5b. The Unthinkable: Getting Stuck (and How to Get Un-Stuck) in Your First Draft

typewriter for One Lit Place at onelitplace.com
After all that typing, day in and day out, as you strive to write the book that will support and define your business, it’s inevitable that you would pause at some point to think. That’s what we do, we humans. We think about things. We simply can’t help ourselves. Plus, you’re an entrepreneur; when are you not thinking?

So you go for it: you stretch and let yourself consider what you’ll have for lunch, the weather, your latest Facebook ad’s performance, or whether you’re ruining your children.

And sadly, that’s all it takes. The Pandora’s box now cracked open, suddenly you may look down at what you’ve been writing, and begin thinking, only this time exponentially vulnerably so: about whether the work you’re doing is relevant, why you dared imagine you could do this in the first place, and …

Now you’re stuck. Too fearful to continue, you can’t write another thing — or, as some would put it, you’ve got Writers’ Block.

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Why Thinking While Writing the First Draft is Detrimental

One of the reasons it’s widely advocated that you try very hard to consider yourself a mere typist during the first draft, literally leaning back and letting your fingers do their thing, is once we check in with ourselves to see how we’re doing or ask ourselves whether the work is any “good” (based on some arbitrary subjective criteria), all our unconscious fears and worries rear up like a great muscled wave and can carry the best of us out to sea. Some find the wherewithal to recover from this, but some do not.

Humanity, empathy, and a healthy sense of self-actualization are necessary traits we should all cultivate in ourselves, but the one and only time when they should be locked away and gagged is while you’re writing the first draft of your book.

Later, when we have the hundreds of pages, we can judge our heads off. When we shape, revise, and fix. That’s the magic in making a book happen. But not now.

It’s Complicated: Writers Straddle Two States

While bakers, plumbers, or an accountant at tax time might occasionally evaluate whether they’re doing their jobs well, they probably do not pause at intervals to evaluate whether they’re any good at their jobs and then let their worry and fear cripple them to the point where they decide they’re hacks, throw up their hands, and go grief eat.

Like most people with jobs and salaries, these people do what they do, and while they may make some adjustment along the way to strengthen and improve, they keep doing their jobs and do not storm out on the bagels- even when the dough is tough.

An old-style gate.
You are no different except that you’re baking for the long game. So ultimately you can bring your audience a book about your business and give your clients additional value that they will pay you for (and that will lead to your earning yet more money through speaking engagements, book tours, and teaching opportunities).

There’s no such thing as Baker’s Block, but we writers have the proprietary “Writers’ Block.” In fairness, to write well and from the heart, we must access our emotional centers, speak from a position of authority we may not always feel (imposter syndrome, anyone?), and do it in a smooth, engaging, dynamic way on the page we don’t always know how to channel.

To stop thinking seems not in the work’s best interests, counterintuitive, and is also kind of hard. And yet, we must. It’s a weird polarity to straddle.

 

How to Break Your Writers’ Block

Whether or not we are having thoughts or feelings about what we’re doing, to get the first draft down, we must always return to our default position of unthinking typist. Unless you’re a hunter and pecker, you must literally lean back and type or handwrite whatever comes to mind and let your hands move almost as if of their own volition.

Here are some tips to break the block:

  • Cover your computer screen/piece of paper like it’s a bird in its cage. When you’re not able to see the mistakes, or you can’t evaluate the writing to see if it’s any “good,” it’s easier to keep laying the words down
  • Return to either your outline or the notes you’ve made on your book’s purpose and re-affirm what topics you will cover in the book. Even if you’ve already covered that territory in your first draft, read through your points again. When you return to the writing, your mind will automatically begin making connections and may even more nimbly move into new areas
  • Make some additional notes to prompt yourself into new territory by brainstorming, clustering, or listing
  • Look over some of the research you have culledFairy lights inside of a lightbulb.
  • Go through your business’ social media pages and write down actual questions or concerns your clients/customers have voiced, then start a fresh document/piece of paper and answer them
  • Ask yourself some questions about your own industry, business, or services/products by typing them out in a fresh document/piece of paper and answering them.

All you want to do at this stage is type and type some more. The first draft is not a draft that will be a) linear b) logically organized or c) pretty. It will be a tangled mass of ideas and also plenty repetitive as your mind wends through what it knows, doesn’t know, and seeks clarity on as you strive to provide information and answers for your audience.

But that’s all OK. In the “end” (or at some arbitrary point when you lift your head and begin to look at the material), you will have enough ideas to form the shape of your book. And only then, is it time to let yourself think.


In the next blog in this series, Writing a Book for Your Business, I’ll talk about how to organize those hundreds of pages so you can begin making sense of the project, arranging the information in a linear sequence, and begin the good work of shaping what will become a dynamic, fully realized book to support your business.

 

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