Writer’s block. Writer’s malaise. Writer’s fatigue. Whatever you want to call it, chances are that you’ve stared at a blank page or screen with no inspiration—and even a sense of dread.
Here are three ways to beat the deadline blues and put pep back into your prose:
1. Change up your routine. We all get stuck in a rut. That’s especially understandable for communicators who write about the same topics every day—and in the same setting.
“How can you expect to come up with new, creative ideas if you do the same thing every single day?” asks Jenn Spantak, senior manager of employee experience operations at Honeywell. “Try something new!”
Mary Olivieri, executive creative director at Colman, Brohan and Davis, says a simple walk can extricate you from your mental rut and stimulate your creativity.
“We tend to operate on autopilot behind our desks and use words like ‘solutions,’ ‘innovative’ and ‘best practices,’” she says. “You have to get out of your head to break the routine—and the quickest way to do that is to get out of the office.”
Spantak calls it “observing from the field,” something she learned as an Emmy-winning TV producer and news director.
“Get out of your cubicle, and go watch something within your company take place,” she says. “If you need to write about a groundbreaking ceremony—go to the ceremony. It will be a lot easier to find those interesting details when you are there in person than if you are trying to pry them out of others.”
2. Banish passive voice. It’s easy to feel uninspired about putting pen to paper when your company’s writing style is downright ho-hum.
“PR pros rarely say their company’s writing style is ‘interesting’ when I poll them during workshops,” says Spantak. “They usually say it’s ‘convoluted,’ ‘boring’ and ‘simple.’”
Passive voice bears much of the blame.
“Politicians and businesses tend to use passive voice intentionally, because it avoids accountability,” she says. “It’s safer—but it also creates no emotional response.”
For example, “Mistakes were made,” certainly lacks the punch of “We made a mistake.”
Passive voice sentences are longer and vague, and they lack impact, Spantak says. “Just imagine if McDonald’s had used, ‘It is being loved by me,’ instead of, ‘I’m lovin’ it.’”
3. Do a gut check. “No sentence can be effective if it contains facts alone. It must also contain emotion,” says Spantak, citing renowned copywriter Eugene Schwartz.
“Your readers can’t get excited about your writing without it—and neither can you,” she says. “So before you hit the publish button, I recommend a quick emotional gut check.”
This involves asking yourself the following six questions:
- What emotion is being conveyed?
- Will the reader feel that emotion after reading my message?
- Why is the story important?
- Do I fully understand the message?
- Did I answer who, what, when, where, how and why?
- What makes this interesting, and did I include it?
“If any of these things are missing, you’re not ready to publish,” says Spantak. “I’m not saying you need to start over, but you do need to make sure they’re answered before you move forward.”
Brian Pittman is a Ragan Communications consultant and event producer. Jennifer Spantak (Honeywell), Vanessa Charles (Boston Scientific) and Mary Olivieri will share more writing insights in Ragan’s March 20 virtual summit, “Inspired Writing and Storytelling.”