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Stop Writing to Improve Your Writing

April 17, 2020

There are two terms writers detest. The first is, “writer’s block”. The second is, “The bar is closing.” In all seriousness, getting stuck is frustrating. Writing is a complex act. It is self-expression. Writing shares ideas and stories. Everyone has those in the head and heart. We may understand them but putting them down on paper so others comprehend what the writer wants is an awesome challenge.

I believe in the power of persistence but when you get stuck, forcing writing does not always work. Determination is admirable but it often produces an inferior result. When this happens and it can happen with alarming frequency, you have to step away.

Go for a hike, pick up an adult coloring book, wear out a treadmill – anything that will quiet your mind. If you stop focusing on the block often the solution will present itself. One perceived step backwards can take you two real steps forward.

Even if this does not produce an amazing epiphany that miraculously breaks the mental logjam, you will find a few threads that can be pulled. Those will invariably lead you in the right direction. The point is to walk away. You have to stop writing to write better. There are a few reasons why.

It can be a blog, novel, annual report or poem. We pour ourselves into the words and ideas. The sentiment and emotion is draining. Just a few sentences in we have lost all objectivity. It is analogous to having a heated argument with a loved one. They have their point-of-view and we have ours. There is a natural give and take but we are not going to budge on the core bits. You have to take some time, breathe, and see it from the other side.

There are about seventeen similar quotes that say the same thing that I will paraphrase here: reading makes a better writer and writing makes a better reader. So stop writing and “pick up” a book, magazine, website, or blog. There is a second part to this. Whatever you read do not analyze it. Fall into it. Enjoy it. Appreciate the work of others and smile. You have joined an amazing community. They are inspiration.

Writing every day may seem like you are being productive but you are fooling yourself. Everyone takes a day or two off from work, so why not writing? By all means, write six days a week if it is working for you but take one day off. You don’t have to make it Sunday or Wednesday. Be intuitive. Make it the day when writing isn’t working for you. Avoid a routine and senseless, forced writing at all costs.

Writing is an involved career. If you are like me, it does not magically or simply leave your mind. I am always conceptualizing a plot or plotting a client’s brand and marketing strategy. I contextualize the world based on what I am writing. Observations from daily events are sorted and evaluated by how they may factor into my writing. I am always on. Yet, that is not sustainable. I have to take my own advice here but writers need a cold turkey vacation. Turn it off. Walk away.

I will share a little known insider secret about writing. Every writer, writes as a form of therapy. Now imagine being in therapy every day. Is that really therapeutic? No way. Sometimes we have to step away for more than a day or a vacation. This doesn’t mean you’re not a writer, and it doesn’t mean you’ll never come back to writing. It means you are perfecting your skills. Take whatever time is needed.

Summing Up
You know why I wrote this? You got it. I was stumped. I was in the middle of a third rewrite of a book and it was weighing on me. Then I came across a quote from Charles Bukowski. He was a prolific guy who hit his own roadblocks. Bukowski said, “Writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all.” Let’s all appreciate the irony and get something out of this. Take a break and then write on.

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  • Jeff Swystun

    Jeff Swystun helps companies and brands grow their influence and value. His consultancy, Swystun Communications, focuses on the critical intersection of business and brand strategies. A prolific speaker and writer, he has spoken at over 100 conferences in over 25 countries, edited The Brand Glossary and Best Global Brands reports, and is quoted in over 250 publications including The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, and Fast Company.

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