Late last year Denise and I were chatting at a California Writers Club – Mt. Diablo Branch meeting about the challenges we writers face. She gave me some advice that worked for me. Recently I was able to convince her to write an article for the blog.
Before we jump in to that, here is a little about Denise..
Denise P. Kalm, BCC, was trained as a personal/executive coach at John F. Kennedy University and as a creativity coach by Eric Maisel. She has been practicing as a coach for over 10 years; her client base includes many IT professionals, engineers and scientists. Her 30+ years of experience in IT, as well as her experience with numerous life transitions informs her work. She earned her MS in Biochemical Genetics at the University of Michigan, and though she hasn’t worked in the field, keeps up on the latest research.
Where I Started – Just like many of you, I loved the idea of writing and seeing my name in print. I wanted to see what people thought of my work and to keep creating it for the rest of my life. But then, there’s that blank page staring at me. Whether you still enjoy writing on paper (I do, when not near a device) or prefer to write on a device, the emptiness of an unfilled page is intimidating.
I tried a variety of tricks. If I didn’t finish a story or a chapter, I could come back to a non-blank page. I tried writing prompts, no success. Even when I had a clear idea in my head of what I wanted to say, once I sat down, my brain said, “not today.” I’m a big Natalie Goldberg fan, but couldn’t seem to get the words to flow on demand.
The only exception came when I did some writing for newspapers. The challenge is that news has a short shelf life. If you want to respond to an issue, you need to get it done quickly. It also has to be short. All writers know the truth of Blaise Pascal’s famous words, “I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.” Writing tight is tough and often takes more edits. And yet, when I worked on these kinds of pieces, writer’s block simply didn’t happen.
The Great Insight – I confess I didn’t analyze or understand why the newspaper work just flowed. As my career shifted from being a super-techie, I found a niche doing a variety of writing for software companies. White papers, articles, public relations, customer success stories, product briefs, etc., became a staple of my workday. At work, there’s always a deadline, so I didn’t have the luxury of sitting around for days, simply thinking about it. I had to write.
Some of the pieces were easier, because they were based on templates. You just followed the “script, putting in the specifics of a product. But most of the work was highly creative. Part of the competitiveness of a software company is in the attractive reading on the website or in print to hand out at conferences. If people don’t read about what you sell, you aren’t going to sell as much of your software.
At first, I struggled a little. But whenever I got stuck, I would take a short walk, just to clear my head. I never focused on what I was working on and just let my mind drift. But inevitably, I would come back with a clear idea of how to construct the piece. Often, I would come up with a great title at the same time.
In a shorter time than you might expect, I could get to work and just start writing. Even when I was crafting a long article or a talk, I had begun to craft ways of approaching it. Who’s the audience? What’s the message I need to convey? Have I narrowed it down to fit in the allowed word count?
As I got better (and faster) at this kind of writing, more assignments came my way. The fun part is I could swap writing for something I didn’t want to do.
When asked to take on blog writing for the company, I felt the same way I did when I wrote a short story that turned out well. Exhilarated, happy, in flow. And the numbers of readers slowly increased, giving me immediate feedback and reward.
Writing ALL the time makes a difference. You need a deadline. You need to craft rules for each type of piece. Just like with cooking, it matters if you’ve done your mise en place – your preparation. Even if you aren’t writing for an employer, you can define those rules and ask the right questions upfront. This serves to get you grounded. If you struggle with your “assignment,” go for a short walk. It has to be outside, in nature. I’ve found a treadmill doesn’t spawn the same creativity.
I hated hearing that the best writers write every day. It seemed too tough an obligation. But they’re right. Just as Malcolm Gladwell noted, it can take 10,000 hours to achieve excellence (and we can all get better). If you only write a few hours a week, you may find it hard to keep improving.
Challenge yourself to write something every day, even if it’s just some of the planning and strategy for your writing. Letters, fleshed out ideas, stories—it all counts if you put in your best effort. I NEVER have writers block anymore! You can do it too.
She is a published author
Lifestorm, – A novel
Career Savvy – Keeping & Transforming Your Job,
Tech Grief – Survive and Thrive Through Career Losses (with Linda Donovan)
First Job Savvy – Find a Job, Start Your Career
Retirement Savvy – Designing Your Next Great Adventure
All are available on major sites as paperbacks and e-books.