By Katie Rolnick, Intern at Heinz Marketing
Writers block. That dreaded numbness of brain and restlessness of body that signals the uncontrollable corking of the mind’s verbal faucet. A maddening, but inevitable reality for any person who wishes to effectively communicate a thought or message, most especially if a firm deadline lies just around the corner. None of us can escape it, not even us folks in the field of marketing. In marketing we learn that the fundamental things apply, and communication is fundamental to the core of any marketing strategy. Whether tackling an email, a tweet or a blog post, it’s not a bad idea to have a game plan in place before you actually sit down to put words on paper.
As a marketing neophyte, I began my internship at Heinz marketing with only the clothes on my back and a skillset that includes both a knack and a love for writing. Thinking, at the time, that marketing was primarily about data analysis and cold-calling, I prepared myself for the possibility that I might have little chance to put my written communication skills to work. However, to my delight, I quickly learned that communication and writing are actually essential in the world of marketing. I soon became familiar with the concept of “content marketing”, and got involved by writing emails, outlines and blog posts. That seems like a great deal for a lover of writing doesn’t it? But here’s the catch: even as someone who loves to write, I often find myself bogged down by the nervous anticipation of writing something that might be out of my comfort zone and that has a hard and fast deadline. I can hear it now, the familiar thunk of my mental cork as the words abruptly cease to flow. So, here is where the strategy comes in. Writers like to call this their “process”.
Inevitably, no two people will have the exact same writing process, nor does a process have to be fixed and unchanging. My personal writing process has been developing over many years, sometimes even without my knowledge. To be perfectly honest, I only really discovered a process that worked for me as I slogged through the end of my essay-heavy sophomore year in college. Excited by my discovery, I shared some tips with my roommate, but we soon found that what worked for me certainly didn’t work for her. The ultimate goal is to find something that works best for you; a personally tested game plan that won’t necessarily eliminate procrastination or writers block, but will give you the confidence to say, “Hey, this actually sounds doable”.
My personal writing process consists of three, somewhat loosely applied steps. Of course, your process has to be revised based on the piece you are writing. I’ll share these steps here with you in hopes the tips I use to discipline myself might empower a few people to take a stab at that project they’ve been putting off. We’ve all been there. So, here goes:
The thought dump:
This step involves bullet points, and lots of them. Depending on how long the piece needs to be, I usually divide my bullet points into intro, body, and conclusion sections. Each bullet point speaks to a thought or point I want to make in the piece, and I put them in order to create a rough skeleton. During this phase, I allow myself to use simple words, run on sentences, bad grammar, and any other writing faux pas my heart desires. The goal is not to be polished, but simply to brainstorm. I think this is a great first step for me because it removes the stress of the assignment. Rather than thinking about producing that perfect final piece, I’m allowing my thoughts to flow freely and imperfectly. The organizational part is done! Creating that framework was made easier because I gave it my singular focus without worrying about how each sentence sounds.
Now that I have my skeleton outline of bullet points, it’s time to fill it in. I first turn my bullet points into complete sentences. Next, I fill in other sentences around them, asking myself: “How do I want to introduce this thought?” and, “What more could I say about this idea?” Lo and behold: a paragraph takes shape! Since I’ve already organized my thoughts, I can allow myself to focus only on filling in information and gaps in the flow of my piece. As a result, I am left with a cohesive finished product. This is a very efficient way for me to add both length and depth, because I am not worrying about organizing, only how I want to state my information.
Scrub it clean:
The final, and arguably the most important step in creating any piece of writing is editing. I like to edit as I go as well, but mostly on nit-picky things in separate paragraphs like spelling, singular word choice, and punctuation. At the end, it’s so important to take a step back and look at your finished piece without being immersed in the middle of it. Did you make a clear introduction to what you are going to talk about? Do your paragraphs transition smoothly between each other? Does your conclusion pack a punch? Finally, edit the whole thing with a fine-tooth-comb to identify errant misspellings, rogue grammar, and flimsy word choice. Now, close your computer, take a deep breath and go outside, you’ll be pleased to find that the real world still exists beyond your screen!
You might be thinking that I made this all sound too easy, and you might have me there. Now is the time when I admit that in the course of writing this blog post, I spent approximately 20 minutes looking out the window, took four breaks to scroll through Instagram, and got up twice in idol search of a snack. Even after everything I just said about conquering writer’s block and improving productivity, I will openly admit that my method isn’t perfect. The fact is that we’re all human, and the great thing about that is that we are way more interesting than machines. Also unlike machines, we do not function perfectly or consistently. There is no single method on earth that would cure writers block and procrastination for good, and this is something we just have to accept. In the mean time, work hard, take breaks, and strive to recognize what methods work best for you when you set out to put your thoughts down on paper.