3 Ways To Get Past Technical Writer’s Block

Ever hit Technical Writer’s Block? That’s when you sit down to write your next user guide or operations manual and… nothing happens. You don’t know where to start and end up staring at the screen while the Due Deadline gets closer in the background. How do you get past Technical Writer’s Block?

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#1 – Technical Writer’s Block: What causes it?

If I’m honest with myself, it’s down to a few reasons:

  • Stress – if things are working out in your personal life, maybe you have health, finance, or domestic issues with deal with, then these tend to spill over to your work. While you can’t avoid stress (not always anyway), you can acknowledge it and identify this as the root cause. How men v women tech writers cope is another issue.
  • Confusion – which document should I write first? Or what’s the most important thing to do right now? Struggling with priorities and expectations add a level of confusion that stops any progress from being made.
  • Sleep – if you have kids, party too much, or live with a late night tv addict, it can be hard to sleep. And if I don’t get my seven hours, I’m basically a zombie the next day.
  • Energy – in the same vein, if I don’t get enough rest, I tend to fade in the afternoons and rely on coffee to get me to the finishing line.
  • Interest – I think this is what underlies most Technical Writer’s Block. If I’m not interested, it’s hard to get started, especially at 5pm when you’re dog-tired and need to crank out another chapter.

#2 How to get past it

  • Stress – I make a promise to myself to get out of the office for lunch. A good 30 min walk clears up a lot of things and gives me a nice energy boost. Also, I try to meditate for 10 min on the train to work to calm myself, before and after work. Others think I’m sleeping; that’s fine.
  • Confusion – At the start of every day, I plan out the next 8 hours. This helps me navigate through the day and keep to a straight path. I’ve also learned to decline as many meeting requests as possible and batch process emails.
  • Sleep – I start to ‘power down’ at 10pm, turn off the PC and read a fiction or history book for 30 min. Much as I love staying up late, I pay the price the next day.
  • Energy – This is interesting. Energy gets sucked out of you in different ways, for example, those conversations that drag on forever… or the colleague who gives a running monologue as he codes all day. One suggestion is to wear headphones and listen to positive music (esp classical) or… turn off the music and ‘block’ out others. Outside the office, I walk every evening after dinner, regardless of the weather.
  • Interest – This is tricky as you can’t always be interested in writing APIs. So, what I do is write the harder material in the morning (when I have energy) and then treat myself to lighter stuff in the afternoon, such as graphic design or use case diagrams.

technical-writing-tips

#3 How to banish it for good

There are a few other techniques I use to get started:

  • Type the first sentence and see what goes from there.
  • Start in the middle and work out. Or…
  • Start at the end and work backwards.
  • Write the headings first to give it shape
  • Start on a few sub-headings
  • Create some diagrams

And by piecemeal get the document started.

Conclusion

You don’t have to start on page 1, line 1.

I’ve used these methods for a few years and rarely – except this morning 🙂 – get Technical Writer’s Block. The ‘lesson learnt’ for me is to develop a writing system that works for me and then hone it. There is always room for improvement but I feel I’m getting there.

How do you cope with Technical Writer’s Block?

Download these templates to start

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