Take an Axe to Writer’s Block

Claire Meyerhoff

Last week, Claire Meyerhoff warned us of the dangers of assuming in our nonprofit communications. She promised to be back with tips on fighting writer’s block with the help of Dave Marcus. Here you go! ~Kivi

In the movie The Shining, Jack Nicholson’s character suffers from the worst case of writer’s block ever recorded and his wife, played by Shelley Duvall finds herself dealing with a very, very, very bad outcome.  Holed up in a cavernous hotel that’s closed for the winter, Jack “works on his book” while his wife is terrorized by all kinds of horror; blood dripping from walls, ghostly twins, being chased through a hedge maze by an axe-wielding husband and a sorry lack of fresh fruit and veg.  A defining moment is when we see Shelley Duvall flipping through Jack’s “manuscript,” discovering that her writer husband has been typing…

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” over and over on hundreds of pages.  For sure, this is evidence of a seriously frightening case of writer’s block, but maybe, if only, Jack was privy to the internet, Nonprofit Marketing Guide and some great tips on how to break through writer’s block?

You may never be holed-up in a vacant hotel working on a book, but you’ve probably felt like grabbing an axe or running through a hedge maze after hours of “working” on an end of year appeal, annual report or power point for a board presentation.

Next time, turn away from Jack and listen to Dave.

Dave Marcus

Dave has written his way around the world as a journalist for U.S. News and World Report, The Boston Globe, Newsday and the Dallas Morning Herald where his team won a Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting.  He’s written two books and you can find one of his many freelance articles in top pubs like Vanity Fair, Newsweek and the New York Times.  These days, Dave is a New York public relations and communications strategist working with clients in education, nonprofits, individuals and businesses.  I know he’s busy, so instead of asking him to write an article for Nonprofit Marketing Guide, I just asked him for ONE GREAT WRITER’S BLOCK TIP that I could build a blog post around.

Dave got back to me in a jiffy AND he gave me four strategies you can try if you’re suffering from a bad case of the block:

1)  Tweet about it.  That’s right, break your larger project down to four or ten or fifteen key points – as many as you need.  Then compose a fake Twitter post summarizing each one.  You’ll soon have what we used to call an outline.

2)   Shout it out!  Take a digital recorder and pretend you’ve got a couple of minutes to share the information with an old friend.  Talk.  Stop and breathe.  Then record another segment that grabs you.  Perfect for end of year reports where you’re looking for the top news that will grab your reader.  If you wouldn’t shout it out to a friend, why would you put it as the first item in your report?

3)  Instagram it.  Take photos or find stock images that represent the gist of the report or newsletter profile. Write a brief caption for each, as if you were going to put them online.  Arrange them and re-arrange them. Expand the captions.  Do the math:  10 captions x 50 words = 500 words.  You’re done with the rough draft. And it sounds like a great way to find a theme and spark creativity for that board presentation.

4)  Keep it pure.  Clear out your brain and put down those old, jargon-laden materials you’re using for “inspiration.”  That means dumping clichés such as “metrics,” “leveraging” and “re-purposing.”

When I see Dave next, I’ll ask if he used any of these when he was writing his most recent book, Acceptance: A Legendary Guidance Counselor Helps Seven Kids Find the Right College – and Find Themselves (Penguin Press).  Dave is also the author of What It Takes to Pull Me Through: Why Teenagers Get in Trouble and How Four Got Out (Houghton Mifflin).   You can reach him through DaveMarcus.com or connect with him via linkedin.com/in/davidlmarcus

Claire Meyerhoff is a nonprofit communications and PR specialist working with orgs small, medium and large.  Her next speaking engagement is the Annual Planned Giving Conference at Kanuga, an event Claire calls, “the best planned giving conference anywhere!” This jeans-only conference is April 30-May 1 in Hendersonville, North Carolina. Claire’s topic is “Beyond Buckslips,” and she’ll be sharing her creative and FREE ways your org can communicate the great news about IRA beneficiary designations, life insurance gifts, bequests and other planned gifts.  http://www.ncpgc.org/kanuga2013.html  Connect with Claire via linkedin.com/in/meyclaire.

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