Writer’s blocked? Don’t be! Read this…

June 9, 2014

Writer’s block can strike anytime, anywhere. All too often it appears when you have deadline breathing down your neck.

There you are, working hard to get that annual appeal wrapped up by Thursday – no problem. Except it’s Wednesday afternoon and you still have a blank page.

Maybe you haven’t been able to write. Maybe you’ve started three times already and deleted it each time.

ThinkingEither way, writer’s block has struck.

The first thing you need to do is relax


Do you know what the difference is between good writing and bad writing?


There’s a reason no one ever sees my rough drafts – they’re terrible.

And that’s okay!

Because the rough draft is only for me. It doesn’t have to read well. (It doesn’t even have to contain complete sentences. Many of my rough drafts are little better than cluttered outlines)

The rough draft is there to get all my thoughts from my head to the page. Once they’re on paper, I can work with them, rearrange and organize them in a way that makes sense.

What does this have to do with writer’s block?


It’s been my experience that writer’s block happens when I can’t figure out how to begin. It doesn’t hit me when I’ve got three pages of notes and scribbles. It hits me when I’m looking at a blank page, and trying to come up with that first sentence.

(Maybe your experience is different. If it is, please share in the comments below.)

“This is all well and good, but I’m not writing a poem or short story… I’m writing a letter / case statement / serious fundraising piece… I can’t just throw down whatever’s in my head and assume it can be revised into something that works!”

Yes you can – and will.

(I’m going to use a fundraising letter as an example, but in my experience this concept works just as well for all donor communications.)

What is a fundraising letter really?

I would suggest that it is a conversation in print.

You send a letter because you can’t go to the donor in person. It’s meant to take the place of a personal visit – it stands to reason that the closer it comes to being like a personal visit, the more effective it will be right?

You know what people do when they meet face-to-face?

They don’t write notes to each other…

They talk.

And that’s what I want you to do too.

Sit down with that empty page and just talk onto it.

Imagine yourself sitting with one of your most dedicated donors – a real friend to your organization. What would you say to them? Type it on the page instead.

Feel silly? That’s ok. Feel silly. But do it anyway.

There’s no right or wrong at this point. Just like in real conversation, you can’t edit, or delete. What’s said is said. Just keep typing, and don’t stop until you’re done.

You’ll have plenty of time to revise later.

Important: Just keep typing! Do not read what you’re writing. If you do, you might be tempted to start making corrections – too soon.
How will you know when you’re done?

To be safe, I use a timer – I usually set it for 35-40 minutes.

I don’t stop typing until the timer goes off, even if I start repeating myself and can’t think of anything new to say. Often a great idea will present itself five minutes after I’ve convinced myself I’ve written down everything I possibly could.


You’ve taken my word for it. You’ve had an imaginary conversation with your donor friend and the contents are plastered all over the page – possibly grammar that a fifth grader would be ashamed of.

What now?

Print off a copy and take a break. Don’t look at it yet. Just print it and set it aside for later.

Do something else – anything else.

If your deadline is next week, then leave it until tomorrow. If your deadline is tomorrow, then leave it for fifteen minutes.

Your goal here is to clear your head, so when you begin editing and revising, you can do it from a more objective perspective. You do that by switching gears and doing something besides writing.

Read. Revise. Repeat.


You’re back!

Now you’re going to read what you wrote.

Resist the urge to edit anything yet. Just read it through start to finish.


Feeling a little ill? Wondering how you’re going to turn this mess into a polished piece?

Relax. It’s gonna be fine!

Your rough draft is done.

You have all the pieces you need laid out on paper in front of you. All that’s left to do is clean them up and decide where to put them.

Edit, rearrange, and rewrite until you have a draft you’re happy with.

At this point, I leave it to you to decide how to handle the editing and revising.

I typically do multiple revisions. I revise once, and then set it aside for the day. The next day I do another revision, and set it aside again. And I repeat that for as many days as I can (or need).

Maybe you only need to edit it once, and then do a final revision. I know writers like that. In fact, I know writers that can take a rough draft like I’ve described and edit into a perfectly acceptable final version in a single sitting.

You’re almost done…

You now should have a draft that you’re happy with. There’s only one thing left for you to do: read it aloud.

Remember how I said a letter is like a conversation? Really all communication is (or should be) this way.

To make sure what you write sounds conversational, read it out loud. If it sounds like how you talk, then you’re all set. If not, you’ve got some final edits to make.

Trust your gut while you read. Does anything sound awkward or out of place? Highlight it.

If it sounds awkward being read aloud, it’s awkward on the page too…

Now revise those highlighted parts until they sound natural spoken out loud.


You went from a frustratingly blank page to a finely polished, conversational donor communication. Maybe it took you a couple hours. Maybe a couple days.

Either way, I bet it was easier than you thought it was going to be!

This guest post was brought to you by Andy Duchow.  Andy is a fundraising writer at Green Bay Copywriting LLC where he helps small and mid-sized nonprofits create world class donor communications.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Sheri knight August 28, 2014 at 2:25 am

Hi Pamela! First off, I think you’re amazing. I’ve been reading your articles for a few months now…a friend recommended it. Anyway…I’m just curious…do you recommend hiring professional writers to write grant proposals? And if you think it’s not a bad idea, what do you think of
alliedgrantwriters.com ? I’ve seen their websites and I think they have reasonable prices. But I’m not sure if I should try creating one on my own first. Thanks Pamela.

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