So what’s blocking you from getting things done?

Phil Castle
Phil Castle

Writer’s block. I shudder to type those words, fearful the very act could provoke a self-fulfilling prophecy. At least my column would offer brevity, although not necessarily enlightenment. That’s opposed to the usual — verbosity, although not necessarily enlightenment.

In case you haven’t deduced it already, writers can be a superstitious lot. We attribute success and failure to all sorts of circumstances that have no bearing whatsoever on the outcome. How much coffee you’ve chugged, for example. The music to which you listen. The color of your socks, for heaven’s sake. The Latin phrase for these fallacious connections is post hoc, ergo proctor hoc. Translation: after this, therefore because of this. After writing what I deemed a particularly amusing column one time, I remembered I’d sprinkled blueberries on my cereal that morning. It’s been blueberries and Cheerios for breakfast ever since.

I wonder whether or not business owners and managers experience their own versions of writer’s block. Not so much the superstitions, but the difficulties in hatching new ideas or acting on old ones. Is there such a thing as entrepreneur’s block? Maybe they’ve got decisions to make, but don’t because they’re deliberating the best course of action — something I’ve also heard called the paralysis of analysis. Perhaps they know exactly what to do, but don’t because it’s difficult, risky or simply unpleasant. More to the point, how can business owners and managers get past such an impasse?

Full disclosure: I’ve never owned or operated a business, unless you count the lemonade stand I ran in front of my house when I was a kid. I don’t mind bragging, though, I realized even then the importance of location. Want to profit from retail beverage sales? Open an outlet along the route between wheat fields and a grain elevator. There are few customers as thirsty as truck drivers on a sweltering July afternoon in Eastern Colorado. I made a killing.

My experience as a lemonade magnate aside, I can only address the problems associated with writer’s block or its managerial equivalent from the perspective of a writer.

Writer’s block has been described as a black dog from hell, creative constipation and — my personal favorite — muse repellent. Picture your mind as a sere landscape where no novel thought grows.

There are as many explanations for writer’s block as there are writers Each affliction is uniquely torturous. I’m fortunate as a newspaper editor in there’s never a shortage of news to report. It’s only a matter of setting priorities given the restraints involved. There’s scarcely time to keep up and no time to overthink the process. Writing columns? That’s a horse of a different color, one more likely to throw me ass over teakettle than take me on an enjoyable ride.

Here’s the problem. I believe newspaper columnists should draw on their insights and experiences to address important topics. Moreover, they’d better do so in compelling fashion. I’m not saying I always — or even seldom — achieve that goal. But the aspiration alone can be intimidating, enough so to give pause for thought.

Perhaps the best antidote to writer’s block or it’s managerial equivalent is mustering the confidence to get started. If you still suffer doubts, start anyway. I’m the kind of writer known as a “pantser” rather than “plotter.” I tend to write by the seat of my pants instead of plotting my progress or, God forbid, creating an outline. That makes the process all the more uncertain. I’m often pleasantly surprised, though, how one step leads to another. Before I’m aware of it, I’m headed in a different direction than I’d anticipated, but toward a better destination.

Business owners and managers are better served plotting to the extent they can where they want their operations to go. But ultimately, they still have to execute their plans, trusting in their preparations. If the need arises to head in a different direction, they shouldn’t hesitate to do so. Chances are they’ll reach that better destination.

I suspect writer’s block and it’s business version also could be a symptom of an underlying condition. Writer’s don’t want to write and managers don’t want to manage. That could be as temporary a situation as they don’t feel up to the task at that particular moment. Take a break, then get back to it. But if a chronic aversion develops, some soul searching and resulting changes might be in order.

I could suggest still other remedies to writer’s block. Mark Twain worked in bed. So did Winston Churchill. Victor Hugo sometimes wrote in the nude, although that could be problematic for those caught naked in front of their laptops at the office.

I’ll let you in on a little trade secret. When columnists believe they suffer from writer’s block and can’t think of anything to write about, there’s always a fallback position. They write about writer’s block.