"I've got writer's block," a senior exec. tells me. She's got to deliver a 5 minute speech to 500 people, and she hasn't written a thing.
But she knows what she wants to avoid.
"I don't want to be clichéd, predictable, or boring," she says. "Or too dramatic, or too rehearsed. Also, I don't want to wear the wrong shoes."
That's the problem—and it's got nothing to do with footwear. Her internal editor is out of control.
Internal editor? That's your natural concern that everything you write, or say, be excellent. Having an internal editor is essential, except for one thing: it screws up the early stages of creating anything.
Writing is difficult enough, even for accomplished authors. "The struggle with writing is over," wrote Philip Roth, author of 31 books, on a post-it note to himself. He'd finally decided, at almost 80 years old, to retire.
"I look at that note every morning," he told the New York Times, "and it gives me such strength."
Anyone who writes anything—a report, a proposal, a fortune cookie—knows the struggle. I struggle with birthday cards, even though the entire point of buying a birthday card is to get someone else to express your sentiments.
But you've still got to write something.
The solution to the writing struggle is always the same: get something down on paper—anything. Anything beats nothing.
How to start?
1) Write without stopping. Set a time limit, say five minutes, and then keep your hands moving on the keyboard, or your pen moving across the paper, even if it's only to write:
a) "I have nothing to say. Absolutely nothing. Furthermore, I still have nothing to say."
b) "Paul's tips are completely idiotic."
c) "Happy birthday, happy birthday, happy birthday. You're 50 years old! You could be dead, any second! Have a nice day."
2) Talk it out. Instead of writing, speak into a dictaphone, or leave yourself a long voice mail. Sometimes it's easier to talk than write. But talk without stopping.
3) Commit to writing badly. Make that your goal. The worse your writing is—spelling mistakes, bad grammar, incoherent thoughts—the better.
When you let yourself write badly, you loosen up and the words flow. Then—but not before—you've got something to edit.
All writing is re-writing. That's the best writing advice I ever got. But first, you've got to get something down.
Tip: Create first, edit later.
© Copyright 2013 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.