After nearly 20 years of writing professionally, I’ve faced many mental blocks to getting BIC (butt in chair) and pen to paper. Procrastination can take many forms. My favourite? Over-researching to avoid getting started.
Anecdotally, I have lots of insight into what gets in the way of professional, amateur and aspiring writers.
But I wanted to go deeper. I wanted objective insights and data to back my hunches and personal observations. This fall, I hired a U.S.-based customer researcher to do deep-dive interviews and a survey. What a goldmine! I’m just starting to sort through a wealth of feedback on attitudes towards writing and the practical and mental barriers that stand in the way of getting it done.
In this post, I’m sharing the biggest mindset struggles that keep peeps from writing.
Writing for my business is too overwhelming–I don’t know where to start.
I hear you. Getting started is the hardest part of all. (Finishing is a close second, but that’s for another day).
I once attended a workshop at a national journalism conference led by a seasoned investigative reporter. Along with sharing great insights about reporting on tough subjects, she detailed her writing avoidance strategies. She’d wander around the newsroom, chatting up colleagues. She’d get a coffee. Go to the bathroom. Flip through her notebook. Have a chat with her editor. Look at the ticking clock, the hands moving ever closer to deadline, the panic rising with every passing minute.
I say this not to give you vicarious anxiety, but as reassurance: the struggle is real, even for seasoned pros.
So start small—no need to say everything in that first post. No epic tale required. Write a social media post on a little scene from your life, your work, your day.
And don’t overthink it. Get one line down, then share it. You can build on that.
For some prompts on what to write about, grab my 15 Brand Stories you can tell today, below.
I’m not a ‘real writer,’ so I shouldn’t be the one writing for my business.
Stop right there.
Who’s a real writer? Someone who writes. That’s it. Writers don’t get a professional designation, like accountants, or credentials. Unlike lawyers, we don’t get called to the writer’s bar (unless you count the pub where my reporter friends and I spent too much time and money). “Real writers” come in a dizzying variety of forms. Some writers make a full-time living at their craft. For others, it’s a fun hobby or side gig. For others, it’s just a small part of their work.
If you write, you’re a writer. And you are the best person to be writing for your business because you know its activities, values and voice best.
My style isn’t how business writing is ‘supposed to look.”
That’s me hitting the oh-no-you-don’t buzzer. (I just invented that. Would you buy one?)
Too much business writing is generic, cautious, jargon-heavy and navel-gazing. Is that what you think you should be writing?
I didn’t think so.
Your audience wants to connect with you, a real person. Whether you’re representing a small business or a large corporation, some of the best business writing has big personality. And that’s not “supposed” to look any way other than what’s true to you.
For example, Amazon Prime’s Twitter account engages with its audience on the regular with casual, relatable content:
✔️ Second Black woman in history to earn a Golden Globe nom for Best Director.— Prime Video (@PrimeVideo) February 3, 2021
✔️ Did so with her directorial film debut.
Things Regina King did: that. pic.twitter.com/CNltg066Yy
Is this how ‘traditional business writing’ is supposed to look? No. Does it work? You tell me.
I feel weird about being ‘salesy’ in my writing.
I get it. Being sold to is the worst. And we’re all a little exhausted from being tracked around the internet with ad copy invading our inboxes and social media feeds.
The worst culprit for sales copy is podcasts, IMO. You know, that cringe-y part of the show where the host breaks from the interview or monologue to read sponsor ads, often in a stilted, lacklustre tone? Ugh.
But that doesn’t mean that writing about what you’re selling will come off as ‘salsey.’ Your service or product has a purpose. It has value. Otherwise, you would have never made it this far.
The best way to not sound salesy? Let go of the sale and act in service to your audience. Instead of pitches that make you feel like you need to take a shower, appeal to people’s emotional needs by sharing knowledge, entertainment, reassurance, and even joy.
I’m worried people will think, ‘who do they think they are?’ when I publish my writing.
Well, who do you think you are? Hopefully, your self-image is of someone who’s doing good work, creating value, and adding your own special touch to whatever you’re putting out there. Don’t hide it!
It’s common to feel narcissistic when we post about ourselves, especially in the early days of building a writing practice. But many of us can’t extricate our personality or values from our brand.
People need to know you to want to work with you. And I promise that when you put yourself out there you will be overwhelmingly welcomed. Rather than tearing you down, they’ll appreciate the chance to know you.
I don’t know the rules of writing.
No problem: you don’t have to. There are fantastic tools to catch your typos and filter out awkward constructions. Along with my dictionary and thesaurus, I use the spell check in Word and Google Docs and, my fave, Grammarly, to help keep my copy clean.
Beyond obvious misspellings, the most important thing to know is that there really are no rules. The standards of what’s acceptable change over time and depend greatly on context What works in a newspaper or on Instagram would make an academic editor hyperventilate. No matter. You do you. In marketing and content, experimentation and play are appropriate, as long as they feel true to you. The best writing has a strong voice, and that often means breaking or ignoring the rules.
It’s time to get started
Ok, with those out of the way, it’s time to get started. Choose something small. Make it achievable. And quell those negative thoughts keeping you from writing your story down.
I’m wondering: did you relate to this list? Don’t see the one that keeps you from writing? Comment below, I’d love to connect and help each other move forward.