Steve Martin on How to Beat Writer’s Block

Ever had writer’s block when writing your resume, your LinkedIn profile, or a cover  Steve_martin letter? Do you know well what you’ve accomplished, but have trouble putting it to paper? A quick way to fix it is to borrow a strategy Steve Martin recommends in an ironic essay called “Writing is Easy.”

Martin's advice for writers who get stuck.

Go to an already published [novel] and find a sentence you absolutely adore. Copy it down in your [manuscript]. Usually that sentence will lead you to another sentence; pretty soon your ideas will start to flow.

Here's a strategy you can use to apply Martin's advice with your resume and career documents:

  1. Find material for inspiration. Watch how other people write up their own experience.

    I recommend using LinkedIn for this purpose. Through LinkedIn’s Advanced Search feature, you can find LinkedIn profiles of others who work in your field or industry. Narrow your search by geographical area, industry, groups, years of experience or function (LinkedIn has over 85 million users).

  2. Read the profiles that come up within the first four pages of search results: The ones that come up first will be a combination of individuals in your personal network (people who may be networking resources for you), and people whose profiles are fine-tuned to work well with search engines.
  3. Make a collection of phrases and keywords that align with your skill set and experiences. Was someone else able to articulate what you do better than you've been able to say it yourself? (If yes, you can borrow a sentence for now.)
  4. Go back to your resume, LinkedIn profile, cover letter, etc. Use the ideas you've gathered as a jumpstart for listing the keywords and phrases you need for your resume. If you've borrowed a sentence, revise it. Put the idea in your own words.

Plagiarism is wrong. I’m not saying that it is okay to copy sentences or use someone else’s LinkedIn profile as your own. (Martin actually advises that “you can safely copy up to three sentences of someone else’s work–unless they are friends; then you can use two." I disagree with this–and suspect he does too in all seriousness.)  But I do find that seeing how other people summarize their skills and experience can help you sum up your own. Is the writer's block gone?  Good.

When Martin wrote this essay, he was being sarcastic. But I like this piece of advice because it really does help people get unstuck—and because watching how other people do things is always a good way to learn. Especially when managing your career or writing your resume.

My next post will focus on some trouble Martin ran into recently when he wasn't being humorous–and why it may be more fun to be an fine artist than a comedian. In the interim, here's a hat tip to Steve Martin. Thanks for all the help with writer's block–and for helping us laugh!

Cross-posted on Career Hub.

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