Five Tips for Beating Writer's Block
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As I tell the clients I coach, and the MBA students I teach, "Please just delete the term ‘writer's block’ from your vocabulary." However, let's be realistic: Even seasoned, professional investment report writers have moments of panic as they sit and stare at a blank computer screen. Here are some tips for you to avoid those feelings.
As soon as you get the writing assignment, start jotting down notes, even if they're random thoughts. (Of course, this means you should be prepared with note-taking tools at all times.) What do you already know about this company? What are your initial thoughts—even if they're only your gut reactions—regarding whether the company is a buy or a sell?
Create a broad-stroke outline. You can always fine-tune it as you go along. Remember, today's busy, easily distracted readers want the bottom line on top: B.L.O.T. Your bottom line should be your conclusion: The company you are covering either is, or is not, a smart investment at this time. As you amass your research, your conclusion may change. No big deal. Manage by fact.
KEEP MOVING FORWARD
Don't let paralysis get to you. Keep writing. If a section of your report poses a challenge, work on other sections. As someone advised me early in my career, work around the edges of the project. In the long run, this tactic will save you time. And don't worry if what you're writing isn't immortal prose. The English language is infinitely perfectible. Getting your thoughts down in writing is what's hard. Later, once you've put your major thoughts in writing—revise, rework, and reorganize. Polishing the work is the fun part.
CHANGE THE SETTING
Stop fretting. Get out of dodge. Go for a walk. Grab a latte. Chat with a colleague. If possible, leave your office altogether. Sunshine and fresh air will help calm you, give you a new perspective, and get you out of the squirrel cage that's spinning inside your head.
AVOID THE PERFECTIONIST TRAP
Ease up on yourself. Report writing is the ultimate challenge in today's knowledge society. You're engaged in an extremely challenging task. Yes, of course, you should have high standards. But as you're drafting the report, ignore that mean—and imaginary—editor inside your head. As William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well, explains, clear thinking leads to clear writing. So, practice staying calm and confident as you write your report. Getting all riled up about the prospect of a red pen slashing mercilessly through your report is a waste of time. It's not about you. Focus on the needs of your audience.
Susan Mach, PhD, is a communication coach, trainer, and strategist. She teaches management communication part time at major NYC-area business schools, and investment research report writing at NYSSA.