In this piece, Invisible Grail’s Louise Clifton draws on our own approach to facilitating original writing to suggest practical ways to overcome writer’s block.
Louise is an accomplished copywriter who weaves her thread of magic into all our communications. Here she shows us how to find inspiration when we’re feeling stuck.
Writing is one of the essential ways we communicate and connect with each other; it permeates decision-making, shapes how we feel and think about the subject in question, and at its best can encourage us to act.
From a simple email, to writing to attract students, drafting research proposals or funding bids, or creating strategies that need to be understood and disseminated, the ability of our messages to inspire and motivate our readers is significant.
And yet writing doesn’t often come easily. You start with knowing what you want to say but after trying to find space for your seventeenth Very Important Point (one that’s integral to your original message), it’s easy to end up with a sizeable chunk of fall-back words, and your original point lost.
For when you’re stuck in a sea of text, or before you even start, explore these five short prompts to find creativity in getting what you need to say, said.
Distil and distil again
Twitter shows the power of distilling an idea to a limited format. Write the very basic message you wish to convey in exactly 12 words, then read it through the eyes of someone who you’ve never met. Using a confined number of words will encourage you to weigh the value of each one you select. Should your words be more complex, or simpler? Could the same thing be said with one word rather than five?
This isn’t about making your message as short as possible. This is about making sure that the very essence of what you need to say is present. When you have your 12 words, expand or contract the idea as you need, but consider this pared-back sentence your foundation stone.
An oldie but a goodie! Pick one key word from what you want to write about. Once you have your word, simply write. Write whatever comes to mind. Let your pen or cursor go in whichever round-about, leaping, lunging direction it pleases. The only rule to this exercise is to keep the pen on your paper, or your fingers on the keyboard. Keep going for about five minutes (you’ll be astonished at how quickly this goes.)
The point of this exercise is to free your mind and your words from the grasps of boredom, repetitiveness and perceived boundaries about what you need to say and how you need to say it. This is your chance to let go, so enjoy it!
Inertia is a common problem for people who need to write to a given brief, purpose or deadline. When you face inertia, find ways to disrupt it. Have something close by such as a book of poetry, a travel guide, an article or blog: anything that is removed from what you are trying to write about. Give yourself five minutes to find distance and differentiation in tone of voice, the words used, and even the meter of the writing.
This is invaluable advice when you need something to shake you out of the uniform language and stale thinking that can loom over you when you’re writing.
Don’t start at Go
The hardest place to start is at the beginning. So much hinges on those first few words, because it’s here where you can often win or lose people. In reality that might not be true, but we often put this pressure here regardless. So consider this your prompt to begin elsewhere. Start with exactly what you want to say, and build your message from here, layering upwards and digging downwards.
This is your permission to forgo the painstaking process of starting.
Rather than thinking of constraints as a limitation, consider how you can use them to inspire you to use or find words you don’t often reach for. In John Simmons’s book (and our namesake) The Invisible Grail, a whole chapter is devoted to the idea of starting each part of the chapter with the next letter of the alphabet.
Constraints don’t have to stop at the vocabulary you use, you can also use the constraint of time of day, place, duration, or even format to spark off the creativity you need to start or finish that piece of writing.
Ultimately, use the techniques that work best for you. It may be a combination of the above, or just one or two prompts alone. These ideas apply to almost any writing, as every time we put pen to paper or mouse to cursor we are designing something that will connect with another person to inspire, motivate or influence them.
Louise Clifton is Director of Marketing, Communications and Operations at Invisible Grail.