What To Do When The Words Just Won’t Come

I spent a lot of time this weekend thinking about writer’s block.

Well actually, I spent a lot of time this weekend puttering in my garden, and listening to podcasts while I was toiling away. And two of the podcasts were interviews with Aaron Sorkin, the famous writer of television shows such as The West Wing, Sports Night, Studio 60, The Newsroom, and lots of other great stuff. And in both interviews, Sorkin talked about writer’s block and how he suffers from it more often than not. So, of course, I spent a lot of time thinking about writer’s block while listening to Sorkin talk about writer’s block.

The solution to get through something like writer’s block is highly personal, so I can’t prescribe you the exact recipe for the cure. But what I can do is share my experience and some of my solutions, in the hope that some of it is helpful to you.

For most people, writing is a deeply personal thing. It is for me as well, and I usually write best when I am writing from a place of personal experience and emotion (all kinds). So getting through a period of blockage usually involves (for me) getting back in touch with something I am feeling. I do this by reading old email exchanges with people, looking at pictures, reading passages from books that move me, calling a friend… anything that puts me in touch with something inside me, a feeling of some kind. Once I reconnect with those feelings, usually the words start to come out. This doesn’t guarantee that the words that come out will be good words. Sometimes the writing that follows is pretty bad. But as long as the words start coming, I know I am on my way. Bad writing can always be edited into something better.

That’s my recipe. Not sure if that will work for you.

And the same holds true when, instead of “writer’s block,” I am experiencing what might be called “message block”… that moment when I am preparing for a big meeting, or a client engagement, or an important phone call, and I can’t get centered on what to say or how to handle the interaction. Message block is, for me, the verbal form of writer’s block. I just can’t find the words.

And in that case, my solution is pretty similar to my cure for writer’s block. I think about and search for something that connects me to that upcoming conversation, or connects me to that person or group. Something from our past… something that reminds me why this relationship is important… something, anything, that takes the interaction from a “detached place” to a “connected place.” Once I can figure out how to connect with that person or group — how I can help them, what I am grateful for, what has brought us together in the past, a past success — then usually my message block goes away.

Again… my solutions to writer’s block or message block might not work for you. So I share these with you simply to make you think about your own process. But what works for me, when I am struggling with my writing plan or my speaking plan, is to simply go back to the basic building blocks of human connection. And when I find that connection, the words usually start to flow.

And after all, isn’t that what communication is all about? Connection? I think it is. Find the connection and the words will come.

I hope this helps. Have a great day everyone.

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Dean Brenner

A book about change

The Latimer Corporation’s CEO Dean Brenner is a noted keynote speaker and author on the subject of persuasive communication. He has written three books, including Persuaded, in which he details how communication can transform organizations into highly effective, creative, transparent environments that succeed at every level.