Writer’s block can strike in any of the following ways:
- resistance to getting started
- fear of writing a boring report
- not knowing exactly how to go about moving your report from ‘okay’ to excellent’.
OBSTACLE 1: Resistance to getting started
It’s very natural to want to run away from the blank page. Even really seasoned writers suddenly feel the desire to do anything but get started.
Ann Handley, author of Everyone Writes, describes this as the ‘Show Up and Throw Up’ stage. This means accepting that most of what you write will be terrible, and unusable, but write it anyway and then walk away. When you come to the rewriting stage, look for the gems within the mud and toss the rest away.
I find writing a first draft on my laptop seems to work better than trying to get started at my desktop computer, which I associate with doing ‘proper’ polished work.
The key thing to do is not stop until that first draft is finished. Don’t lose your momentum by searching for a reference, or a particular fact – just note what you want to put in there and keep writing.
More ways to get started on your first draft are available on page 3 of this report writing guide.
OBSTACLE 2: Your report is boring
In order to write about something with any originality or authority, we need to care more than the average bear about the topic. That means we will put more into that first draft than other people necessarily want to know about.
During the review of your draft, it’s a good idea to see yourself as a sculptor, carving away the boring details to reveal the true shape of your story. (Alternatively you can see it as the ‘chainsaw edit’ as Ann Handley describes it!) Challenge yourself to reduce the length of your report by a page or two to cut the document down to the essentials.
Examples of potentially boring bits to look out for in your report include too much detail about:
- background that is not directly related to the decision to be made in this report
- legislation changes
- related community outcomes and policies
- technical reports which inform your report.
The key to rewriting is to read your draft from the point of view of your reader. Anything that you find your eyes skipping over is a good contender for:
- moving into an appendix
- condensing down to one sentence within your report
- completely removing it from the report. You can save these discards for your own notes, in case a manager insists on it being included, or if it comes up as a question in a Committee meeting.
Doing this ‘rough cut’ editing before making more detailed, line by line improvements will speed up your report writing process because you won’t spend time polishing sentences that end up being discarded.
OBSTACLE 3: You don’t know how to work on your draft to make it better
The first thing to accept is that it’s normal to go over your report multiple times. The difference between an okay and an excellent report is closely related to how many times you are prepared revise it. As a rule of thumb, if you’re still picking up a few changes during a read through, read it another time.
Here are some questions to ask yourself when revising your document:
- Are the headings in the right order?
- Has anything been repeated?
- Is anything missing that is essential to this report?
- Can anything be explained more simply?