At the end of this week, I’ll publish my 1,900th piece on this blog. You might think that by now I’ve got the process dialed in.
Idea. Write. Edit. Publish. Boom.
20–30 minutes and I’m done.
Sometimes that’s the case.
(Well, except for the editing. Most of my pieces here are hardly edited much, but that’s a different topic for another time.)
Other times, I struggle.
It’s not quite “writer’s block”. Rather, it’s a category that’s distinct from writer’s block.
It’s more like,
I know what I want to say but I’m having trouble articulating it coherently.
Perhaps I’ll call this Articulation Block.
Here’s an example:
For the past week I’ve been wanting to share a simple story about an experience I had. The story has several actionable takeaways and lessons, and has also sparked a couple of jokes for my stand-up comedy.
It’s a great story. I know it will offer value.
Yet when I try to write it, I end up spinning in a million different directions. The story gets bloated with too much unnecessary context. The lessons get swirled together. It looses its impact.
I’ve written it several times over the past week, but can’t yet seem to get it coherent.
Even after all the pieces I’ve written, they don’t always flow on command.
I believe it’s important to normalize this.
If you’re a writer or creator struggling to articulate your ideas, knowing that this is normal can be helpful to averting the shame that often accompanies these types of blocks.
That said, what do you do when this happens? Here are some of the steps I take:
(1) Verbalize Your Ideas
Sometimes it helps to flesh out what you want to say by talking it out. I’ve told the story verbally to several people. Each time, I’ve been able to tell it succinctly. After I tell it verbally, I try to journal what I said, so that I capture it in writing.
The more you tell a story verbally, the easier it is to condense it.
(2) Write It Out Messy
One of the best pieces of writing advice I ever received was from writer Dan Pink’s 2014 commencement address at Northwestern University. He relayed this advice from his professor Charlie Yarnoff:
Sometimes you have to write to figure it out.
Writing is not just for memorializing what you want to say. The process of writing helps you figure out what you want to say and how you want to say it.
Sometimes I have to write a piece several times until I write it in a way that finally “lands” and feels good to me. This is part of the process.
(3) Write It In Pieces
You don’t have to start at the beginning. When I feel stuck in a story or in a piece I want to write, I’ll start with the part of that story that feels in flow.
That might look like writing the end first, or starting in the middle. It may mean I write one lesson a day and then come back to write the intro story.
You don’t have to write a piece in a linear oder.
(4) Put It Aside For a While
It’s my nature to persist with something until I get it. And although persistence is a great quality, sometimes it can work against me. It’s possible to get so immersed in a problem that you can’t see your way to a solution.
Sometimes the best way to get unstuck is to walk away from the problem and leave it for a while. Maybe for an afternoon. Maybe for a week.
I will work on something else, take a walk, do a workout. Moving my body often helps me come up with new perspectives and new ways to approach it.
Let the solution come to you organically.
(5) Accept Your Process
I can’t overstate how crucial this is to the creative process.
When I make myself “wrong” for my process I tend to go into a shame spiral, which just adds more weight to an already-heavy emotional labor burden.
When I accept that this is all part of my process I am less resistant to it and feel less shame about it.
Acceptance helps me stay open to new perspectives. I can trust that eventually I’ll be able to write the story I wanted to write.
A good story has no expiration date. I’ve learned over the years that sometimes an experience needs to “gel” before we can share it effectively. When I try to share something too soon it often gets stuck.
It’s also possible that this story isn’t meant for writing down. It may be a story that is best left for a talk or verbal presentation.
And accepting that is part of the process too.
When I can detach from the outcome of sharing a certain story in a certain way, I free myself up to share other things.
So, I didn’t yet share the story, but I hope these tips were valuable to you.
Leave a comment and let me know: do you get stuck in articulating your ideas? Which of these tips do you find most helpful?