Good writing differentiates us from our competition. Whether answering a complaint, responding to a proposal request, or creating social media content, the ability to share thoughts clearly is a desirable business skill.

No matter how comfortable we are with the writing process, there comes a day when the words just don’t flow. Has writer’s block popped in for a visit, or is it something else?

In a Grammarly article, research from Michael Barrios and Jerome Singer, two Yale University psychologists, found writer’s block usually stems from four roots: anxiety/stress, interpersonal frustration, apathy, and anger/disappointment.

  • Writers blocked by anxiety or stress are usually hampered by self-criticism. “I’m just not good at writing.”
  • Those blocked by interpersonal frustration worry about the comparison with others—good or bad. “When I write, it never sounds as good as what others produce.”
  • Writers experiencing apathy seem to have truly run out of ideas and are unable to find inspiration. “It’s all been said before; nothing new for me to add.”
  • Writers blocked by anger or disappointment often search for external motivation or reward. “I’m tired of spending time on this with nothing to show for it.”

Some writers don’t buy into the block theory and point the finger at another culprit – perfectionism. We want our writing to be perfect – to answer a question exquisitely, to be original and exciting, to stand out above other submissions, to be effortless, and to be a frameable work of words. This doesn’t normally happen without substantial effort. There isn’t much difference between developing an ability to write and mastering anything else you’ve achieved.

You might be a competent skier or an excellent public speaker. Both accomplishments involved a learning curve, hours of practice, and a mindset to succeed. You didn’t give up the first time things went wrong. You may have taken lessons, studied the subject in-depth, and been motivated by small successes. It was up to you alone to persevere and keep learning and practicing. Apply this same thinking to your writing, and you’ll improve.

The next time you stall, try one of these approaches:

Jot down ideas as they occur.

  • Keep a file of random thoughts and concepts to dip into when your writing well is dry. Collect phrases you like, possible topics, links to articles, and examples of writing you like. Think of the file as a catalog of ideas and inspiration – a resource when you need it most.

Give yourself a deadline.

  • Don’t leave the task of creating a detailed document such as a Standard Operating Procedures manual or responding to a multi-page request for proposal to the last minute. Break the sections down and apply a due date to each one. Schedule your writing and avoid last-minute panic.

Forget about the title.

  • No rule says you need to think of a title before you can write a blog or article. The perfect title often comes when you step back, read what you’ve written, and see how your thoughts connect.

Just start writing.

  • The first few sentences can be a hurdle. Get past it by writing whatever comes into your mind, relevant or not. Then transition to the actual topic once your head is in the right space. If it’s a complex subject, start with an outline of components and points. Work on them one at a time, gradually building your piece.  

Allow yourself to make mistakes.

  • Your first draft is exactly that – a draft. It’s not supposed to be perfect. Take off your grammar and spelling police hat and concentrate on getting your thoughts down instead of self-correcting as you go along. After your draft is done, take a break from it. Read it later as if someone else wrote it, and it’s your job to edit.

Read, read, read!

  • The more you read, the better your writing will become. You’ll recognize writers’ styles, patterns, formats, and formulas. Adopt the ones you like, but don’t overdo them – you want to develop your voice, not copy someone.

Write every day.

  • A neurosurgeon said to a writer, “When I retire, I’m thinking of becoming a writer.” The writer responded, “What a coincidence. When I retire, I’m thinking of becoming a neurosurgeon.”
  • Becoming a good writer takes years of practice and honing your skill. If you’re serious about improving your ability, then do one thing – commit to writing every day. Buy a notebook and fill in three pages with your handwritten thoughts daily. Develop the skill of expressing yourself and getting thoughts and ideas onto paper. Your notebook isn’t a diary or journal, and it’s not meant for sharing – it’s you downloading flashes of brilliance, deep thoughts, shallow gripes, ideas, and fears.

As with any skill, practice – not perfectionism – is the path to take.