By Wendy J. Meyeroff
It happens to everyone—that point when the words for this particular white paper just won’t come. Of course, the more frustrated (or frightened, or angry) you get about the situation, the worse it becomes. So, how do you move forward?
Start Someplace Else
I’ve always hated titles, and trying to think of the perfect one can sink me before I start. So the answer is simple: I don’t start with the title. I find that once I’ve written the copy, the solution jumps out of the pages. Maybe it’s a quote I’ve chosen, or something still in my notes that I didn’t use due to lack of room. Of course you can use this concept to fight any part of the paper that’s your nemesis: the opening or closing paragraph, the subheads, whatever. If the words aren’t coming, leave a hole (maybe mark it somehow) and come back to that section later.
Sometimes I’m able to keep the various points I know I want to include straight in my head, but when I can’t, I feel like I’m sinking into quicksand. So I go through my paperwork, highlight what I think is particularly important, and then number everything. Don’t misunderstand; the numbers don’t necessarily indicate any final order. That comes next.
Make an Outline
So now that I know what I really want to include (at least initially) I sort through and see what goes with what. I might see that quote number “1,” from exec A, is greatly reinforced by a statistic I have someplace else, labeled “23.” Together they inspire a common heading that I put down on paper. Eventually I have an outline. I may do more cutting/pasting before I have the final, but that’s OK—and it’s a lot easier with a computer!
Rehearse a Presentation
Pretend you’re facing an audience interested in what this paper discusses and talk it out. I started using this technique when I had to give a presentation about my services at events like chamber of commerce meetings. I locked myself in another room and, working from my outline, spoke it out loud. I found that, inevitably, I would discover points to delete or add as I talked. This method helps me better arrange my outline, and I think of strong phrasing designed to meet my audience’s needs.
Put It Aside
A standard rule, whatever you’re writing: when you’re stuck, walk away. Either literally leave (good for fighting neck cramps and other chronic desk-related problems) or work on something else, like phone calls.
Recognize When You’re Dawdling
Maybe this project bores you. Maybe it’s one you took on just because there were some unexpected bills to pay. So you’re really not blocked—you’re stalling. Be honest with yourself, square your shoulders (good for fighting the neck cramps noted above) and get moving.
Try a New Market
In health care communications, a great debate is whether to specialize in one topic, like cardiology. I find that being a generalist—one minute in neurology, another in women’s health—keeps me refreshed, but I have worked in industries totally outside health care. So if you’ve always focused on accounting, for example, maybe it’s time to explore another arena, at least for a while.
About the Author: Wendy Meyeroff is president of WM Medical Communications in Baltimore, Maryland. She has worked with companies in engineering, beauty, and computers/technology, although the majority of her work since 1987 has been for companies in health care, including non-profits, hospitals, private practices, and major corporations. You can find her online at www.wmmedcomm.com.