3 Tips to Make Writing Less of a Struggle

Struggle

Let’s say you want to blow up a lab.
What do you do?
You take two explosive chemicals and mix them together, right?

But what if you took Na + Cl and mixed them together somehow.
What would you get? You’d get salt.
What’s worse is that the lab would not be “blown up.”

And you’d be a failure.
The more labs you tried to blow with Na + Cl, the more you’d fail.
And the more you fail, the more you’re going to fail.

And this slides us right into why most of us struggle to write.
You see we don’t struggle to write an email.
We don’t write, re-write, re-think and then write something boring.

Our emails are crisp. They have flow. And ebb.
They often have a storyline.
Drama creeps in inevitably.
And the email keeps the attention of the reader.

So if we examine the issue closer, it’s not that you can’t write.
It’s that when put in the spot to write something like an article or a sales letter…
That’s when you freeze.
The words get clumsy. And droopy. And inevitably, the fear of “past failures” kicks in.

Heck, even I find it hard to write under those conditions.

Because writing is mostly a factor of enthusiasm.
Or pathos.
Or fear.
Or anger.

It’s driven by emotion.

Yes, you can sit down and write clinically, but the words become kinda yucky. But when you’re having a conversation like this—one on one—then you’re no longer writing.

I’m not writing. You’re not reading.

We’re “talking” to each other.

The words flow. And ebb.
They grab hold of a storyline.
The drama sits precociously waiting its turn.
And it keeps your attention as a reader.

So then what causes great writing?

Ooh, I hate to boil down ability to any three things, but here goes anyway:

Point 1: Failure freezes the brain

You can’t write with failure in mind. If you sit down to write with past experiences of writing “failure,” you will inevitably fail time and time again. Your brain works on pattern recognition, and it sure as heck knows when to give up.

So when you sit down and write, past instances of failure pound your brain. Then you freeze.

Then you go and find yourself some chocolate to soothe your frazzled neurons.

But will you ever learn to write that way? Of course not, because the failure stems from a lack of direction; a lack of structure

Point 2: Structure forces the brain into pattern recognition

Structure? Yes structure.

Without structure, it’s impossible to identify elements. You see writers don’t just write. Their brain cells scurry around pulling instances of writing structure. It seems like the person is simply writing, but in fact their brains are operating pretty much like a computer. It’s using data that’s been written to your brain over the years. And it’s pulling out that data and memories at high speed and turning it into structure.

Structure may sound boring. It’s not. The most creative things in the world would not be around if it weren’t for structure. The Taj Mahal, the Pyramids, a snowflake, Windows Vista—they’re all built on structure (okay, so Windows Vista has flaky structure, but that just underlines the point of this article).

The basis is structure. The rest is embellishment.

Which takes us to the third part: A mentor.

Point 3: Mentors speed up the process

A mentor is not critical. I can indeed give you a recipe. And you could follow the steps. And with a little bit of luck, you’d not only cook a great ‘chook’ curry (that’s chicken curry) but also experience immense success.

And if you got praise for that chook curry, you’d do it again. And again, thereby building up a success mechanism in your brain. And yes, you may still be absolutely hopeless at baking muffins, your chicken curry is a sheer delight.

Of course, if you have a mentor you’ll be making chicken curries with far fewer mistakes.

A mentor helps. A mentor sees mistakes you’ve missed. A mentor is a catalyst—but hey, catalysts are just meant to speed up the process. The process, when properly explained will work regardless of the presence of the mentor. But if you’re in a hurry (and most of us are) then someone looking over our shoulders is kinda nice. And should we get stuck, it prevents us from going scurrying back to Failure.

Which takes us back to our struggle. The struggle starts in your brain.

You have no fear when writing an email.
You know the structure of how to put together a few hundred words.
You’ve probably even had a mentor in the form of a book, a course, or a school teacher that taught you how to write.

And so you write. Without fear or failure.

It’s this structure that drives consistent results time after time.
And that’s the core of writing.
To be able to get consistent results on demand.

Kaboom!

About the Author: Sean D’Souza offers a free report on ‘Why Headlines Fail’ when you subscribe to his Psychotactics Newsletter. Check out his blog, too.

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Comments

  1. I think tip #2 about structure is the most important. Some people can just put pen to paper and go, but most need a set structure to know exactly what they want to write and how it is going to flow. Authors utilize this all the time. Do bloggers?

    Craig
    http://www.budgetpulse.com

  2. this is so unbelievably true. i think this underscores the famous “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.” to be honest, “not starting” has stopped more success than “failure”, though they could be considered the same thing.

    might as well just jump in and learn to swim before you sink. Don’t sit on the side wondering what the water feels like.

  3. I like it. Reminds me of the book, “What to say when you talk to yourself”. Also mentors know when to give you a kick in the pants and when to stroke your ego. That is the great thing about mentors (if they are good), they know what to do to keep you in line and on the right path.

  4. Excellent tips!

    Thank you for sharing it with us.

  5. When I was in college, Robert Frost visited the campus for a week. I remember him shambling around – he had a very distinctive walk – and being not particularly warm or friendly. But the one thing I remember about one of his lectures was this: “Writing blank verse is like playing tennis with the net down.” That net is structure.

  6. Whew, Sean, thanks once again for uber-timely insight. I’m re-evaluating my “flow” today and figuring out how to ride the magic passion wave so all my different areas of communication are, well, easier. Your post reminded me that I have a bunch of flow-y insightful emails I’ve written that I keep intending to go mine for potential gold. Okay – top of the list for today.
    much wellbeing to you
    Suzanna

  7. Great post- Truth Plus! I totally agree with the mentor part. THAT has helped me more than anything. Mine have proven to increase my writing by at least 50%. Third party writing mentors like the copyblogger have proven to be beyond a blessing. Great post and again- you totally nailed it. Rocking Hot!

  8. One of the ways I write articles and posts is to respond to emails. So that if someone asks me a question about a topic, I’ll write a detailed email back.

    I’ll then take that email and post it in an article/forum/blog. And then for good measure, I’ll do an audio recording, and sometimes a video recording.

    It’s not just about warming up. It’s making sure you’re warmed up enough to really leverage your idea.

    Sean
    psychotactics.com

  9. Glad you mentioned the bit about the importance of mentors. I think I often look for mentors in the comment section of my blog. I want to build up those “successes” and “praises” so that next time I sit down to write it becomes a little easier. Because it is easier when you know you’ve done a good job before.

  10. I love what you said about how easy it is to write an email!!! When we think we have to say something (and we don’t have anything to say) that’s when we freeze. Otherwise, expressing an idea is fun.

  11. Thank you for this article. I’ve been having some difficulty over the past few days with my blog posts. I’ve found that my voice really hasn’t been represented properly. Your article has helped to remind me to treat it like a conversation. Thank you again, suddenly the blank screen isn’t so intimidating.

  12. I get most excited when I know that someone is going to be reading my words – it’s that immediate response that get me so excited. I wouldn’t be writing nearly as much if it wasn’t for that response. Thank god for the internet…otherwise, I’d have to be reading my stuff out loud. I suppose that wouldn’t be a bad thing, but I much prefer writing to speaking.

    I thinking having a muse is much like having a mentor. Or maybe it’s just mine – as she is a writer herself, and much, much better at it than I am. I am improving every day, in every way. Ugh.

    Wonderful entry. I’m so happy that I subscribed.

  13. This tip has many creative applications such as starting a business, writing a song, or just getting past that creative block in any niche.

    Great article.

  14. There is only one problem with your example, and that is that sodium and chlorine combine in a rather dramatic and exothermic fashion. While it may not exactly explode, the reaction is violent enough that it could easily burn down your lab. And handling elemental sodium and chlorine gas could definitely get you killed.

    Check out the following site for the video of what happens when sodium and chlorine are combined – http://www.popsci.com/diy/article/2006-10/making-salt-hard-way

  15. Leave about the Chemical reaction…..I got the point you want to forgo and can be a much more appealing

  16. This is a great post! I never really thought about the struggle to write a sales letter versus the ease of writing an email. I feel as though your description summed up what I encounter whenever I open Microsoft Word. Thanks so much for the tips! I really appreciate them!

  17. Oops, so the kaboom is really a kaboom. :)

    There is only one problem with your example, and that is that sodium and chlorine combine in a rather dramatic and exothermic fashion. While it may not exactly explode, the reaction is violent enough that it could easily burn down your lab. And handling elemental sodium and chlorine gas could definitely get you killed.

  18. Happy to help.

    The funny thing is that I wrote this article while responding to an email :)

    This is a great post! I never really thought about the struggle to write a sales letter versus the ease of writing an email. I feel as though your description summed up what I encounter whenever I open Microsoft Word. Thanks so much for the tips! I really appreciate them!

  19. Thanks for the tips, Sean. I can relate to the 2nd point you raised. A professor in journalism class told us, his students, to make an outline before writing. I didn’t believe him thinking I could write without it. But it turns out that I actually make outlines in my head at least!

    I don’t know if anybody tried this but just typing away and editing the piece later can help you unfreeze. Editing yourself at every time you type in something holds you back and slows you down.

    Just my two cents. :)

  20. Sean,

    I always find your articles so insightful, and extremely valuable.

    Without a doubt, my favourite guest blogger on any blog I read.

  21. Hi,

    Al Pacino said in a movie : “Trust yourself” . You can’t do it unless you think you’re gonna make it. You can’t expect others to like what you write if you don’t like what you write.

    I use a fixe structure on all my articles. It will help a lot because you’re NOT gonna have a chaotic article.
    I have:
    – summary
    – subtitle 1
    – subtitle 2
    – subtitle 3 (if needed)
    – conclusion

    Thank you

  22. The 3rd tip is my favourite.

    Mentors are one of the best ways to speed up your learning process. The best thing is, even if you don’t get a mentor, you will eventually learn from your mistakes.

  23. It is my favourite too. I started learning badminton recently, and I got a coach. Instantly my game improved. I’ve gone from a pretty crappy player to playing with some folks who’ve been around for 15-20 years (and play well).

    S-

  24. Mel, as you can imagine, I’ve got a big smile on my face at this very moment

    Sean,

    I always find your articles so insightful, and extremely valuable.

    Without a doubt, my favourite guest blogger on any blog I read.

  25. My biggest problem is the first few sentences, I know what I want to say it is just getting started. Once I get started it just flows and it is hard to stop. When writing articles for submission to article sites I have to be careful because they limit the number of words in the article.

  26. It always helps me to create a couple of sub-points for each of my posts, and use them as bold headlines. Then try to write at least 2-3 paragraphs below each headline.

    It helps organize my thoughts into something manageable, and structured.

  27. Very good information.

    Just a quick add on .

    Something I recently picked from Eben Pagan that’s simple yet powerful is the idea of focused chunks of time and working within our natural body rythms.

    Eben teaches to work in 50/10/50/10 Minute Chunks of time.

    Meaning pick one part of your copy your going to work on for 50 minutes, set your timer, and focus only on that.

    Next completely renew or relax for ten minutes and start the process over again.

    Simple yet powerful. I’ve found when I do this i’ve become much more productive.

    http://www.mynotetakingnerd.wordpress.com

  28. I like to think of each post as going up to bat. Each time is a chance to knock the ball out of the park, but enjoy the base hits along the way, and find the lessons in the strike outs.

  29. These are good tips.If you have a blog you need to come up with a good and useful post often.Every writer gets the “brain-freeze” at some point.I would go with Tip #2, you need to get your writing structure in order first.

  30. Good tips. I love the mental image of trying to blow something up using table salt.

    A couple of tricks I find helpful when I’m stuck:

    1) Start with ‘this is a story about’… and then keep going. I take the first part out when I’m done.

    2) Write something silly (like blowing up a lab with salt). It loosens up my brain.

  31. Great post!

    Structure: structure in writing comes in many forms (from the sonnet structure to the plot structure). Having a structure lets a writer focus on the content. The writer can say, “Ok, first I need to write about . . . ” and get right to the content.

    Mentors, guides, and critics: Their feedback and advice can help any writer. Other options for improving writing are available, too, such as our inexpensive service “365 Writing Tips.” The point is that writing assistance is available, and a wise writer makes use of it.

  32. The more you write stuff
    the easier it becomes
    Like every thing.

    – stuck in Haiku mode because of your contest :-)

  33. I came across your blog looking for articles about marketing and advertising.
    Congrats for the topics you´ve been posting. I´ll include a link from my blogroll.
    All the best,
    Jim Nolan
    sales@promogiftstore.com
    http://www.promogiftstore.com

  34. Like most people I struggle writing articles and this post has been very helpful in overcoming this problem………

  35. yep sometimes if we write down something in uncertain condition like stressful, having major concern (e.g. broke up with somebody or losing your job) we often make mistakes, its pretty natural actually

  36. I think it’s clear, then, that I need a mentor.

    I guess what you’re getting at here is just keep at it. It’s true–without a pattern or system or structure, it’s really hard to focus. And for me, focus is the problem, especially if I have more than one project going on at a time, which is pretty much always the case.

    What sometimes happens is I can’t get anything done when I feel I have too much to do. But when I break through that and just concentrate on one small piece of writing, I get a positive reaction in my own mind and the “structure” of how to do it gets reinforced, which make writing other pieces for other projects a lot easier.

  37. Love tip #3.

    It’s often hard to see the flaws in your own writing. You’re just too close, too involved. Having a second or even third pair of eyes look over your work really helps.

  38. I love tip #2

    Many fail on making the correct structure when writing. Creative writing needs structure. And with structure, the idea of what you are reading is very easy to swallow and understand.

    Rod
    Virtual Assistant Inc Blog