Nonprofit Copywriting: What Writers Say About Writer's Block
Do fundraising writers get writer’s block? Does every writer? All writers talk about it. Some play complicated psychological tricks on themselves to prime the pump when the well goes dry.
Others take a get-tough approach and say, in effect, “man up and write.”
Still others scoff at the whole idea of writer’s block as just a lot of artsy preciousness.
I don’t know how you feel about it, but I thought it’d be fun to see what a few well-known writers have to say on the subject. So here, arranged roughly from compassionate to contemptuous, are a few thoughts from some voices of experience:
“Put (your project) aside for a few days, do other things, try not to think about it. Then sit down and read it as if you’ve never seen it before. Start at the beginning. Scribble on the manuscript as you go if you see anything you want to change. And often, when you get to the end you’ll be both enthusiastic about it and know what the next few words are.” — Neil Gaiman
“You do not sit down and write every day to force the Muse to show up. You get into the habit of writing every day so that when she shows up, you have the maximum chance of catching her.” ―Lli St. Crow
“What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ … And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.’” — Maya Angelou
“Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise … But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be.” — Hilary Mantel
“... Say: ‘Am I being joyful?’ And if you’ve got a writer’s block, you can cure it this evening by stopping whatever you’re writing and doing something else. You picked the wrong subject.” — Ray Bradbury
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” — Mark Twain
“I met John Steinbeck at a party in Sag Harbor, and told him that I had writer’s block. ... He said, 'Pretend that you’re writing not to your editor or to an audience or to a readership, but to someone close, like your sister, or your mother, or someone that you like.' And at the time I was enamored of Jean Seberg, the actress, and I had to write an article about taking Marianne Moore to a baseball game, and I started it off, 'Dear Jean …' and wrote this piece with some ease. And to my astonishment that’s the way it appeared in Harper’s Magazine. 'Dear Jean …'” — John Steinbeck by way of George Plimpton
“If you tell yourself you are going to be at your desk tomorrow, you are by that declaration asking your unconscious to prepare the material. You are, in effect, contracting to pick up such valuables at a given time. Count on me, you are saying to a few forces below: I will be there to write.” — Norman Mailer
“Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.” — Ernest Hemingway
“[When] the thoughts rise heavily and pass gummous through my pen … I never stand conferring with pen and ink one moment; for if a pinch of snuff or a stride or two across the room will not do the business for me — … I take a razor at once; and have tried the edge of it upon the palm of my hand, without further ceremony, except that of first lathering my beard, I shave it off, taking care that if I do leave hair, that it not be a grey one: this done, I change my shirt — put on a better coat — send for my last wig — put my topaz ring upon my finger; and in a word, dress myself from one end to the other of me, after my best fashion.” — Laurence Sterne
“Writer’s block is a condition that affects amateurs and people who aren’t serious about writing. So is the opposite, namely inspiration, which amateurs are also very fond of. Putting it another way: a professional writer is someone who writes just as well when they’re not inspired as when they are.” — Philip Pullman
“I don't believe in writer's' block. Do doctors have 'doctors block'? Do plumbers have 'plumbers' block'? No. We all have days when we don't feel like working, but why do writers turn that into something so damn special by giving it a faintly romantic name?” ― Larry Kahaner
So ... crisis for creatives or complaint of crybabies? Like most things, the answer for most of us lies somewhere in the middle. But wherever you fall on the spectrum, you can always take solace in Charles Bukowski’s belief that, “Writing about a writer's block is better than not writing at all.”
Willis believes in expressive writing, exceptional fundraising, and exuberant living.
Willis Turner is the senior copywriter at Huntsinger & Jeffer. He was an experienced writer and creative director in the traditional advertising world for more than 20 years before making the switch to fundraising nearly 15 years ago. In his work with nonprofit organizations and associations, he has written thousands of appeals, renewals and acquisition communications for every medium. He creates direct-response campaigns, as well as collateral materials and communications, that get attention, tell emotional stories, and persuade people to take action or make a donation.