Monday Mornings with Madison



Obstacles come in all shapes and sizes. From time to time, everyone experiences challenges in achieving personal and professional goals. Sometimes trials come from external sources. Conflicting demands for one’s time. Work overload. Inability to focus due to too much technological and interpersonal stimulation (ie emails, text messages, sametime, facetime, phone calls… you get the picture). Other times, the impediments to achieving goals are internal. The hurdles are self-imposed. While it seems that those should be easier to overcome, they aren’t. Personal issues can be serious stumbling blocks to achieving personal or professional goals.

Take, for instance, writer’s block. This is a common term for the problem faced by anyone having trouble producing a written piece. It doesn’t just happen to moody book authors and columnists. Most people are faced with personal or professional tasks that require writing more than two good sentences. A business report. A sales plan for the year. A Motion or Brief to the court. An HR guide for the team. A memo to the boss. A solid letter of recommendation for a friend or colleague. A powerful cover letter to accompany a resume in a job application. Every so often, every person finds him or herself facing a blank screen, or for those who are old-school, a blank writing tablet or sheet of paper. There is something that needs to be said, but suddenly, the words just won’t come. Every minute staring at the blank page becomes agony as the reality of writer’s block hits.

In order to tackle this particular obstacle, it helps to know what causes writer’s block. Like most problems, there is not just one cause. For some, the fear of not getting the message across clearly, concisely and coherently is so great that it prevents any words from materializing. For others, emotions cloud the ability to get the message across. Still others are just uninspired, bored, or lazy.

Take heart. There are a myriad of things to help overcome writers block.

Tip 1 – Listen to music.
An uplifting symphony. A lovely ballad. A calming aria. Music often helps people relax and unwind. Music can also be inspirational. Let music clear your mind so that you can refocus on your message.

Tip 2 – Reread and brainstorm.
If you get stuck part-way through, read a print draft of what you have written so far and jot down ideas while reading. If possible, find someone to whom you can read what you’ve written and discuss ideas. Or have them read it to you. Just hearing what you’ve written out loud will put you in the shoes of recipients and that should help further develop your message. A fresh perspective often gets ideas and then words flowing.

Tip 3 – Take a nap or get a good night’s rest.
Many studies have confirmed that the human body generally needs between seven and eight hours of sleep every night. Lack of sleep is detrimental to motor skills as well as concentration. It halts the flow of creativity and makes it difficult to type or write. When there is a big writing project ahead, make sure to get a complete and restful night’s sleep.

Tip 4 – Exercise.
Not only a doctors’ prescription for good health, exercise is also good medicine for writers block. Go for a walk. Mow the grass. Take a spinning class or better yet, a yoga class, at the gym. Physical exercise works wonders to reduce stress and gets the endorphins pumping. Those endorphins provide an overall sense of well-being, which is ideal for writing.

Tip 5 – Treat yourself.
Indulge in your preferred treat. A Ghirardelli hot fudge sundae. A woody Chardonnay. Try whatever food or beverage provides comfort or satisfaction. If you’re at work, grab your favorite cup of Starbucks coffee or tea. Stimulating your taste buds may just stimulate your mind…. And some sugar in the bloodstream might help too.

Tip 6 – Take a breather.
If not on a deadline, walk away from the computer or the pen and paper for an hour or a day. Distance from the topic at hand may provide a fresh perspective.

Tip 7 – Work on something else.
Stuck at a particular part of the report or plan? Work on a letter or draft a memo. The change in form can release the pressure of the prior exercise and help get the words flowing again. Stimulate your brain with a new challenge.

Tip 8 – Laugh.
It’s been said that laughter is the best medicine. Take the medicine. If you haven’t had a good, hearty laugh lately, that may be just the thing to get your mind working and fingers typing again. Listen to a comedian on TV or tape.

Tip 9 – Change it up.
Find a way to change the routine of what you are doing. Use a different medium to express yourself. For those who write on paper, try typing the message. If typing is the typical approach, then try using a heavy ballpoint pen and nice writing tablet for the exercise. The fresh approach may stimulate and inspire.

Tip 10 – Write nonsense.
Sometimes, the reason a message is stuck is because what we want to say doesn’t match what we need or have to say. For example, if a sales manager is having trouble preparing a sales plan because the company’s sales expectations are inflated and unrealistic, turn the project inside out. Write a report that is completely ludicrous. Either inflate the numbers to a level that even a sales superstar could not achieve, or set the bar so low that even a salesperson on life support could hit the mark. Make it ridiculous. Make it outrageous. Have fun with it. Let your writing be cathartic. Then, wipe the slate clean and start again. Just having allowed your mind the freedom to express those thoughts will help you focus on real goals.

The next time there is a blank screen and words fail, try one or several of these tips to get past the hurdle. Incidentally, these same suggestions are useful to overcome other internal obstacles such as procrastination. Give it a try, and get moving toward those goals again.


“One reason I don’t suffer writer’s block is that I don’t wait on the muse, I summon it at need.”
Piers Anthony

© 2011 – 2012, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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