paper failing to make any sense. 

Writer’s block is no longer the preserve of authors. It is happening to everyone these days. That’s because we now do more writing than ever before. Even if you do not think of yourself as a writer, you are one. A decade ago you might have written a few emails and maybe the occasional report. Now, you are writing dozens of emails each day, producing blogs and other web content as well as writing social media posts. Writing is probably now your number one activity. Indeed, a recent report I read showed that the average office worker is currently writing around 100,000 words each month. That’s a novel’s worth. You are writing the equivalent of 12 books a year.

The other day I was chatting with some delegates in a masterclass, and we got onto the subject of the amount of writing they did. A quick assessment of the time they spent on producing the text showed that each of them was probably spending an hour a day staring at a blank screen, waiting for the inspiration to start writing. If that’s the same for you, it means you are now spending a day a week doing nothing, when you think you are doing something because you are sat at your computer. Writer’s Block is now a significant productivity issue for everyone in an office. So it is something we all need to tackle.

The other day I was interviewed for the Social Media Warriors Podcast, presented by Phil Calvert. During the recording, he mentioned that I was a “prolific writer” and wondered how I managed that. Frankly, I just get on with it.

Whenever I get asked about writing and how to avoid Writer’s Block I think about Barbara Cartland. In her 77-year career as a novelist, she wrote 723 books – that’s almost a novel every month. Plus on her death in 2000, she left 160 manuscripts waiting to be published. Dame Barbara apparently did not have Writer’s Block. She comes to mind on the subject for me because I recall her being asked about her ability to write so much. Her answer was revealing. She said that she started writing at 8am each day and carried on non-stop until lunchtime at 1pm. She didn’t wait for inspiration; she just wrote, treating it like a job of work that had to be done. Many other prolific writers do the same thing. They have a set time to start writing and a set time to stop, and they just fill the gap with writing.

Prolific authors have some things in common. They don’t wait for the inspiration to arise. They don’t sit and ponder waiting for the right words to enter their heads. They don’t stare at a blank screen. Instead, they just type. They write. They get stuff “down on paper”. They just type stuff. 

Frequently when I ask people about their blogs or their website content production, they complain that they run out of inspiration. They say their on-screen activity has dried up because they sit facing a blank screen and don’t know what to write. They are waiting for inspiration.

I suspect you know the quote from inventor Thomas Edison that genius is one percent inspiration and 99% perspiration. Writing is the same. Just getting on and writing is all you have to do to evade Writer’s Block.

Here’s how to make the most of that. Firstly, if you blog, or add other web content, try to do it at the same time every day. Your mind will soon get used to the habit you create, and it will realise, for instance, it’s 10am, so it’s time to type stuff. Secondly, if you do social media, set aside a time to do it and do all your posting in bulk. Again, your mind goes into “social media writing mode” if you form a habit like this. There is a spin-off benefit to having these regular content production times – it means that you will also increase your web footprint and presence and save time. Far too much time is wasted these days dipping in and out of social media and producing web content when the muse takes people, thereby interrupting actual work.

For more tips on being able to write without difficulty see my blog post from 2009.

Alternatively, set up a writing timetable and turn your typing activity into a habit. The world’s leading authors all do that; like Barbara Cartland, they sit down, start writing and don’t stop until their writing period is over. Similarly, think of newspapers and magazines. They have deadlines to meet. Today’s Times newspaper will contain about 200,000 words – that’s the same length as three business books. And almost all of that text was written yesterday. If the journalists on The Times waited until the muse took them or inspiration arrived, you’d probably have to wait a month for today’s newspaper. Having deadlines means they just have to get on with the job of writing. So, what deadlines do you set yourself?

Remember, your writing doesn’t have to be perfect; you can edit it afterwards, or get someone else to edit it for you. But if you don’t start typing you have nothing to edit. And all you will have done is spend yet more time staring at a blank screen. Failing to combat Writer’s Block is a real business productivity issue these days; don’t let it be a time-waster for your business.

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