How to finish a writing project when you’re stuck

Attorneys write a lot. At least we’re supposed to. We have deadlines to meet and bills to pay and we have to keep cranking. But sometimes, we get stuck. We may be half-way through a writing project and find ourselves unable to finish.

“7 Ways to Finish Difficult Writing Projects” is about how to finish a writing project when you’re stuck, and I’ve used most of the 7 ways. Reading my draft out loud and going for a walk to clear my head, for example, have helped me figure out where I am in the writing and where I want to go.

One of the suggestions is to make an outline, which I usually do, but sometimes my outline is the reason I’ve become stuck. Like a mis-calibrated GPS program, the outline took me to the wrong destination.

If I know what’s wrong, I’ll write a new outline. But sometimes, the piece isn’t working and I can’t figure out why.

When this happens, I write a outline of what I’ve already written. I may do this in a linear list with topics and sub-topics, or in a non-linear “mind map”. Reverse engineering the draft lets me see what’s missing or what I need to re-arrange to make things work. I then compare this outline to my original and from these two, create a third outline that allows me to move forward.

But sometimes, I’m still stuck. I know something is wrong but I can’t put my finger on it. What do I do? I go for a drive.

Once I’m on the road, I start talking and record myself. I pretend I’m speaking to my intended reader and I tell him what I want him to know. Speaking it out this way helps me get to the essence of the material. “I know I’ve got all these pages written, but here’s what I really want you to know. . .”.

In fact, sometimes, I do my first draft this way. I don’t write an outline, I just jot down a handful of topics I want to talk about, press record, and talk. Not only do I get the first draft done quickly, it’s often much better than what I might have written because the ideas flow naturally, instead of being forced to fit the structure of an outline.

If you ever find yourself stuck in a writing project, or you don’t know where to start, stop writing and start talking.

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Comments

  1. David- Do recommend this approach for legal briefs? How about marketing podcasts or videos?