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I make a living as a writer and support a family doing it. Writer’s block is simply not an option for me.
I no longer have trouble with writer’s block, whether on my personal writing projects or in the work I do for clients. But between 2013 and 2016, I went through an excruciating ordeal of writer’s block with my personal writing. That experience turned out to be a crucible from which I emerged stronger and better as a writer.
Here’s what I learned from it.
1. You need readers
Writing is a solo sport. And that’s a problem. Because humans are social creatures.
If you’re resilient and determined (which most entrepreneurs tend to be), you might be able to churn out a book or two, all off your own steam with no feedback at all from readers or fans.
But if nobody reads what you’re writing, you’re eventually going to falter. And you’re probably going to stop writing.
That’s a lesson I learned the hard way. It is vital that you build a readership. One way to do this is to write regular social-media posts and blog posts.
If people are reading your stuff, and enjoying it, you’ll be more motivated to continue writing.
2. Know your genre
I get a lot of people coming to me who want to write a leadership book to build their reputation. For many of these people, it’s the right book to write.
But, for others, it quickly becomes clear that it’s not the right book for them, and that they’re writing it to live up to some ambiguous peer expectation.
Writing in the incorrect genre can suck the joy out of your writing faster than a vacuum-in-a-jar taking in air when the outlet is open.
Ask yourself why you’re writing in a particular genre. Is it really what you want to do?
Writing in the wrong genre or about a subject that’s not right for you can bring on writer’s block faster than an icy winter brings on a cold.
3. Embrace your style
Reading seven books in a row, all written in the same style, gets boring quickly. That’s part of the problem with business books as a genre — too many of them lack finesse and originality of style.
There is no right or wrong way to write a business book: There is only your way.
“Finding your voice” is a common term in the writing world. Every writer has to do it eventually. The only way I know how to do it is to write a gazillion words, and then you will have found your voice.
Once you’ve found your voice, embrace it!
Writing with your voice makes writing fun. And when writing is fun, writer’s block stays away.
4. Understand your limits — every writer is different
Charles Dickens was a powerhouse of a writer who churned out novels as fast as the public could devour them. He wrote for money (according to the book Victorian Britain by Patrick N. Allitt), and he did it well. Stephen King is another mega-output writer who tries to churn out 2,000 words of high-quality prose each day. That’s a short novel every month, for those keeping count.
I try to write about 3,000 words a day when I’m writing a book, but I can’t keep that up for more than a month. My average also tends to hover around 2,000 words a day.
If I try to do more than that then my brain shuts down. I can’t think. The words feel like stones coming out of my mouth. I need a break. I need a walk; I need some time with my kids.
Whatever your limits are, don’t surpass them. Like a car that has run too long without a checkup, the brakes are going to falter, the tires will go bald and the machine simply won’t run anymore.
Hello, writer’s block.
5. Writing can be hard. Learn to live with it.
And then there’s the fact that writing is sometimes just hard. This is a cold truth that all writers must eventually learn.
Spirals of glory and euphoric bouts of blissful creativity do exist. But so does the hard slog, the squinting of the eyes and the sheer grit required to finish one more page before going to bed.
If you sometimes find it tough to write, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing it wrong. Just first make sure you haven’t surpassed your limits as mentioned above, and then simply push through those tough moments with pure determination.
6. You need raw material
If I haven’t done enough research, I struggle to write. That’s one of the reasons I put so much emphasis on interviewing my clients extensively when writing books for them. The more I can pick their brains, the easier it will be for me to put their ideas into words.
Raw material is defined as research, facts, data, numbers, figures, anecdotes, memories, other stories, even fiction. Just as a factory needs raw material to put out a refined product, so do you need it to produce top-quality prose.
If you find yourself struggling to get words down, consider researching your subject a little more and watch that writer’s block dissipate like the darkness at dawn.