Content Writing Writing Advice

The 4-step Process to Overcoming Writer’s Block

April 20, 2020

The secret lies in effectively communicating with yourself

Every writer knows what it feels like to be in the zone. It’s euphoric to see your page get flooded with ideas. Then you stop. You already have all these ideas, but you’re having trouble stringing the words together. You don’t know how to actually start.

Writing is only fun when you’re not stuck. So the question is, what makes you stuck?

A writer’s block happens when your mind is always interrupting itself. In the middle of ideation, you outline your writing. Or while you’re drafting, you start editing as well. You end up doing too many things at once and overwhelming yourself.

The trick is to separate these stages into different personas and allow them to carry out their responsibilities only when they are required to.

The MACJ Model

Bryan Garner, author of HBR Guide to Better Business Writing, has created a list of 4 personas that every writer needs to channel while they’re writing.

These personas will help you structure all the ideas that are jumbled in your brain. Garner created these personas as a way to help writers improve their business writing. However, they are incredibly helpful in writing other kinds of content as well.

Always make sure that your different personas never clash.

In his book, Garner outlines a model which he calls the “Madman, Architect, Carpenter, Judge” (MACJ). Who are they? What do they do?

1. The Madman: Brainstorming

The madman comes up with all sort of ideas. Are they workable ideas? We don’t know! But the madman’s mind is like an opened floodgate. He pours all of his thoughts and ideas onto paper, not worrying about what works and what doesn’t.

This is your brainstorming phase. When you’ve channelled your madman persona, you shouldn’t worry about whether your ideas will work or not. Jot down anything and everything that comes to your mind. Fill that document with ideas. Do not limit yourself.

2. The Architect: Outlining

Once the madman has all his ideas on paper, he passes them over to the architect. She looks at his wild list and tries to organise them into logical groupings. The architect will try to turn the madman’s ideas into something workable — as long as they are relevant. She finds an angle, discards ideas that do not fit and turns all else that remains into a blueprint.

This blueprint will serve as the outline of your writing. Maybe a lot of your ideas might have gotten thrown out in the process, but that’s alright. The whole point of the architect is to ensure that you remain focused on the topic at hand. There is no hierarchy yet. The architect’s job is to create the foundation of your building blocks.

Channelling this persona will help you to determine the structure, format, tone, and content that goes into your document.

3. The Carpenter: Drafting

Now that you have the blueprint ready, all that’s left is for the carpenter to build the structure. Using the architect’s blueprint, he will now create the building blocks. Then, he will proceed to nail these blocks together, making sure that everything is written clearly in a logical flow.

This is where you will be crafting sentences, putting words together, and filling in the gaps. It is also the stage where you will be sorting out your content. A large chunk of your drafting work happens here.

4. The Judge: Editing

Are you prepared to be the biggest critic of yourself? If you are, that’s great. If you’re not, then the judge should probably be someone else!

Who is the judge? She is the last person that will come into the picture. She dislikes redundant words and repetitive sentences. She will take out the unnecessary parts. She might even re-order your structure. She has a knack of keeping things simple and straightforward. She will inject clarity and brevity into your writing.

As you might have figured, this is where your editing comes into play. Fixing your grammar, punctuation, and spelling only become necessary in this stage.

Which persona is the most important?

All of these personas play a valuable role in the writing process. But the persona that is most important to you should be the one tasked with what you most struggle with.

Some people have a harder time brainstorming for ideas, while some others might find it difficult to draft their document. I know of some people who think editing is the most challenging process of all.

I believe the architect is the most important. Once I have organised my ideas into logical groupings, it makes it easier for me to start building the document. All I need to do now is to rearrange them and craft my document according to the blueprint.

The judge is also a persona you should spend a little more time in. Editing can be difficult for some writers (including me) because we struggle with omitting. We think that everything we write is important. This might cause us to overlook redundant words and repetitive sentences.

I usually leave my writing alone for a day or two once I am done with the carpentry before I start judging it.

Writing is communicating with yourself

Always make sure that your different personas never clash. The madman might not be able to channel his creativity if you allow the judge to criticise him early on in the process. The architect and carpenter work well together, but combining their roles will only confuse you!

A writer’s block happens when you are constantly interrupting yourself.

There are also times where you might need to channel the different personas more than once. That’s alright. No one said that writing was a linear path.

I realised that I have always been writing like this but giving names to the different stages of the writing process changed the game.

It helps you to channel the intensity of a madman, the adaptability of an architect, the detail orientation of a carpenter, and the impartiality of a judge. Having these personas makes writing feel more dynamic and exciting.

Once you have learned to channel these 4 different personas, it’s much easier to get your writing done!


This article was originally published on Writer’s Blokke.