Chopping Through Writer’s Block

Writer’s block usually occurs for one simple reason – people are not ready to write. Many think if they clear their schedule, get a coffee and sit down at the computer, this will grant them magical powers of inspiration. Instead, frustration is often the result.

The two biggest enemies of effective business writing are (i) procrastination and (ii) impulsiveness. Procrastination involves writers spending long hours thinking about something they should be composing. To avoid getting started or perhaps from the worry that what they first write must be instantly correct, they stall and move on to other activities.

The solution to procrastination is to just begin. Worry about perfection later. Allow yourself the chance to say it the WRONG WAY before you say it the RIGHT WAY. It is crucial to remember that few well-written documents are polished in their initial drafts.

Writing is a process that generally leads from an imperfect draft to a finished product (sometimes, with multiple steps in between). Here are five tips to break through procrastination.

  • Give yourself a deadline, such as ten or twenty minutes, to write that first, fast draft. Moving words across a page or screen, even if they aren’t the precise ones you want, will help you arrive at the right ones later.
  • Begin with a bogus first sentence; it doesn’t matter if it is trite or formal. “I am writing to persuade you to . . . ,” “I am writing because I strongly disagree with . . . , ” “I am writing to share information on the following . . .” These will get you to the point; they can be removed later, just like training wheels.
  • Begin anywhere. If the first sentence is stalling you, move on to another part or section of the letter, report or memo.
  • Try a non-traditional outline. This technique, known as mind mapping, webbing or clustering, is a fast and non-linear way to get words and ideas on paper or screen. Mind mapping is like playing word association. It allows you to see patterns and relationships in your subject ( or
  • Vary the audience. Sometimes, a writer can be intimidated if the letter or memo is intended for a supervisor or person in position of authority (i.e. regulator). You can try writing the correspondence with a friendlier audience in mind, such as a co-worker or even family member. This may help break the paralysis of trying to write in an overly formal tone.

The other side of the coin in poor business writing is impulsiveness – the “phew, it’s done” approach. Some busy writers believe their first attempt to communicate something in writing is the only necessary effort – or that the first draft is as good as it gets. With impulsiveness, the acts of composing, editing and proofreading are done all at once (if the latter two are done at all). Not only can errors creep into this process, but also the writing will be unclear. This results in the need for follow-up communication (phone or email) and time-consuming clarifications or apologies.

One solution to impulsiveness is to let a document sit, even if only for a few hours. A little distance gives a clearer perspective. After you put your ideas down and write your first draft, set the document aside for a period of time and focus on other tasks. When you return to the document, you will have a fresh approach and can look at issues like wording, style and readability with a critical eye.


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