8 Rules for Avoiding “Writer’s Dread”

frustrated young business man working on laptop computer at office

Something’s due. An article. Copy for a brochure. Content for a website. Whatever it is, the deadline is looming and IT’S ALL UP TO YOU to get this thing done—and done well. But, really, you’d rather rub sand in your eyes or clean your house AND your neighbor’s if either would get you out of having to sit down and write. You just DREAD the process. Believe me–I get it. So, fellow-writer-who’s-supposed-to-love-what-you-do-all-the-time-and-have-the-muse-always-appear-at-your-beckoning, what do you do?

RULE #1: Don’t Panic!
Let me put your mind at ease. It’s okay to dread the writing process—even if you’re a writer. Let’s face it—writing is HARD WORK. It’s not a profession that’s pursued by wimps. But, you know what? You don’t have to love it every day. And you don’t have to feel guilty for not loving it every day. Just because you hit a wall from time to time doesn’t mean that you weren’t meant to be a writer or that you’re losing your touch (or your grip!). It just means that you’re human. But don’t let the dread stop you from doing your best work. And therein lies the problem, right? So, let’s look at Rules 2-8.

RULE #2: Fall in Love with What You’re Writing About
We’ve all had to write copy for products or services that seem pretty boring and anything BUT sexy. I know I have. Everything from transformers (NOT the toys) to roofing materials to electrical devices. This can be a challenge—particularly if you’ve been charged with writing promotional copy for such products and services. You know—copy that needs to SELL! As crazy as this might sound, you need to find a way to fall in love with whatever you’re writing about. Even if it’s a commodity product like paper towels. If you look deeply enough, there’s always something you can discover that will make you see that product or service in a brand new—and loving—light.

Rule #3: Know the Why
If you don’t know why you’re promoting something, then of course you’re going to dread writing about it. So, don’t focus on features. That’s boring. Instead, focus on figuring out how whatever it is you’re writing about will make a difference in the lives of those who use it. As the old advertising saying goes, “People don’t buy grass seed. They buy lawns their neighbors will be freakin’ jealous of!” (Okay–maybe that’s paraphrasing it just a little. But you get the point.) Figure out the “why” of what you’re promoting and then write copy that brings it to life for potential customers.

Rule #4: Find the Story
You don’t have to be a novel writer to be a storyteller. Even business writers are storytellers—telling the stories of products, organizations, candidates, causes, etc. There’s a story to go along with EVERYTHING. You just have to find it. And tell it. Look at your writing assignment as a challenge. What can you do—as the talented writer you are—to make a product more intriguing, to make a cause more worthy, to make an organization more relevant? Craft an authentic, truthful and compelling story that resonates with your audience and that moves them to action. There’s nothing boring about that!

Rule #5: Figure Out Where You’re Going
One of the worst feelings in the world as a writer is to look at a blank screen and have no idea about what to do or where to go. It will drain the enthusiasm even out of even the most prolific writers among us. So, instead of sitting there staring in to the great abyss, map out your course. And I suggest doing it with pencil (or pen) and paper. Get away from the glare of the screen, breathe, and then outline where you want to take your audience from start to finish. This can help clear the cobwebs out and give you the clarity you need to start—and finish—strong.

Rule #6: Seek Inspiration–and Soak it In

Writers who just keep their nose to the proverbial grindstone all the time—or who live in their own world without exploring what’s going on in others—tend to burn out. It might be a slow burn—but it’s happening. One of the first things I do each morning is get on the internet and check out what’s going on in the world of news, of pop culture, of advertising, of whatever rabbit hole I happen to go down. Inevitably I find sources of inspiration along the way—most of them things I would NEVER have thought of on my own. Do whatever you need to do find inspiration on a regular basis. Don’t just wait until you need it. Have a ready supply of it just waiting to be tapped. That way, when “writer’s dread” sets in, you can use that inspiration as a kind of first aid kit. Or maybe even defibrillator.

Rule #7: Give Yourself a Break

Move away from the desk and go for a walk. Grab a bite of lunch. Get in that run you’ve been avoiding. Just give yourself a break—both literally and figuratively. Don’t beat yourself up for dreading the writing process. It happens to even the best of us! So know it and accept it—but don’t wallow in it. Do what it takes to get yourself to a better place. And sometimes that means getting the heck out of Dodge for a little while—even if it’s only for 15 minutes. Don’t sit there in front of your screen stressing about how everything just stinks. Take a break. Change the scenery. And come back and—see Rule #8.

Rule #8: Know That You’ve GOT THIS!
“Writer’s dread” happens. It just does. But know that it will subside. Know that you’re AWESOME at what you do. Know that you have the power to make a difference with the words you write. And—above all—know that you’ve GOT THIS! You’ll finish the assignment. You’ll meet the deadline. And you’ll have written something that’s going to blow people’s minds—in the very best way. Then, go out and celebrate. You freakin’ DESERVE it!!

Pages of Inspiration
Here are a few books that I keep on or near my desk to refer to when I need some inspiration and guidance. The links are affiliate links. So, if you use them—THANK YOU! But if you’d rather go straight to Amazon or some other bookstore, that’s cool, too. Hope you find them useful! (And if you have recommendations of your own, please leave them in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!)

Damn Good Advice (for people with talent!): How to Unleash Your Creative Potential by America’s Master Communicator—by George Lois: Fantastic book to give you a kick in the pants when you need it!

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action—by Simon Sinek: When you’re struggling to figure out the “why” of what you’re promoting, this book provides wonderful insight into how you can find it. Also, check out Simon’s TED talk.

Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content—by Ann Handley: I absolutely LOVE this book! Ann provides short, simple and actionable tips about all kinds of promotional writing. It’s just enough to get you unstuck and on your way to writing something AMAZING!