For content creators, the daily work of creating great content can feel like off-road driving in a pickup truck filled with glass milk jugs. You hit the dirt road loaded with rich ideas, and then they all start to crack, spill and mix together at the computer. Each time your try to write a sentence, another jug seems break, and you try again. You are going somewhere, but it feels like you’re just sloshing around shards of glass and milk in the back of a truck.
According to authors like Anne Lamott and Steven Pressfield, this process should feel like hell. However, if you’ve ever experienced “flow” – that transcendental state where the road is smooth, not a jug breaks and every word comes out perfectly – you know you can get to a smooth highway if you push on.
More ‘research’ or ‘brainstorming’ usually isn’t the solution. They won’t put words on the page for you. Great content can emerge though if you have strategies for shattering writer’s block. Instead of fixating on the broken glass jugs or the road, you have to take actions that will cause the situation to occur differently to you and permit you to flow. For three common writer’s block situations that hit marketing writers, I offer three strategies to get from zilch to great content:
- The Fake Quote
Writing press releases, internal newsletters and other dry material on corporate activities? Milk jugs shattering everywhere?
In this situation, start writing absurd fake quotes from the executive or other subjects involved. Make them bizarre, obnoxious or comically witty as if you were reporting for The Onion. Obviously you can’t use the quote, but it will knockout the feeling of being stuck and open the door to great content.
Besides creating momentum, the fake quote writing opens an inquiry into why you’re writing this and how to make it matter to the press, partners, customers or whoever fits in the audience.
Do not forget to delete the quotes from you draft.
- The Imaginary Scenario
You’re writing and re-writing the first sentence of a blog post over and over again, and you’re ready to scream. This is the point where a lot of writers give up and open with “In today’s interconnected world, ______” or “These days, _____.”
To readers, cliché openers signal that writer is going to tell you something that you already know. Even if great content sits on the other side, the reader is primed to be bored.
When you’re stuck on that first sentence, gasping for inspiration, start writing something that doesn’t describe the present. Invent a future event, begin describing a TV commercial that doesn’t exist, make up a news story about a fake event or invent a quote from a future political leader.
The idea is to construct the world in which your topic is the most exciting and relevant it can possibly be. This narrative tack will always be more engaging than the “these days” approach.
- Start Writing Before You Write
You feel like you’re writing on the same topic all the time, and you dread the moment when you have to sit down and write about it. You feel stiff and stale before you even hit the court.
The reality, especially on an overfamiliar topic, is that you’ve actually been asleep for the first three quarters of the game. The topic came to your awareness, and your mind said, “Ughhh…another one like this. I’ll think about it later.” It’s a common trap for content creators who focus heavily on a single topic, industry or company.
After you brainstorm a topic, your VP of marketing emails one over or you’re asked to interview someone about ____ and write a post, start the writing process immediately. Jot down notes, potential headlines and opening sentences. Afterwards, your subconscious mind will start hunting for connections, references and angles. As TED talks, books, movies, a good shower etc. spark ideas, type or write them down on the spot. When you actually sit down to write, you’ll be amazed at how unblocked you are.
This post started 38 days before it was drafted.
Getting to Great Content – When to Stop, When to Push On
Sometimes you have to park the truck and take a break. You can over-think and over-write the same way athletes can over-train. If you’re mentally burnt to a crisp, flow isn’t coming anytime soon. Step away.
However, if you’re energized and determined to battle your writer’s block, that is the moment to take action and push on. These strategies will help you avoid or get out of your judgmental mind – the one that shoots down everything you try to say. Once the text starts appearing, even if it seems terrible, great content is closer than you think.
If you’re shattering milk jugs on a gruesome road, you’re probably onto something worth writing about. The more noise you make, the more of a gift you will offer to readers.