Writing Advice For When You Need Words But Don’t Have Them
Sometimes you have to write and you aren’t a writer or you are, but you don’t want to do this particular piece of writing.
Perhaps you need to create content to market your business, or for a work assignment, or you need an artist statement, or even because you’ve been asked to write a eulogy.
Bottom line: You have to write and you don’t want to.
Must you suffer? Must you sweat blood?
First things first: calm your nervous system. Calm your brain.
That’s what we focus on a lot when I teach writing, the overlooked importance of making it safe for your brain, for your animal self, to write.
This is doubly important when you have to write and don’t want to.
To make it safer to write, you can do anything that physically calms you.
Remind yourself you are safe in this moment. You are basically okay.
Enjoy a few big inhales and long letting go exhales. Play soothing music and stretch.
Do a few favorite yoga stretches or breathing exercises or place your hand on your heart and remind yourself, “I can break this down into small steps. I can make this small and doable. It’s not about perfect, it’s about good enough.”
(I’ll be doing a podcast episode about this in Season Two of Create Out Loud!)
Reclaim your agency. You aren’t back in school (unless you are in which case see which rules you can break), you don’t have to write to fit someone else’s rules — there are no rules.
What do you want to say?
What do you really want to say?
What’s the simplest way you can say that?
What’s the minimum you get away with?
Lower the bar as far as you can. Don’t worry, it will still be good enough.
✍️ You might talk it out with someone you trust or talk to yourself. Record the conversation.
Read the transcript and ask yourself:
What does this piece need to do for me? Get me sales? Explain to my executive team why a product design isn’t working? Convey how kind and funny my uncle was?
What does this piece need to do for my readers or listeners? Explain the benefits of buying coaching with me? Generate buy-in from the executive team? Help my family remember the good about my uncle?
Make a very shortlist of what you need and what your readers/listeners need.
Highlight in your transcript only what supports and fits with what you need to write. Leave the rest.
You may highlight chunks of text you can use as-is, as well as isolated sentences, words, and phrases.
✍️ Remind yourself you’re not writing the only thing that will ever be said on this subject. Even a eulogy is only a snapshot of the person’s life, a way to show respect, not capture an entire life.
✍️ Write in chunks.
A chunk could be a few sentences or several paragraphs. It’s an exploration of one idea without worrying about where it fits in the overall piece.
Some chunks you will cut and paste from your transcript and lightly play with to make your point clearer, add examples, etc.
Don’t concern yourself with the order. Don’t worry about knowing the beginning or end.
When you feel you have enough chunks, move them around and only then write any transitions you know are needed.
✍️ Read the whole piece aloud to yourself without interruption.
✍️ As you read aloud, add a point or clarification quickly – no long edits.
✍️ Weave any new ideas and changes into your document.
✍️ Ask someone else to read for clarity.
✍️ Find a proof reader if needed.
Celebrate!!! You did it.
My point is not to give you a formula but to remind you however you do it, you can do it and it doesn’t have to suck.
You aren’t cheating if you talk your writing and transcribe.
Or whatever you find works for you.