Ask Umbra on writer’s block
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Q. Dear Umbra,
I am starting an internship at a sustainability consulting firm and was asked to blog about relevant issues. I am blocked by a few mind obstacles: I can’t help but think that I’m stealing other writers’ ideas, or that my audience is in the same bucket as those that may have already read what I’m referring, or that I do not have the expertise to make substantive claims outside of the claims of the piece I am blogging about. Otherwise, what makes a successful entry? Please help if you can.
A. Dearest Kang,
Just start writing. Whatever a mind obstacle is, writing a letter to me will not make it go away. In addition, you are not writing the next great American novel while holed up in a garret, subsisting on peanut butter and praying to find an agent. You are an intern. The obstacle that should most concern you is your supervisor’s mind approval. If your sustainability firm wanted someone who had nothing but fresh, genius-level epiphanies to report, they would have hired a professional.
Boldly move forth with your work. An internship is a fabulous opportunity to be open to learning without feeling like you need to know all the answers. Try to write well and clearly about topics that interest you. Do your background research. If you have an opinion, share it. If you don’t have the expertise, let your readers know that you are making an assumption or have missing data.
Quite a bit of writing, especially of the weblog variety, involves interpretation, translation, or exploration of news or data that the writer’s audience might already have read. I suppose people read this sort of blog precisely to get a new perspective on information, just as we might read the opinion pages of a newspaper. Or they read them so as to avoid putting their own time and effort into synthesizing the information. Or, they know it all already and read the post because the writing is strong. You might succeed with all three of these types of reader.
You can’t please all of the people all of the time. It will be possible to figure out how many people are reading your posts by tracking the unique visitors to them — which hopefully your organization will do. Or, if they don’t track the hits, mayhap they primarily care about your experience as a writer instead of your effectiveness as a proselytizer for their firm. In any case, you are in the lucky position of needing to look only to your supervisors for approval. These persons should not expect you to be good at everything already. So relax. Focus on writing readable, clear, purposeful posts, and enjoy yourself.
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