by Ciara Donley-Burnham
We've all experienced writer's block. Whether it's an essay for school, a blog post, or just an email to a colleague, being unable to get meaningful words on the page is frustrating. The ability to write well is one of the most important skills a technical communicator can have. To avoid the dreaded writer's block and to become a stronger, more efficient writer, we've compiled several easy habits you can weave into your daily routine (and beyond).
1) READ. A LOT.
Leo Babauta at Lifehack says that reading "is the place to start" to become a better writer. It's the best way to explore different styles of writing and expand your vocabulary. Find books, articles, or essays that appeal to you and highlight sections that you enjoyed reading. Study them! There are many patterns and clues hidden behind an author's words that can help lead you to great writing. By imitating them, you will eventually be able to embody their grammar, usage, and style in your own work.
2) WRITE DOWN IDEAS OBSESSIVELY.
Sometimes our best ideas come when our minds are at rest--inspired by other parts of our lives. Have the tools to write down ideas as they reveal themselves. It could be a new question to answer, a new topic to consider, or just a couple of words to phrase something you were previously having trouble with. At the end of the day, remember to review, organize, and elaborate on your notes when needed. Lifehack's Leo Babauta advises writers to keep a notebook with them at all times to scribble down their thoughts, but a Notes application on a mobile device works in a pinch.
3) OUTLINES ARE YOUR FRIEND.
Every good book, article, or essay started with a great outline. Outlines can take the form of organized lists, or they can be created using brainstorming techniques like mind mapping. Outlines are a roadmap: they help us get where we need to go without getting lost. And like a map laid down ahead of us, they make it easy to find shortcuts or connect ideas that we may not have noticed during earlier stages. Additionally, it is much easier to rearrange or eliminate ideas in a simple, concise outline than from a fully written draft. The UK-based communications agency Doris & Bertie recommends outlining by using the "three-tweet method" in which you summarize the three (or more) points you want to make in short, tweet-length snippets.
4) ELIMINATE DISTRACTIONS.
Writing demands attention. Unfortunately, devices, social media, email, and other chat applications are all vying for that attention at any given moment. MasterClass, an online education agency, advises writers to remove these distractions. Before you sit down to write, silence those notifications--either by turning off your cell phone or closing all other applications on your computer. When possible, pick a time to work when you are less likely to be disturbed or when you are the most relaxed. It may not always be possible to eliminate all of the extra noise of our daily lives, but choosing when to write is an important strategy all on its own.
5) GET TO THE POINT.
Deciding what information to incorporate in your writing can be difficult. After researching a topic, it is important to only include the most applicable information to the subject or question at hand. Not everything you know needs to be mentioned. Sometimes, even the most interesting parts of our research are just not relevant enough to include in the final document. In short: get to the point. As Doris & Bertie suggests, it'll make things easier for you, and your readers will thank you for your brevity.
6) PLACEHOLDERS KEEP YOU MOVING.
The "TK" placeholder is one of the most beautiful tools a writer can add to their arsenal. "TK" is publishing shorthand for "to come" and can be used in place of any troublesome detail you haven't worked out yet. For example, it can replace the name of your article, background details of a source, or product information that hasn't yet been provided. MasterClass points out that your initial research may not answer all the questions you have, and that it's easy to waste hours in a "rabbit hole" of particularly interesting, controversial, or complex topics. Don't get hung up on the details until later in the writing process.
7) WRITE IN SPRINTS.
"Writing sprints" refer to short, focused bursts of writing and can be used to help with concentration, procrastination, or a hectic schedule. Doris & Bertie recommends using a tomato timer to help you keep your focus. Twenty minutes of focused writing is an easy commitment to make and--if used regularly and methodically--can add up to a lot of words on paper throughout the day or week. Also, you can do them for fun! All writing is good writing; it helps us find comfort with our topic and our voice. Writing sprints are often hosted on social media and can be done as a challenge, in groups, or alone.
8) A BAD FIRST DRAFT IS BETTER THAN NO DRAFT AT ALL.
A complete but incorrect draft is just that--a draft. It is better to have something rather than nothing. Blogger Michael Pollock advises to get your ideas down on paper for review, so that you can determine strengths and weaknesses, what needs to be improved, and what needs to be eliminated. And most importantly: do not edit while you write. Every good writer completes their draft, edits it, and then edits it again. Trying to write and edit simultaneously wastes time and can result in broken, repetitive, or incomplete thoughts.
For students interested in learning more about efficient writing and what the Department of Technical Communication has to offer, follow UNT Department of Technical Communication on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.