When the blank page threatens to overturn your identity as a sane and productive person, what do you do? Me? I eat an entire bag of salt and vinegar chips. Run random errands. Futz with numbers in spreadsheets. Give all of my many houseplants a trim …
Words hold a certain security. When we lose them, it’s unnerving. Frustration, irritation, agitation, fogginess, and total lack of focus can ensue. But I’ve learned that writer’s block is often, counterintuitively, a very good sign. That’s as true for business writing as it is for poetry.
1. It means that you’re trying to say something unique — or to say it differently than it has ever been said before. You’re not just going off your old script or someone else’s.
Case in point: The other day, I was talking to an incredibly talented wedding-dress designer who felt at a loss for words to summarize her design perspective. But it was clear to me that she was struggling for the same reasons that she will eventually succeed: Her business is unlike others in wedding fashion. Cliched terms won’t cut it.
2. You care about quality. Thomas Mann once said that a writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for anyone else. That’s because we’re neurotic. We walk around with 10 different voices in our heads, hashing and rehashing for hours, days, months … before we even get to the page.
OK, so maybe you and I are not that neurotic. But writer’s block is often part of the much harder work of parsing out ideas, bringing clarity to structure, unpacking the meaningful connections that just might make your words worth reading. Quality is underrated in our age. A little bit of neurotic perfectionism isn’t a bad thing.
3. Your business is growing, and you’re paying attention to the signals that it’s time to break the mold. Persistent writer’s block can send you into a panic, or you can celebrate the fact that you are pushing toward new territory. Our words fail us most when we are taking risks. Embracing change — a constant in business these days — requires courage.
OK, so writer’s block is good. Now what?
1. Find support, whether by taking a course to hone your ideas or skills, or creating a weekly coffee-and-writing date with a colleague. Find situations that help you overcome feelings of insecurity and frustration. Seek advisors that accurately reflect back your best ideas and provide insights that you wouldn’t otherwise have. Even a little support can go a long way.
2. Get feedback on your draft. Lucky me, my husband is also a writer and editor, but I often go to people in my business circle who aren’t writers by profession for advice. The truth is, you can’t create anything of real value in a vacuum. Sometimes all you need is a 2-degree course correction from a trusted colleague to reach True North.
3. Keep going. Writing is a way of processing ideas. Great ideas can appear at any moment. You might not recognize when one has appeared. Resist the urge to throw out your rough drafts. Give yourself permission to explore, to fail, to sound dumb or crazy. A draft is just a draft. Whatever it takes, keep going.