When you have to write something you don’t want to write, it can feel like you’re really stuck. Getting started feels almost impossible. So you don’t. You push the thing aside and hope it will go away. Except it doesn’t.
Maybe it’s a CV or job application, or a presentation for work. Perhaps it’s a difficult email, or a letter to a family member you haven’t spoken to in a long time. Or maybe it’s a blog post for your business or your email newsletter.
Putting your thoughts and beliefs down in writing for others to read can feel really scary. But there are some ways to get past your stuckness and to a place where writing becomes your friend and tool, rather than an instrument of emotional torture.
WORK OUT WHAT’S HOLDING YOU BACK
You really don’t want to write this thing. You feel it in the pit of your stomach – something is stopping you from getting started. If you’re going to get past this you need to work out what’s really holding you back.
Is it the act of writing itself that’s putting you off? Is that all that’s going on? Or is it something about the actual thing you’re writing? Could it be the end result this piece of writing signifies?
For example, if it’s a presentation you’re trying to write, maybe the thought of giving the actual presentation – of standing up and speaking in front of others – is the thing that’s putting you off?
Or maybe you’re writing your CV for a job you want so much it hurts. Could it be you’re practising a little bit of self-sabotage – protecting your ego from rejection and disappointment?
Work out what’s holding you back from getting started. Get those feelings out of the pit of your stomach and into your rational brain.
Now turn those feelings around. Start to see this piece of writing as your friend – as your tool. So, if you’re the presentation writer, look at this piece of writing as an ally – something that will back you up and support you when it’s time to get up and speak.
And if you’re the CV-writer, think of your CV as a beautiful mirror that’s going to let you shine out as the perfect fit you know you are for that dream job.
MAKE PEACE WITH WRITING
It could be that it’s the writing process itself holding you back. Writing is so wrapped up with all sorts of emotional baggage and much of it comes from how we experienced it at school. If you enjoyed English as a kid, if you were given the room to express yourself and the proper encouragement for your words, then you should have pretty strong foundations for your writing.
But, say, if your English teacher overly criticised or mocked your writing abilities, or you had extra challenges like dyslexia, or someone you respected tore your self-belief apart, you might feel a real fear when it comes to the written word.
And that feeling is your body trying to protect you from experiencing that feeling that again. But, the thing is, you’re no longer in that power relationship or that situation.
Whatever you write is going to be valid, and good enough, and worth writing. It won’t be marked out of ten. It won’t be read out in class. It won’t remain in your exercise book for the rest of the academic year.
So, gently tell that voice that’s trying to protect you that everything’s ok. And then trust yourself that you can do this.
STOP EDITING… FOR NOW
My two children (aged five and six) are starting to produce extended writing at school.
My daughter, the five-year-old, flings herself wholeheartedly into any kind of writing. She doesn’t care about spellings, grammar, or syntax; or about what her handwriting looks like. If she’s given the task of writing about something, she dives in and goes for it. She works forwards, producing pages of heartwarming prose that makes everyone smile.
My son worries about spelling, capital letters, full stops. He frets about getting his handwriting just so, contorting his hand to try and reproduce the cursive flourishes he has seen on photocopied worksheets. If he’s given the task of writing about something he stalls, stops and starts, crosses out, goes back and scribbles out. He can’t move forwards because he keeps going back.
Which of these sounds like you? Whenever I get stuck on a piece of writing, my default is to keep going back to my first paragraph. I will edit, tweak, improve, rewrite the hell out of it. I can waste hours honing that first paragraph. And, while editing has an important place, if you start it too soon it will stop you from doing any actual writing.
If you’re stuck in an editing rut, there’s an easy way to get yourself out…
GIVE IT 25 MINUTES
Whether you’ve been doing lots of editing and not enough writing, or you can’t get started at all, try this exercise to get you out of your rut:
Set a timer for 25 minutes and write until the alarm goes off. Feel safe in the knowledge that this piece of writing is just for you. It’s going to be your starting point and it’s going to be your breakthrough.
Go for it and just look forward. Don’t let yourself go back and reread anything you’ve written. And certainly don’t edit any of it.
If that feels scary remember that, when your alarm goes off, you can go back and edit what you’ve just written to your heart’s content. And what’s more, there’ll actually be something there to edit.
But, in the meantime, just start writing.
You’ve looked at what’s really holding you back, reframed how you feel about the process of writing, and you have an easy exercise that will get those first words on paper. Hopefully you should be feeling a lot better about starting this piece of writing.
I’d love to hear if these tips have helped you get unstuck. And if there’s anything you do that helps you get writing, please share it with me in the comments or on Instagram.