The success of any marketing initiative relies on producing plenty of content and copy. If you’re a content writer with a case of writer’s block, creating that content becomes impossible. Here’s our guide to beating writer’s block so you can get back to creating.
Many of the greatest writers in history wrote only 500-1,000 words a day. Ernest Hemingway, Tom Wolfe, Ian McEwan. Even Steven King, who’s known in writing circles for being scary prolific, writes 2,000 words a day.
The thing is, content writers are expected to write 1,000-4,000 words a day.
That’s 1) a lot, and 2) even more daunting when you consider content writers don’t get to take three months off after each project like most authors do.
But there’s a reason content writers write so much. B2B marketing is built on writing. Websites, campaigns, blogs, SEO, ads. A full integrated marketing initiative requires tens of thousands of words a year to be successful. And someone has to do that writing.
And you do that, for a while.
But when things are going great, it happens. Writer’s block. The affliction that thrusts even the most prolific writers into creative anguish. The feeling that, no matter how hard you try, how much you smash your head on the keyboard, you just can’t f’ing write.
The good news is that beating writer’s block is possible. And contrary to common conceptions, it isn’t a random phenomenon that happens out of nowhere.
Writer’s block happens for a reason.
I’m going to diagnose your writer’s block. I bet my lunch money it’s for one (or more) of these reasons:
- Your writing routine sucks
- You need urgency
- You need inspiration
- You’re afraid of the empty white page
- Your foundation isn’t sound
Here are prompts and exercises to shake up your writing routine so you can start creating again.
(If any of these work for you, feel free to skip to the end to learn about preventing writer’s block before it happens.)
Tip #1: Find Urgency
First, Don’t Panic
Writer’s block is natural. There are no creatives out there that can just crank out mountains of work without hitting any roadblocks. Every content marketer goes through this existential struggle.
Look, whatever you’re doing right now isn’t working. You’re obviously not getting anywhere. You need to clear your head.
If writer’s block has you worked up, take a deep breath, step away from your computer/notepad/quill and parchment. Go for a short walk. When you go back to your desk, you’ll be ready to work.
If that Fails … Panic
If you’re still reading this post, not panicking most not have worked. Let’s try something different.
Descend on your project with all the fear and frustration that I just told you to avoid. If you have a looming deadline, run through all of the terrible scenarios that could happen if you don’t finish your content in time. Now use that as inspiration to get your work done.
Don’t have a deadline? That could be part of the problem. Set one.
Tip #2: Find Inspiration
Read a Copywriting Book
Copywriting books are great for finding inspiration and ideas when you just can’t find any. Unlike content writing, which is more associated with the rise of the internet, copywriting has been around for centuries. As such, copywriters have a ton of prompts and tricks of the trade that content writers can turn to for inspiration.
I recommend Junior: Writing Your Way Ahead in Advertising and Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy.
Or Read Anything But a Copywriting Book
Sometimes the writer’s block affliction is so deep that no amount of copywriting, marketing or business books can help you. In this case, you’ll need to find inspiration outside of your field.
As specialized as content writing is, there are a lot of books on writing and the creative process that can be useful. These books will get you to focus less on what you’re trying to write and more on the storytelling and communicative drivers behind the content you need to write.
Turning to other forms of art for inspiration can also help you break through writer’s block. For example, in one of my blogs I borrowed a joke from a YouTube video, which further demonstrated the concept in an interesting and stylistic way.
Similarly, metaphors make for a great content writing prompt. If you can’t figure out how to describe something, try comparing it to something else. It’s a good way to come up with ideas. Plus, you’ll write something no one else has.
By thinking of your content alongside art and entertainment, you can come up with ideas and approaches that you never would have arrived on by focusing only on your industry. This lets you reframe your way around writer’s block and start creating again.
Steal Borrow Ideas
“Good Artists Copy, Great Artists Steal”Pablo Picasso (allegedly)
At this point it’s unoriginal to call artistry imitation or theft. But that’s because it’s true. The point being, businesses and writers do this all of the time. And you should too.
B2B content is like songs. It’s shady to steal things word for word. You can’t copy a melody, and you shouldn’t plagiarize copy. But there’s only so many chords and song structures you can play in. Nobody owns those. So songwriters copy them. In the same way, content writers can copy things like blog formats, value propositions and research.
(I told you B2B metaphors were awesome.)
Exercise: Look at your competitors’ sites. They probably have content that covers topics that you should write about but haven’t yet. You’re not stealing, you’re just checking in on the market.
Another way to come up with ideas when you’re stuck is through content marketing tools. When you use SEO tools like SpyFu, Keywords Everywhere and LSIGraph, you’re not creating ideas. You’re mining for opportunities through data.
These applications help writers identify worthwhile keywords and topics to write about. And once you’ve got a clear focus, the angle and writing parts should flow naturally.
Tip #3: Push Through the Empty Page
The daunting, empty page saying is a cliché for a reason. Turning nothing into something awesome is a challenging task. We used to call it alchemy.
Lucky for us, there’s a better way to write: make it so you never have to look at an empty white page. My philosophy is that if you start with an empty page, you’ve already failed.
Here’s a couple ways to throw some ideas on the page.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
I’m going to let you in on a copywriting secret. This could get me in trouble, so you can’t tell anyone.
Good content writers reuse old content as much as possible. *Gasp* Shocking, right? Our job is to write, so shouldn’t we be … writing stuff?
Well, yes. But a writer’s job is not to write as much stuff as possible. It’s to make sure the right words end up in the right place with the right message.
“A content writer’s job is to make sure the right words end up in the right place with the right message.”
Try recycling old copy when you need to beat writer’s block. It’ll reduce the amount of writing you have to do. This turns an empty page into a half full one. Well done, you just wrote half a project, so you must not have writer’s block. Now finish the darn thing.
While this seems shady, everyone actually wins when you reuse writing. Your business or client wins because you saved them expenses and hours by working efficiently. Your manager is happy because you can write more content in the same amount of time. And you’re happy because you just saved yourself hours of work.
Think of it this way. If you spent month’s rewriting your website, crafting the perfect messaging and copy, why would spend half a day writing the same thing from scratch for a brochure? You nailed it the first time. Ctrl C. Ctrl V. Edit. Done.
Exercise: Look at some of your old work that’s been on the shelf for a while. See how you can recycle it for your current project. Don’t worry. No one will notice or care.
Brute Force Method (Stream of Consciousness)
If you put enough letters in your word processor, you’re statistically guaranteed to create something good.
Like a hacker trying to brute force into a system, the stream of consciousness method entails putting as many darn words on a page as you can.
Pick a topic, think about it, then write every single word that pops into your head. Don’t think. Just type as much as possible. The sensation we’re going for here is word vomit.
Eventually, some series of letters will work. And once you write one thing good, you’ll start to build momentum toward beating writer’s block.
Exercise: Write 1,000 words. Aim for 10 good ones. The other 990 can be trash. Only 1% of your content needs to work. Once you’re done, take those good 10 words and expand them into something useful.
This method is time consuming and not particularly fun. But if nothing else works, what other options do you have?
Tip #4: Fix Your Foundation
Sometimes writers can’t finish a project because the premise guiding the project doesn’t work. A surefire way to get writer’s block is to write something that is unwritable.
If you’re in this predicament, all you have to do is fix the premise. Just tell your idea, “it’s not me, it’s you.” Let it down easy and then start over.
This also applies to ideas you didn’t come up create but are stuck with. Often in marketing, writers get handed ideas that appeared to make sense at some point. But during the writing process we discover that the premise isn’t working.
“A surefire way to get writer’s block is to write something that is unwritable.”
You could try to make this idea work. But it likely won’t. Enter writer’s block, stage right. Save yourself some heartache and push back on the idea until you have something to work with. Exit writer’s block, stage left.
Exercise: Revisit your brilliant idea. Read it out loud. Show it to a coworker. Does it even make sense? If not, look for a way to flip the premise. Is it two or more ideas crammed into one? If so, try splitting the idea into three separate ideas you can actually write.
Preventing Writers Block
Congratulations, you’ve beaten writers block. I bet you never want that to happen again.
Unfortunately, that’s impossible. Writer’s block is part of the writing process. There’s a reason some of the greatest writer’s in history suffer from it. Writer’s block is natural. You can’t prevent it.
In some ways, you wouldn’t want to. Writer’s block provides you information about your writing process and what’s not working.
But you can make writer’s block happen less frequently. Here’s some tactics I use to stay as productive as possible.
Create a Writing Routine.
Remember when I said your writing routine sucks? Good. I didn’t forget either. Let’s talk about that.
It’s obvious that the environment you write in impacts your writing. But to dial in a reliable writing routine, you need to nail every aspect of it.
I’m not going to pretend eliminating distractions is my idea. You should obviously work where co-workers or emails won’t bother you every five minutes.
But an often overlooked part of the writing is the moment you begin. The five minutes leading up to writing has a big impact on the success of the session.
Exercise: Try different activities or actions you can use to signal your brain that it’s time to write. Coffee, walk, exercise, music, cartwheels, etc. Rinse/repeat until something works.
Whenever I sit down to write, I open a blank Word doc and type in the same structure and formatting I use in every blog.
In a way, this is irrational. I could just create a template and use it for every single blog. It would save so much time. But that’s not the point. The point of doing this is that the act of setting up the document counts as writing, eliminating the blank page.
Consume Good Content
The fastest way to stagnate as a writer is to read nothing. The same holds true for any medium, really.
If you want to write thousands of words a day, you need to read thousands of words a day. Simple. Content in, content out.
Burn through blogs, white papers, case studies. Read novels, ads, poems, product descriptions. The more you read, the more ideas and words you’ll have to spend.
If you don’t read, you can’t write. I don’t know why this is an immutable law, but it is. If you’re looking to hold off writer’s block, read as much as you can.
Exercise: Read. Actually read. Open a blog post, pick up a book, and read.
tl;dr: Beating Writer’s Block Is Possible
Beating writer’s block isn’t about killing it forever. It’s about pushing through an obstacle so you can keep creating. Let us know if these strategies help you do so!