Writer’s block. It stops writers and it stops preachers. How do you combat it? What do you do when you have nothing to say and yet you need to say something?
Before we get there, I have to admit this is probably the last post I will make Sorkin and the screen writers course I have been doing. (See previous posts). This is because the course is descending into more of Sorkin introspectively considering his own idiosyncratic writing style, and is getting harder and harder to apply to preaching.
That being said, he, like all others who have to deal in the world of words, has to deal with writer’s block: knowing you have to write something but not knowing where to start or what to say. Refreshingly, Sorkin freely admits that he is in a constant state of writer’s block and it is the rare days that he actually gets to write something down. As an aside he also freely admits that he rarely gets things in on a deadline. But he, and others have suggested there are things that you can do to overcome writer’s block.
As I have learned from Sorkin and my own experience, here are the 5 things you need to remember about writer’s block as a preacher:
- Most younger preachers don’t deal with writer’s block. They usually have too much to say because they want to say everything that they have ever learned in one talk. That was my experience and it is the experience I have seen in others as well. But that is a whole other problem.
- Everyone else does get writer’s block. If you are there at the moment, that is OK. That is normal. I think as preachers we feel guilty because we feel we should have something to say because we have the gospel, we have God’s Word and its not like we have to make stuff up. But we do need to think about how to shape what we will say and that can and does lead to writer’s block.
- Just start writing. This whole post could be summed up in those three words. This is the golden rule that I have seen Sorkin and anyone else who has addressed this say: just start. But what if you don’t have your ‘big idea’ yet? Just start, then you can see if nothing else what you don’t think it is and work from there. You can then head back to the big idea and then re-write from there.
- Write what you know. You will know something from the talk: one point, an illustration that you might use. If nothing else hand write out the passage. It makes a huge difference. See point 3.
- Edit, edit, edit. Obviously, if you are going to “just start writing” what you start with is going to be atrocious. Take what you have and cut and re-word. But you can only do this when you have something to work with and this is why you need to start with “just start writing”. But editing is why you can start just writing without fear. The chances of you using what you started with are incredibly remote. Incidentally, this is something you should be doing whether you have writers block or not. In my experience preachers don’t take time to edit enough.
Over time I have learned that this process of writing, clarifying and editing takes time. I can’t write a talk in a week, it takes several weeks and yes, that means I am working on several talks at time in different stages. I will need to write a draft that I think is good and leave it for a few days, come back to it and think “I was going to present that??!” Perhaps I am becoming more like Sorkin and letting my idiosyncrasies dictate my principles, but I do think this is a smarter way of preparing and dealing with potential writer’s block that may manifest.