How to Unblock Your Writing and Create Effortless Words

How to Unblock Your Writing and Create Effortless Words

Did you know writers have a mental factory hard at work in their heads? That may be surprising, but it’s true: You have a full staff up there in the office of your mind.

Now, you may be the CEO calling the shots, but your mental employees are the ones who action your decisions and produce the blog posts, articles, web copy and novels you create. When you take awareness of your team, you have one awesome production line at your disposal.

Close the office door and ignore your team’s existence, and you have chaos.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, let me introduce to your mental writing team: the Visionary, the Draft Worker and the Editor.

The Visionary heads the team. He’s the one who thinks up the great ideas, and he’s the creative crafter producing the mental raw material for the team to work with. Want to know how to recognize your Visionary? He’s the one shouting, “That would make an awesome post!”

Now the Visionary doesn’t write. That’s not his job. The Visionary’s only role is to come up with ideas and send them to the next guy in line: the Draft Worker.

The Draft Worker gets handed the ideas, and his job is to take the idea in front of him and write. He starts scribbling away and creates a rough written draft. You can recognize what the Draft Worker does when you see the 500 words you just wrote on your screen.

But the Draft Worker doesn’t polish the writing. That’s not his job. The Draft Worker’s only role is to flesh out ideas into written words. Then he sends the draft to the next employee: the Editor.

The Editor doesn’t create ideas and he doesn’t write. That’s all beneath him. His job is to take the rough draft and apply his hawk-eye skills. He looks for typos and cleans up phrasing. He smoothes the rough edges, polishes the structure, tightens things up and tweaks until the piece is presentable.

And your Visionary says, “That’s it! By jove, you’ve got it. That’s exactly what I wanted to say!” You hit publish, and the work’s all done.

Now your hard-working writing team can do magic. They perform their duties on demand and as a result, you can churn out good work without stumbling blocks.

But like any team, sometimes there are power struggles. Squabbles. Infighting. Backstabbing between co-workers. And sometimes it gets so bad that your team’s work can grind to a halt. They completely shut down your mental word-crafting factory.

And when that happens, you can’t write.

Your Editor puts on airs and starts to think his role is most important. After all, editing is what makes your writing awesome! And he thinks the Draft Worker should pay more attention to editing. So he starts looking over the Draft Worker’s shoulder as he writes and criticizes everything. It’s not good enough!

Your Draft Worker gets unhappy, because now he’s being watched like a hawk, criticized every minute, and keeps getting interrupted. He can’t do a good job, because he’s getting told it’s not good enough, that he should start over every sentence or work harder to find the right words.

Your Visionary? He’s on his creative throne trying to come up with ideas, but now the other two guys are making a lot of noise. The fighting’s distracting. The Visionary can’t think of new ideas, and he even starts forgetting good ones he had in mind. So he decides to go see what all the ruckus is about.

So there you are with no ideas, no writing getting done and nothing getting editing. Each time you try to write, it just doesn’t work. You stare at a blank page. You can’t start. You can’t finish. You half-heartedly write draft after draft after draft, and nothing ever gets to the point where you like it.

What does that give you?

Nothing.

It might take you hours – days! – to write a mediocre post. Creativity’s low, nothing seems good enough and you can’t finish anything to satisfaction.

You need to resolve your internal staff squabbles.

It’s time to call a mental time out and split up the fighting. You’re the CEO of that mental writing team, which means you get to call the shots. You get to send everyone back to their desk and back to their job so they can all get back to work.

You’re in control of your mind. And that means you control your results.

Your Visionary needs room to come up with great ideas. Start there. Get away from the computer and give yourself mental some mental space. That way, the Draft Worker can’t elbow in to grab a half-finished idea and the Editor can’t criticize a crappy rough draft.

Go for a walk. Hang out in a café. Take a day off. Read a book. Expose yourself to the outside world so you can get the mental stimulation you need to come up with ideas. Bring a pen and paper. Jot down thoughts as they come to you. Write down a working title and three points that you want to write about.

Then close the pad, thank the Visionary for doing his job and do no more writing that day.

The next morning, it’s the Draft Worker’s turn. It’s time to take the idea and write a rough draft. You have the idea and a brief, three-point outline to work with – now you need to flesh it out.

Give the Draft Worker what he needs to settle into work. Start by preparing yourself mentally with a good routine that puts you in the mood to write. Don’t write cold – warm up by writing something completely irrelevant for 15 to 30 minutes. Then let your Draft Worker do his job.

What’s his job? To write an absolutely unpolished mediocre rough draft from the Visionary’s idea. That’s all. Just get the words out. Nothing spectacular, nothing perfect, nothing awesome. A rough draft isn’t supposed to be good – remember, that’s not the Draft Worker’s job. Just write a not-too-bad piece for the Editor.

And when you’re done, stop writing, close your document, thank the Draft Worker, and do no more writing that day.

The next morning, your Editor’s up – and by now, he’s probably raring to go. Let him loose on that rough draft. He’ll love sprucing up the Draft Worker’s writing. Don’t let your Editor write – that’s not his job. Just polish the prose and correct awkward phrasing. Check for typos. Smooth paragraph transitions. Make the rough draft good.

Then wrap it up in a pretty bow and be done with it. Your editor can’t get incessant, after all. His shift’s over. Thank him for his good work, and hit publish.

Teach your mental writing team that they need to respect each other’s roles. Each has a single task to do, and each contributes to the creation of great writing. They all bring equal value to the finished piece and rely on each other to achieve a good piece of work.

No one is more important than the other.

Once you’ve developed a respectful mental working environment for your Visionary, your Draft Worker and your Editor, you’ll soon be able to benefit from their magic. In fact, you might find that separating your writing process into three mental roles (and enforcing a round-robin of taking turns!), your writing becomes better and faster – because your mental trio isn’t wasting time trying to control each other.

They’ll be focused on their job, and when their shift is over, they’ll be cheering, pushing and encouraging each other along. Your writing will swoosh from rough idea to polished piece in no time at all.

Squabbles not included.

Need to bully your writing team into submission? Check out:

The choice is yours. Get a shrink or get a book… so you can get back to writing freely.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. Love it James. I often find myself hacking away at a paragraph before I even know what the storyline is going to be. I always get there, but it can take so much time.

    I guess I should start regimenting my team a little more.

    Mostly, my visionary dominates and while I love him to bits, he should know his place. Far too often he wants to mess with the draft writer: Hey, don’t write that! That’s not what my idea was about!

    Do you really manage to keep the tasks so separated though? Seems almost impossible.

    • Freethinking writing does accomplish some goals – your editor isn’t stressing out and the draft worker is having a party.

      But your visionary is actually out of a job. His ideas – his MESSAGE – isn’t getting out in a way that people can grasp quickly and easily. His voice is lost in the draft worker’s ramblings.

      So essentially, he’s out of a job! (Poor sod…)

      Do I really manage to keep the tasks separate? Yes. It’s necessary for me to produce the amount of work I do and make sure that what I want to say gets said with clarity and gets published so that others can read it.

      Do I actively think about this process? No. It’s like driving a car – once you do it often enough, it becomes second nature. But when I stop and think about how I’m driving my car, I can indeed break down my process into these three “people”.

  2. Brillliant! I LOVED this post on writing.

    In fact, this is why MenwithPen.ca should get the award on WritetoDone.com

    (http://writetodone.com/2010/11/11/nominate-your-favorite-writing-blog-5th-annual-top-10-blogs-for-writers-contest/)

    It is clever and well written, it raises great points that are easy to remember, perfect graphic, it gives writers specific steps, it inspires me to get my visionary started–“Wake-up Visionary, out-of-bed, I don’t care it’s 5:00AM on Monday morning…. move it.”

    Okay, my visionary says you should add a Cheerleader/Marketer–that person’s job would be to add the SEO stuff and spread the message to your fans and the media. And oh, now my visionary is saying she wants her Earl Grey with sugar….

    • The good news is that you don’t have to add a cheerleader. When your three workers are working together as a team, they cheer each other on.

      The draft worker’s cheering on the visionary so he can have something to write, the editor’s cheering on the draft worker so that he can get that piece perfect and ship it out the publishing door, and the visionary is cheering because his team got his idea down just as he envisioned it. S’awesome!

  3. Great post again, James. Sometimes it feels like my factory workers have plain gone on strike and the power company turned off the utilities because I didn’t pay the bill. But, then again, there are times where my factory runs overtime shifts just trying to keep up with my amphetamine-addicted Visionary. I think what I need is a good foreman to run things for me while I’m in Bermuda spending everyone’s retirement packages…

    • I hear you on striking – and in that case, the best answer is to get outside. The visionary’s the one that’s going to kick start everything… so take a break. Stop thinking about writing. For weeks, even! Go out often, hit the streets, take walks, visit restaurants… give your visionary mental stimulation.

    • Lol! Maybe there’s a Writing Factory Bootcamp out there…on second thought, we’re in the midst of one :D.

  4. Love this post James. Reading this makes me think…. perhaps I’ve banished my Visionary from my writing office (wherever that may be) altogether!

    My Visionary leaves wonderful little notes (headlines, summaries and ideas) in my iphones Notes app… he provides amazing Begin fodder for my Draft Worker. But, the Visionary tends to get struck down by these ideas when it isn’t appropriate to write anything anyways.

    It’s weird having them so separate, but it seems to work alright! Hmmm… this post made me think

    • In my mind, there’s never anything that isn’t appropriate to write. That’s your editor trying to pick the “BEST” idea for the moment. Screw him! Get your draft worker back to work.

      At worst, you’ll have a nice draft ready to edit for when it IS appropriate to publish (and that time will come, trust me). At best, your draft worker’s happy because he gets to quit twiddling his thumbs.

  5. Wow. Love how you break it down into the various/sundry team members!

    ‘course, you *did* forget the Benevolent Dictator (“yes, I know you’re exhausted but you *will* continue *until* you are satisfied”) and the Guardian (“No matter how much you might debate yourself, I believe in you!”) and other assorted team members, but I’ll let that slide. :)

    I agree with Peter – the post definitely makes you think. Thanks for writing it!

    • No need for a guardian, as I mentioned to Mary above – your team cheers each other on.

      And I have to say that if I EVER had a benevolent dictator in my head, I’d quit writing. That’s the guy that just might send your editor into a mental “not good enough yet” spin that’s very hard to break.

  6. I wish to tell you guys I have mental blocks but I don’t, I just sit down and write. What’s funny is that I got over 30 drafts in my back office of ideas I just came up with…so I”m always busy working on something.

    “TrafficColeman “Signing Off”

  7. Oh, I have a full staff in my head alright…;).

    Well, this post explains the difficulty I’ve had this week with organization, time management, role delegation, and shoddiness. My writing factory often feels like a ‘factory of interns’ who just want to party, check out YouTube, and iTunes.

    Time to hire a foreman to do some ass kicking…

    Love the analogy James, and the useful tips on the structure, and mental clarity required.

  8. Oooh this is clever James. But you knew that of course because your team are working together beautifully. Like Peter, my iphone is full of little notes from my visionary. I love being able to flick through them and letting the draft worker take her pick. But that darn editor. Sometimes I just need to lock her up in a small dark room (although that doesn’t sound very kind does it? Maybe she’d go on strike if I did that?!) and let the rest of the team do their thing.

    Anyway, great post James. Appreciated the wisdom,
    El

    • Give your editor a new job. Instead of telling her that her job is to bitch at everyone and criticize and endlessly go over your work, tell her that her new job is to see how quickly she can do her job if she focuses – make ‘publish’ the goal, not ‘perfect’!

  9. Love the idea of warming up the Draft Worker. When I’m working on an article, I do this by crafting a title, pasting all my sources’ attributions/titles/etc. from the interview file onto the page, and writing out the source list for the fact checkers. All this needs to be done eventually, but I find it to be a good “throat clearing” that makes it easier to jump into the article — much the same way some people need to clear their desktops (physical or computer), etc. before they can get to work.

  10. I’m just trying to figure out how you heard the row going on in my head?

  11. Ohhhh, I LOVED this. My Editor can be a real cow; she has a terrible habit of micro-managing everyone (even the CEO!) and makes them feel like nothing they do can ever be good enough, so they go on an extended lunch break (usually to this cafe down the road called Twitter).

    My Visionary can be great when she’s great, but she has her own annoying little habit: doing some fabulous work when there’s nothing nearby to get her ideas onto. She seems to be the one who drifts into the office whenever she feels like it, but when the rest of the team need her to get some work done, she has her phone switched off.

    Perhaps it’s time to do a little team-building.

  12. Love what you did here, James. Putting names and faces on these three functions is wise indeed. Sometimes, if you don’t label things, they get mixed up with other things. I’d go so far as to name these three people and give them personalities. What better way to get into a creative writing zone than roll play?

    And of course, if you can’t silence your inner editor, look for an outside one. ;)

    • Good point. Quite frankly, if something in your mind is holding you back from achieving your goals AND making you suffer, you have two options:

      Fix it.
      Delegate it.

      There’s no plan C, so pick the easiest and run with it! (Directly to Shane Arthur, who does a great job of editing when I’m fed up of it :) )

  13. This is one of the best descriptions of the writing process I have read. I think my editor is sometimes boring and stodgy and far too rule driven; so, i will out and out ignore her, which is evidently a very bad idea. She clearly needs more play time:)

    I love the idea of giving them each time to play their role. The thought of taking 3 days to write a post creates a fair bit of anxiety for someone like me who rarely has the desire to stick with the same thought or topic for 3 whole days but at the same time the idea of making room for each to do their job better is interesting enough that I am going to give it a whirl.

    Great post!

    Melani

    • I tend to write the same way as you – fast, furious and rambling. The thought of regimenting that was terrible. But the RELIEF that happened after I’d created proper routines for mental habits was worth it – no more anxiety, and even more awesome writing.

  14. Great way to describe things! This is a really good way to think about taking care of yourself, but it’s taking care of all the different parts of yourself that do the writing. And for me, it’s just like this. Today my Visionary is running the show and playing around, and that’s good, because editor slaved yesterday and everyone was hard at work over the weekend. But tomorrow the draft worker is up to bat–and Editor goes wild while that part is working–so anal and impatient and easily frustrated! Visionary sits in the background rolling her eyes–“no, that’s not how it is, keep working Drafter!” Sometimes Visionary sort of moves her hand as she’s writing. And Editor is saying “oh for god’s sake that’s all mixed up; how in the world can I put that into some decent order!?”

    LOL Very cool. Nice to have a name for everyone :)

  15. Nice post, thank you! You describe the process so well and clearly, and I completely agree with the idea of splitting up the work into chunks, to clear the mind. This is something I had to learn the hard way – I am a translator, and there is a huge mental difference for me in translating (aka thinking in two languages at once) and then editing the finished text (thinking in one language only). I have to take breaks between these processes, or I end up with text in one language conforming to the grammar and syntax of the other, which is a big no-no.
    I’ve been reading your blog for a couple of weeks, and am really enjoying it. Keep up the great work! :)

    • I hear you on the mental issues with having a few languages in your head. I’m fluently bilingual (French/English), and it’s rather interesting what happens up in your mind when you have two languages floating around.

      From time to time, the issue exhibits itself as… Well, you’ll hear me say, “I’m sorry, for some reason I can’t think in French today.” I stumble over really familiar words and I even FEEL more English than French. Total resistence.

      • Hehe, I know exactly what you are talking about, I am bilingual too, with English as the dominant language these days. It usually happens to me when I tired… I am quite capable of beginning a sentence in one language and finishing in another, or unthinkingly doing a direct translation of Russian sayings into English, to my husband’s great confusion. It’s an occupational hazard if I have a large chunk of work to do, have to force myself through it.

  16. Re: “your mental writing team: the Visionary, the Draft Worker and the Editor.”

    I need a better editor. I often publish posts only to have a friend DM me with typos she’s caught (then again, maybe she’s my editor?).

    Splitting things up into a process is a good idea. In other words, creating an environment for each of my inner writing roles. I find that most of my creative comes out at night. I play a good editing role in the morning’s but only AFTER I’ve had a fresh cup of coffee.

    • Heh, you don’t need a better editor – you need to improve your editor’s skills! Maybe your editor is still at the Junior level and needs some training to move up to Senior.

  17. James, thanks for the grins. :) Love the power struggle story. Been there in that drama for sure.

    My Visionary was thrilled when she discovered Brenda Ueland’s “moodling,” which rewarded her for ALL time, even doing absolutely nothing. My Draft Worker was thrilled when I committed to giving her the place all to herself first thing in my work time–she likes her words fresh. And my Editor became much more enjoyable to work with once she understood she only got a couple whacks at the mole. She doesn’t get to go over it and over it and over it. Now we all get along quite well, I think.

  18. Hey James

    I just landed on your blog via Copyblogger. What a good journey I just took.

    I love the way you broke down the writing process into their individual groups.

    My Visionary department works way to much over time, while the Draft Worker finds it hard to get inspired (sometimes). Your advice of taking a break to allow each department to efficiently do their thing is solid.

    I will be putting this in to practice in the very near future.

    Thanks
    Dwayne

  19. I liked meeting my mental employees quite a bit. I wonder if they’ll also cook and clean for me… thanks for such a fresh approach to the writing process, James.

  20. My visionary and editor are both really good at their jobs, its the draft worker who is lazy, insecure and forever delaying things. He won’t budge till he is fairly sure that they visionary did enough in the first place (lots of useable ideas), and that the editor will be happy for the job to go through. What should I do? :)

  21. I really liked this post. The concept is totally new to me. I’d come up with ideas and usually finish an article on it within the next day or two. So the concept of the Draft Worker had been amiss. For all this time. I really appreciate your pointing it out in this concise article. A big thanks.

  22. This actually reminds me of an old spongebob episode, where the team is his head got fried and poor spongebob ended up not remembering his own name :))

    The problem with my own mental team is that if it wants to think it goes overdrive, but if it wants to shut down it dies!

    Right now my team is on temporary hiatus, but here’s hoping it gets back to kicking in no time! :)

  23. Thanks James. This is a brilliant post. (I’m catching up on reading, hence the delay.)
    Thanks for the imagery… I too recognise these ‘guys’ in my head and appreciate the way you’ve described how to get the best out of each role, thanking them at the end of the day to keep everyone happy.
    Nice approach.
    Think I might give my Visonary and Draft Worker some rope to tie my Editor to a pole for a couple of days and let them get on with their work without constant interruption.
    ps. Congratulations on second place on writetodone.com – great achievement!

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