A trick to fix writing that sounds flat

One issue I have with “writer’s block” is that it is a vague excuse that blankets over more specific issues. Writer’s block is real, but there is a concrete list of reasons why you are being blocked and it isn’t because you are a writer. You need to identify what that blockage is in order to fix it.

One block to writing is that what you have so far is too flat or vague for you to know where to go next. One way you’ll know this is happening if you have something down, you read it, but you draw a blank about what to say next. You can’t quite get a foothold. Another way you’ll know this is happening is if you feel like you keep saying the same thing multiple times but it still doesn’t quite sound right. It feels like you are circling around the real thing you want to say. In this case, there is one trick you could try:


Get more specific


If you feel like your writing is flat or you can’t quite get what is in your head onto that page, try getting specific. Go to a separate page and write down a concrete example of what you are trying to describe. Think of a story from your life that illustrates what you are explaining. Think of an object or an action that symbolizes what you are trying to say.


For example, if you are writing about ice cream and you say, “Ice cream is awesome and I love it so much,” that is vague and you’ll get stuck fast. You need to spend time thinking about WHY you love it so much. Instead of stating a fact, try describing a specific example from your life, like this:


“When I was little, I remember muggy summer evenings when my mom would take me to the local ice cream shop across the road from the grocery store. We didn’t go there often but, every once in a while, my mom would pull a creased 5 dollar bill out of her wallet and hand it to me in the grocery store parking lot after we put the shopping cart away. We’d hold hands and skip across the street to get our cones (she always got cookies and cream) and then we would sit in the car with the windows down, licking drippy ice cream off of our knuckles and answering silly questions. What kind of animal would you be if you were an animal? Would you rather eat pizza or cereal for the rest of your life? Now, I love ice cream because it reminds me of summer evenings with my mother.”


This paragraph is far superior to “Ice cream is awesome and I love it so much” because it is far more specific about why you love ice cream. It gives the reader a scene to visualize and emotions to draw from. It will also help them connect on a deeper level by dropping cues to trigger personal connections to your writing. Perhaps they will recall memories of summer evenings or their mother or their own funny stories about ice cream. You don’t need to have a deep story for everything, but if you are stuck, stop and think about what you are trying to communicate and experiment with saying it through a specific story or picture. Then, look at how to work that into what you are writing.


This is why writing requires self-reflection and an awareness. Writing is a conversation with yourself before it becomes a conversation with the reader. Substance emerges from the questioning, the re-framing, and the plumbing of your own mind and heart as you aim for specificity over vagueness. That’s where quality writing emerges.

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