In the context of blogging for your business, writer’s block shows up as one of these challenges:
it’s hard to start writing overall
it’s hard to finish an article
even if you’ve just done one, it’s hard to start the next one
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Most people already know that writing challenges are about focus. They think “I just need to sit down and write”.
However, cultivating focus is not just about jumping in. You may have tried this and noticed it doesn’t last—why might that be?
I believe it’s because focus is not just something you declare, it’s something you prepare for. We need to make a set of decisions beforehand, so that we create the conditions in which focus can arise more easily.
Productivity guru, Tim Ferris, has a great concept called “decision fatigue.” The idea is that every day you have a finite amount of energy for all the decisions you can make. When you have too many decisions, over your capacity, you get decision fatigue. At some point, you have maxed out and can’t make decisions (or make them well) any longer.
This is why people like Einstein wore the same brown suit everyday. He chose to not waste any decision energy on “what am I going to wear today?” Instead, he saved that energy for deciding the best question he could come up with to guide his next scientific experiment.
To reduce writer’s block, I propose that you need to decide these three things ahead of time:
- Your Writing Process
- Your Writing Intentions
- Your Procrastination Response
Instead of trying to navigate these decisions every time you think about writing, you can make them in advance by testing what works best for you. Without making these decisions ahead of time, you’ll likely get decision fatigue —leading to the writing not getting done.
Let’s look at each in more depth…
Your Writing Process
- How might you optimize your writing environment?
- Which article structure should you use?
One aspect of process is optimizing your writing environment. How many steps does it take for you to get from the thought “it’s time to write” to actually engaging in your writing practice, using your computer or a pen + paper?
This may be why some people prefer writing by hand—there’s one less step involved to get started (i.e. no need to turn on the computer).
I put shortlinks on my desktop, or in my calendar, since I’ve already established the program I’ll use to write (Google Docs) and can click directly to the file where I last left off. This allows me to move into my writing practice with fewer hurdles.
Here’s a more tangible real life example: My wife and I each have a daily yoga practice. To keep that easy for us, we keep a yoga mat out on our living room floor. It doesn’t look that great sitting there, and we’ll put it away when guests come over, but leaving it there removes one step from our process of doing yoga. We walk into the room and we can drop right into a downward dog.
Article structure is another part of process. Once you’re ready to write, how do you begin an article? Do you start with a title, or an outline, or with your first paragraph and then flow with it? How do you exapand an idea? How do you know when you’re done and your article is ready to show an editor or ready to publish? What works for you may be one of these starting points or something else altogether. Find a routine that feels best and keep at it.
NOTE: Our online workshop helps aspiring thought leaders to answer these questions for themselves. And while using structures from others is helpful to getting started, the best way for you to create a sustainable writing practice is to try a few ways and then see what feels best for you. We may give people a set of training wheels so they can try things step by step. But in the long run, we’re bringing people’s attention to the principles and these different areas: process, intentions, procrastination. As a result, people become better able to navigate and self-correct their own writing practice.
Your Writing Intentions
- Why are you writing?
- Who are you writing to?
- What topic do you write about?
Deciding in advance: why are you writing? For me it’s about my own self-understanding and clarity as well as inspiring others to be more self-reflective. If you’ve ready any of my Soulful Brand or more personal articles, you can see this thread showing up consistently.
Who am I writing to? This is a really important one. Ryan and I started Soulful Brand in 2011, gearing our business and writing towards coaches. Today, we’re addressing aspiring thought leaders.
Any time that we haven’t been fully clear or fully committed to a group, it has been very hard to write. The topics may be similar, but in order to be relatable, the examples are very different. When we made that audience transition, we had to edit all of our public written materials!
I encourage writers to choose an audience that may include demographics (i.e. gender, age, location, role, etc) but especially includes their mindset (i.e. their challenge, how they experience it, what they can hear from you given where they are, etc). By the way, choosing a bit of both demographics and mindset will make it easier for you to find and reach them.
Lastly, what topic do I write about? What context do I support people in, both when they engage in my product or service, and in my blog writing? For Soulful Brand, our topics cover brand strategy and messaging communications. Sticking to that container allows us to rule out extraneous ideas that don’t fit.
Your Procrastination Response
- How will you respond when you don’t feel like writing?
- How can you address the root of anticipatory fear?
This is about deciding ahead of time, “how will I deal with my procrastination when it comes up?”
When you have the thought, “I don’t feel like writing,” you need to address it directly. Now, this isn’t always about pushing through—sometimes it’s about opening up to a possibility (which works better for me).
There’s a part of procrastination that’s directly related to anticipatory fear. As a thought blogger (aspiring thought leaders who share their message through blogging), you’re putting yourself out there. You are putting your name next to an idea. You are playing the role of the messenger.
This is a very vulnerable position to be in. There are critics who will not like what you have to say, disagree with you, or think you are full of you know what. I’ve navigated all of these experiences. It can be rough and challenging at first—especially if you tend towards being sensitive (like me) to what others think of you.
Brene Brown gave a talk called, Why Your Critics Aren’t the Ones Who Count. Here’s a paraphrase of her advice: If I’m getting criticized while I’m in the arena (putting myself out there) by someone who is not in an arena of their own (putting themselves out there), then what they have to say to bring me down is not valid.
If we anticipate that we won’t be able to handle the critics, this would be a very easy way for our ego to hijack our motivation to write. Best to get clear on what’s demotivating us.
Above is Elizabeth Gilbert’s beautiful TED talk called, Your Elusive Creative Genius. She proposes that there are these “ideas” floating around in the psychic ethosphere, and they’re looking for a good vessel to craft, care for, and share them with the world or a community.
So when we prepare ourselves by deciding our process, intentions, and procrastination response, in effect we are making ourselves a good vessel—opening up the channel of inspiration and welcoming the ideas floating around out there to find a home with us.
To recap, to avoid decision fatigue for your writing practice, decide in advance:
- What is your Writing Process?
- What are your Writing Intentions?
- What is Your Procrastination Response?
If you’d like to explore your answers to those questions above with my guidance, check out our upcoming workshop, enrolling from now until Sept 7th, 2015…