Here at Sterling, we share a love of storytelling. A great story engages people and commands attention, sticks in the mind—it’s the gold standard in communications. As such, storytelling underpins our professional strategies—both for ourselves and for our clients. But conjuring a compelling tale isn’t always easy.
We all encounter crises of imagination from time to time, and it often materializes in the form of writer’s block. In our business, you need to produce words to tell stories, but sometimes the words won’t come. Don’t let the daunting emptiness of a blank page intimidate you. With the following easy-to-use practices and tips, you can increase your productivity and perfect your craft—whether in press releases, blogs, web copy, scripts, or contributed articles. To keep your wellspring of inspiration bubbling, practice the art of conscious creativity.
Writing can sometimes feel like a battle as you wrestle through ideas (or try desperately to summon them). To counter the tension, put down the keyboard and pick up a book. Reading is the most effective way to uncork creativity and passively improve your writing. It exposes you to new ideas, unfamiliar vocabulary, and different styles—and simply absorbing someone else’s viewpoint transports you out of the echo chamber of your own mind.
Think about what you enjoy reading, and then ask yourself why. Is it descriptive prose? Lyricism? A choppy pace? Two-fisted minimalism? An edgy tone? What resonates when reading should guide your hand when writing.
Set aside allotted time each day to read something for pleasure: industry articles, newsletters, chapters of a novel, comics, music or movie reviews, poems, op-eds, blogs. The goal is to make reading part of your daily routine. Doing so is guaranteed to stock your creative arsenal.
Let It Flow
A common creativity killer for many writers stems from trying to be too perfect too early in the process. They linger over every word or fixate on crafting that amazing opening one-liner. Such scrutiny at the outset hampers progress because good writing often requires getting out the bad writing first.
Instead of wasting time meticulously editing words, sentences, or even entire paragraphs that may ultimately get chopped in revision anyway, it’s best to start loose. Let your notions flow. Just start typing and worry about editing later.
Having trouble getting started? Try giving yourself an off-beat prompt and then fusing it to the task at hand. For example: Think about a song that has special significance to you. Where did you first hear it? Does it give you a certain feeling? Spark a particular memory? Start writing about the song and try to connect it to the task at hand, no matter how incongruous the two may seem.
What begins as a totally random exercise in unrelated concepts can open surprising paths toward framing a unique and authentic narrative. Fiction writers commonly use similar techniques to initiate work, and they serve equally well for business writing.
Hearing voices isn’t usually thought of as a good thing, but when it comes to your writing, it can be an invaluable tool. Tone is a critical aspect of any piece of content, as dictated by medium, subject matter, audience, purpose, and brand. To achieve the right tone for a particular project, it can help to imagine a distinct voice in your mind and channel it in your writing. Experiment with some situational writing to get a better feel for this strategy, but for pointers, here are a few familiar voices we’ve adopted to invoke appropriate tone:
- Press releases: Write the way Siri speaks.
- Blog posts: Oprah (approachable, conversational).
- Web copy: If you’re going for witty, Tina Fey shines. To present as astute and informational, Morning Edition hosts Steve Inskeep and Renee Montagne fit the bill.
- Contributed articles: This depends on the outlet, so research is key. Read a selection of posted material to determine an outlet’s “personality” (The Wall Street Journal editorial page adopts a much different overall tone than, say, Mashable). When in doubt, Tom Hanks is a great “everyman” to channel.
Anything you write is going to be better after you let someone you respect read it, listen to what they have to say, and adjust accordingly. Though writing may be a solitary pursuit, storytelling is about communication, which by its very definition requires the exchange of ideas. Embrace it.
Line Up the Usual Suspects
Set a deadline and set the stage. When it’s time to produce, employ these tried-and-true tips for banishing writer’s block:
- Clear your head: Take a walk outside, stretch, breathe deep, grab a glass of water, get comfortable.
- Eliminate distraction: Silence alerts, set your status to busy, quit your email, close your browser, hide your phone.
- Take a moment to visualize: Review your notes, summon the proper voice, zero in on what you need to communicate and to whom.
- Start typing: It’s that simple. Seriously, go!
There are thousands of reputable books and blogs and training programs devoted to better executing on key storytelling tactics, and that is all well and good. But great storytelling requires imagination. And to keep the muse on call for duty, you have to treat her with respect. Inspiration does not often strike out of the blue, as is so commonly believed. Like everything else, it travels more freely when it has a path. We tend that path through the art conscious creativity.
Deirdre Blake writes for Sterling’s content creation team. You can reach Deirdre at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @PingYourBrain.