Got Training Writer’s Block? Maybe the solution is to do nothing.

Sometimes that need we all feel to be creative in designing our next training program, yet the ideas don’t seem to be flowing, can lead to all sorts of feelings – frustration, panic, resignation to just doing what you’ve always done and calling it “good enough”.

I’ve certainly felt all of these things. In today’s short podcast, I offer some thoughts in how I’ve broken through that training writer’s block that we all encounter from time to time.

Introduction 

Welcome, everyone, to another episode of Train Like You Listen, a weekly podcast about all things learning and development in bite-sized chunks. I’m your host, Brian Washburn. I’m also the Co-founder of a cool little instructional design company called Endurance Learning. Today’s podcast is going to focus on moving beyond that trainer’s writing block. So if you are a training writer, training designer, you may have encountered a little bit of writer’s block at some point. We’re gonna talk about that.

But before we get to that, I do need to mention that today’s podcast is brought to you by Soapbox. It’s a rapid authoring tool, which received Training Magazine’s Choice Award for Authoring Tools for the second year in a row. Basically, it will save you about 50 or 60% of the time that it typically takes you to create a training program. What you do is you just go in, you tell the computer how long your presentation is, how many people are going to attend, whether it’s in-person or virtual, what your learning objectives are, and then you get a lesson plan, you get slides instantly. Go ahead and sign up for a free trial if you wanna check it out. You can find out more information and use it for free at www.soapboxify.com. Okay.

Recognizing Writer’s Block

Let’s talk about this idea of trainer’s writing block. Have you ever been working on a project and you really wanted to be creative but the ideas just weren’t flowing? That’s trainer’s writing block! Have you ever been working on a project and you come to the uncomfortable realization that you’ve been using the same activities and engagement strategies for the past two years, but you just can’t come up with anything new? That, my friends, is trainer’s writing block, and it’s okay. It has happened to every experienced instructional designer out there.

What Can You Do About Writer’s Block?

It's been my experience that when I try to force creativity to come, it tends to run harder in the other direction.

So what can you or what should you do about it? My advice, oftentimes, is nothing. And I’m being serious. Sometimes it’s just the best thing to do – absolutely nothing. It’s been my experience that when I try to force creativity to come, it tends to run harder in the other direction. So when I say do nothing, that has been a solution that’s tended to work best for me. When I go into “do nothing” mode, which is what I’m gonna call it– I’m calling it that because to any outside observer, it really is what it looks like that I’m doing. Sometimes doing nothing is me staring at a blank screen, a lesson plan on my screen, or a storyboarding template on my screen. Sometimes doing nothing is me getting up from my desk during what might be a very busy day, and just taking a walk around the block.

What Are You Actually Doing When You Are Doing Nothing?

But what am I actually doing? Because I’m actually not “doing nothing.” I’m doing something, but what am I actually doing? The first thing I’m gonna talk about is something I’m not doing, and that’s, I’m not feeling guilty about this. Sometimes the creative process, it just takes time.

I used to be in an office and there are a ton of high performers. These were people who were in operations. They were busy. They were working their butts off for 8, 10, 12 hours a day. Sometimes they’d walk by me and just see me staring at my screen, and I could feel their looks. We have different jobs. They had jobs with clearly-defined technical processes, and they can and need to be repeated every day. As an instructional designer, however, I do have a process, but the solution to each learning challenge is unique. It’s not going to be the same thing day in and day out. Even though I have to create a training, it’s not the same training. It’s not the same problem. It’s not the same group of learners every single time.

What am I doing when it appears that I'm doing nothing? I'm doing nothing with intent.

So if you need to step away from your desk or stare at your screen, don’t feel guilty about it. Don’t compare your role to other people’s roles at your organization. What am I doing when it appears that I’m doing nothing? I’m doing nothing with intent. Sometimes when I stop thinking and just allow my brain to go quiet, the most creative solutions will come to me. I don’t need to chase them.

Success When Doing Nothing

If I hadn't given myself the time to clear my head and allow ideas to come to me, I never would've thought of it.

Several years ago, I was asked to facilitate an executive retreat in which we were revisiting the mission of the organization. I’ve done plenty of facilitation around mission, vision, values, but for this audience, I needed an activity that would be special. So I stepped away from my desk and I took a walk along a lake that was near my house. For me, water can be really calming. It can be a calming element. And as I walked along the lake, an idea just came to me. It had to do with the organization’s mission statement and a custom-made puzzle that I could go out and order. I don’t know how or why that particular idea came to me, but if I hadn’t given myself the time to clear my head and allow ideas to come to me, I never would’ve thought of it. It turned out to be one of the most important, well-received activities in that retreat. I’ve duplicated that activity several times in other contexts since, and it was simply because I allowed myself to do nothing with intent.

Doing Nothing: The Summary

I’m gonna sum this up. That was just an example, but you kind of get the point. Creative trainer’s writing block, it happens. It just comes with our territory, especially when we’re pushing for an extra creative concept. To move past it, sometimes we need to give ourselves the space to just do nothing with intent. We shouldn’t feel guilty about the appearance of doing nothing. Doing nothing with intent could take the form of just staring at your screen, allowing your mind to go empty, taking a walk, doing exercise, meditating, breathing, yoga, getting outta the office and visiting a museum for inspiration. Basically, it can be helpful to allow your brain to press pause and be open to ideas that pop into your head.

The first idea that pops into your mind may not be the right solution, but maybe you can play with it and see how it evolves. All right, so that is my suggestion when you hit creative trainer’s writing block. Do nothing. Don’t feel guilty about it. Let those ideas come to you.

Thank you for listening. If you are looking for some inspiration on a variety of different elements and how they can combine to form stellar training programs, maybe you’d like to pick up a copy of What’s Your Formula? which is my book about 51 different elements of learning that can be found at http://www.amazon.com. If you wanna make sure to be notified of a new podcast when it’s hot off the press, go ahead and subscribe at Apple, Spotify, wherever you listen to your podcast. If you need some help getting past your trainer’s writing block and you just wanna bounce some ideas around, feel free to reach out to me. I can be found at brian@endurancelearning.com. Go ahead and connect with me on LinkedIn, on Twitter @flipchartguy. And until next time, happy training everyone.

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