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What’s the story you tell yourself about writing?

Is it that writing is hard? Or that you have nothing to share? Maybe that you have plenty to say but can’t organize it?

Insert story here.

Like anything else, we can psych ourselves out of sitting at the laptop and creating. We can let the trickster in our brains run roughshod over us, get bogged down by head trash … and do nothing.

And that would be a shame, because you have something to share and your gifts are being withheld from people who need them. If writing is your obstacle, you can get past it in a number of ways, whether it’s a few tweaks to your technique or an entire mindset shift.

Let’s talk about three common obstacles that result in writer’s block for many people. They include:

  • Roadblock 1: I need The Most Unique Idea Ever
  • Roadblock 2: I’ve got nothing to share/I don’t want to share
  • Roadblock 3: No really, I stink at writing

Sound familiar? Some of us even go so far as to take on all three at once! (What can I say, we’re overachievers.)

All of those ego-driven thoughts about the way things ought to be or all of the ways you fall short? They’ll drive a stake through any creativity. In writing as in many other endeavors, your mindset rules the day. True, some level of talent is necessary — but it’s probably not as much as you think.

Roadblock 1: I need The Most Unique Idea Ever

Many of us fall into the trap of wanting to write something that’s never been done before. The Most Unique Idea Ever. Most Enlightening. Most Entertaining. Most Whatever. And boom: brain cramp. Because that standard is unattainable.

News flash: it’s all been done before. Every theme — someone’s done it.

Stop for a minute and reflect. Shakespeare wrote about love even though everyone has written about love. Hemingway wrote about fishing even though Herman Melville had quite successfully told a fishing tale. How many cooking shows are there? Crime shows?

How many stories of witches and wizards exist? Thank goodness J.K. Rowling didn’t let that stop her.

Writing, by its nature, repeats themes and storylines. And this is actually a good thing.

Donald Miller has built an entire company, StoryBrand, around the idea that stories follow formulas and that this is good for business. Story formulas work with the human brain and its need to make sense of things.

(Want to learn more about story and the brain? Check out this post about how a good story appeals to both the left brain and the right brain. Writing as science!)

Here’s what you really need: connection. The notion of “good” writing is subjective. When you are authentic and genuine, you build trust and you reach your audience.

So stop worrying whether your idea has been done before. It has.

And that’s ok.

I don’t want to share/I have nothing to share

You’re hiding, aren’t you? Sure, it’s fine for someone else to share an amazing personal story; you’ll click Like and gush over it. But you? Nah, I’m good. Pass.

You’re too boring, right? You had a vanilla upbringing and live a life as exciting as unflavored gelatin. And nobody wants to read about unflavored gelatin.

Or is it the opposite? Too much shame, pain, hurt, embarrassment. The past is the past and let’s leave it there. No one needs to know. Or it’s too painful. Or there’s simply no reason to mention it because what does *that* have to do with *this*?

You don’t have to share everything. But if you refuse to share something, you’re losing out on connection. Your story matters.

What’s the primary message you want to communicate? That’s what drives the stories you choose to use. Your anecdotes, the details in them, all serve to move the narrative forward.

Move the narrative forward. This is key. We’ve all read articles and blog posts that ramble on with no discernible point. Your job is to guide readers and move them forward, toward something.

Here’s an example: I participated in a content marketing challenge where one of the extra credit activities was to write a blog post about the challenge and why I was doing it. The month-long event was called the Stretch Yourself Challenge so obviously, I needed to write about stretching. How and why did I want to stretch?

I started that blog post with an anecdote about my son participating in a pie-eating contest. Why? It was a huge stretch for him. So the pie-eating story was a hook to entertain and engage the reader, but it also dovetailed into my own story about stretching and the challenge itself. I didn’t spend a long time on the anecdote, and I kept things moving.

Try it out. Think about your message and then backtrack to brainstorm stories that would support it.

Roadblock 3: No really, I stink at writing

Maybe you’re totally willing to share, you’ve got concrete ideas, you’re ready to go … and then you fumble over the words. Or worse, they don’t show up for you at all.

I stink at this, you say. I’m simply a terrible writer.

First things first. Is this true?

One of my favorite techniques to battle head trash is to stop myself dead in my tracks and get honest. Is it true? I learned this from the late, great Wayne Dyer. Usually the story isn’t, or not entirely (we tend to exaggerate our weaknesses, don’t we?).

Sometimes it is. But stop with the hysteria for a moment, get quiet, and ask the question.

Is the writing truly that bad, or do you just need a good edit? You wrote something, it’s clunky, and you throw your hands up. But you forgot the most important part!

One dirty little secret about writing is that the editing often takes just as long, if not longer, than the writing. And another dirty little secret is that everyone writes crappy material to start. Every-freaking-one of us. Author Anne Lamott calls it the Shitty First Draft. You’ve got to be willing to write an SFD … and this is humbling.

The editing is where you polish and remove, smooth things out, rearrange, and make it better. Your writing will never be perfect (see Most Unique Idea Ever self-talk, above), and you need to make peace with that. But edit, edit, edit. And then edit again.

Finally — maybe you do stink. Some people do, and there’s no shame in that game. Their talents lie elsewhere and they still have a great message, but they need help to communicate it. In this case, consider hiring an editor and/or a writer. One of my greatest joys comes in helping people find the right words and share their story in a way they didn’t think was possible.

At the least, you can learn a few techniques and improve.

Now it’s your turn. What stories have you told yourself about your writing, and how did you get past them? I’d love to hear about it!

And if you’re interested in challenging yourself to do more content marketing and to boost your business, consider the Stretch Yourself Challenge. The live event portion is closed outside of September, but the self-study version is available all year. Check it out!