Breaking Blocks – Techniques For Easier Writing

Writer's Block

Just like in Minecraft, writers are presented with an infinite number of blocks during their writing lives. Getting started seems to be an unsurmountable wall at times.

This post isn’t about producing exceptional writing, having perfect grammar or finding your unique voice. Those are the things that take years to master, sometimes a lifetime.

This is about the difference between creating and not creating, getting started or remaining at a stand still. Suffering with writer’s block or not.

For me quality will always be a slow process, something that can only be improved with repetition & feedback over time. I usually start with as much information as possible and slowly reduce and remove.

Even in a technical role, I still spend a large portion of my day writing. Combining the volume of e-mails, documentation and hand written notes I produce daily, I am easily producing multiple thousands of words every day.

Here are a couple of my techniques for getting over the initial hurdle.

1) Say More With Less

Writing For Results (E-mails & Project Communication)

I used to make all of my writing long, detailed and tried to cover every angle. I got into this habit from University. Meeting word counts & producing lengthy essays became routine.  In the world of work writing long form also became my attempt at speeding up the usual back and forth of e-mail communication. Yet I’d still get questions back that made it clear people just hadn’t read what I had sent to them. So I experimented with writing less and less and using formatting for emphasis. The response was incredible. As a communication style people get back to you sooner, they appreciate you keeping it simple for them. We all know that long e-mails elicit a ‘I’ll deal with that later’ reaction which is not what you want, especially if you’re waiting for an answer.

Fewer Words = More Impact.

I want that on a T-shirt.

A fantastic example of this is the http://themagicemail.com - a short 17 word follow-up e-mail for freelancers that turns radio silence into responses, apologies and signed contracts.

An Experiment

I’ve experienced the impact of shorter writing from the opposite side too, when hiring. A while back I posted the same job twice on Elance, both requested the same end product, needed the same skills, had the same budget and time. The only difference was they were described differently. The first one was long form. I wrote out absolutely everything about the project, gave reference links, was very clear about the milestones, deliverables. The second description was short, I gave a bulleted list of what I wanted and another short list of what I did not want. I grouped the questions I wanted the freelancer to answer at the end and in bold.

I got double the amount of bids on the concisely written post. I had bidders expressing how it was clear I knew what I wanted that they loved how direct it was. They all promptly answered my questions.

The most surprising thing though was that the average bid price on my long form job post was double that of my shorter job posting!

People perceived there was TWICE the work in the project because I had overwhelmed them with information.

I was expecting the shorter description to be more appealing and easier to answer to, I did not expect the difference in price. Of course I want people to know it’ll be easy to work with me so now I always layout projects & e-mails in this style. Now the only time I create longer content is when it is more valuable, for example in an epic instructional resource.

2) Writing Isn’t Just 1 Thing

Creative Writing (Blog Posts & Books)

Our expectations tell us that writing should be reasonably easy. We have opinions & vocabulary which should combine into content right?

Yet how many times do we look at a blank white page & a blinking cursor and feel stuck. Our expectations tell us that we read a blog post from start to finish so that must be how they’re written. We’re expecting ordered thought to just pour out of our fingers correct first time.

Our expectations are the wall of writer’s block

The process of writing is actually more like :-

  1. Topic
  2. Ideas
  3. Words
  4. Syntax
  5. Phrases
  6. Central Point
  7. Order
  8. Formatting
  9. Grammar
  10. Paragraphs
  11. Title
  12. Font
  13. Alignment
  14. Headings
  15. Image
  16. Publication

Some of us start at the end and try to work backwards.

Some of us start with Step 1 and jump straight to Step 8, shuffling around with fonts and alignment with a single header in a word processor. As much as I love technology, it will only really provide assistance from Step 8 onwards. Prior to that, paper wins out every time. From a central topic I usually move onto a brainstorm. Getting ideas out of your head and onto paper in whatever order they fall out in frees up your mind to focus on the next step. Words turn into phrases which turn into specific points. The bullet points are cut into strips and re-grouped into a natural order. It’s easier to spot gaps in your thinking and if you get stuck you can just refer back to the word soup your created in your brainstorm earlier.

We’re making it tough for ourselves when we skip steps because we aren’t backed up by the foundations of our work.

Writing gets easier and becomes more enjoyable when we let ourselves break the wall down and examine it block by block.