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Get over it! How to overcome Writer's Block

Rosemary Gillespie - Saturday, August 30, 2008

How to make a start when nothing’s happening.

If you ever copywrite marketing or sales materials, or are a tender writer or proposal writer, you'll have been there: staring at a blank screen, procrastinating and waiting for inspiration.

Unfortunately, writer’s block gets to all of us from time to time. Over all the years I’ve been writing, I’ve learnt a few tricks to help me get started.

1. Be clear about what you want to say
When we have to write something, we often fail to take a few minutes to think about what it is we want to say. Jot down the key points you want to make, before you start writing. This gives you a simple outline for your content. You want to keep to the point too, so doing this will keep your content on track.

2. Start anyway, no matter how bad it is!
Often one of the reasons for writer’s block is that we feel pressure to get it right the first time. Don’t. Even if your ideas don’t sound right, or if you’re worried that what you’re writing isn’t 100% correct, don’t worry. Write it down anyway. You might be surprised at how much value you get from this material when you come back to it. Sometimes just writing your thoughts down, regardless of how rough they are, can be a fantastic start.

3. Take a break
Sitting in front of the computer rarely inspires us. Ask around and you'll find most people say they do their thinking in the shower. So, if you’re really struggling to write, get away from the computer. Take a break. Go for a walk around the block, make a cup of tea, or switch to something else. When you come back to your blank document, you may be surprised how easily the words flow when you’re refreshed. 

4. Start with the structure
When I’m writing, I often find it helps me get started if I write the document structure first – before coming back to fill in the detail. A big, blank document with no content might seem overwhelming, but small sections are much easier to tackle.

5. Write back to front

If you’re writing a proposal or tender or pitch, there’s lots of detailed information that you need to include - case studies, or process diagrams, or financial outlines. I often start proposals by finding and inserting this information, and tidying it up. You’ll need to write this content in any case – so make the most of ‘wasted’ time by editing it and making sure it sounds great.

6.Get help
Ask someone else to contribute a section (e.g. to chase up a case study, or provide you with financial data). Or, once you’ve written a single section, send it to someone in your team and ask them to review it for you. Sometimes a little positive affirmation is all it takes to really get writing.

For more help, download our free guide, Better Business Writing.

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Let's get active!

Rosemary Gillespie - Saturday, August 02, 2008

Why active language is more persuasive.

When it comes to copywriting marketing, business development or sales materials, or 'writing tenders or writing proposals, you need to be as engaging, persuasive and results-driven as possible.

Using the active voice can help you create a real sense of immediacy and impact – while the passive voice is more subtle, it can be a little wishy-washy.

What is active voice?

With active language, the subject of a sentence is performing an action. For example:

  • The cat is chasing the dog.
  • Steve likes Judy. 
  • He is holding her hand.
  • Andrew gave his mother a hug.

What is passive voice?

In passive language, the target of the action is used as a subject – rather than the person or thing that’s actually doing the action.

For example:

  • The dog is being chased by the cat.
  • Judy is liked by Steve.
  • Her hand is being held by him. 
  • Andrew’s mother received a hug from her son.

If you are unsure if a sentence is active or passive, look for the word "by". In most passive voice sentences, you can identify who or what did the action by the word "by". Three of the four examples immediately above include "by".    

It’s important to note that passive language has its place and isn’t “wrong”.  Sometimes, it’s actually helpful when you need to be vague. For instance:

  • It is believed that the economy will recover this year.
  • It’s commonly argued that active voice is better than passive voice.

However, in most cases, the active form will make what you’re saying sound more dynamic and interesting. It simply pays to be aware of what you’re writing – and to see if there’s a more effective option! 

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