13 ways to beat writer's block
You are sitting at your computer staring at your screen. The cursor is blinking. Your fingers are ready to type. But your mind is blank.
Welcome to writer's block.
We all get it. It is a curse of trying to create something from nothing. Sometimes you just end up with nothing.
But there are strategies and tactics you can employ to beat writer's block. Here is a list of 13 ideas to help you beat writer's block.
1) Know who you are writing for and their problems
Defining your audience is critical. It helps if you are close to the audience, or part of it. For example, if you are a web developer, your audience might be web developers. If you are a member of online communities that are relevant to your audience, make a conscious effort to write down the problems people are having and look for repeat problems and frustrations. Ask yourself, which of these problems can I help them solve? Your answers will be great topics for blog posts.
2) Teach what you know
No matter how much or how little you think you know, you have something to teach. There will always be people behind you on the learning curve, who know less about the subject than you. Teaching them what you know is a tremendous way to get fans and help the world at the same time. Don't be afraid to write a post that is something that you learnt years ago. Chances are, other people are learning that same thing today.
3) Use your work as inspiration
If your blog is related to your work, you can use that as inspiration. My Drupal blog is directly related to my consulting work, where I help clients solve Drupal problems. Writing up how I solved a particular problem on the day that I solved it, while it is fresh in my mind, is an easy way to produce content. It not only provides valuable content to publish, it also helps me remember what I did to solve the problem. The act of writing it up and teaching it to others helps you to really understand it yourself. And of course, you then have something to refer back to next time you solve a similar problem.
4) Write at the same time every day
Writing at the same time every day makes writing a habit. It is something you just do. Like brushing your teeth. You might think this makes writer's block worse because if you don't know what to write about, doing it every day won't help. What I have found is the opposite. Making writing a daily habit means I am thinking about writing every day. So when I am working on client work, or anything else, at the back of my mind I'm wondering, can I share this? Can I teach someone what I have just done? I quickly jot down the idea in a central place (Evernote for me). Then when I go to write, I have a list of ideas already to go.
5) Create an editorial calendar
Create an editorial calendar so that you know in advance what you are going to write and when you are going to publish it. Some people publish a new post every day, some once per week. It really doesn't matter which you choose, as long as it is consistent and a realistic commitment.
6) Keep an ideas list
Ideas come to you all the time. When you are working. When you are in the shower. In the middle of the night. When going for a walk. Try and keep a list of these ideas. Always have a place to write them down, so always have a notebook with you. You don't have to turn every idea into a blog post. But if you ever have a time when you don't know what to write, it will give you a list of great ideas to refer to.
7) Free writing
Free writing is when you sit down and just write without structure, without editing as you go (not even to fix spelling mistakes) and without stopping. If you can't think what to write next, just write. It can be anything, even if it is totally unrelated, as long as you keep going. By keeping moving, you'll keep in the writing flow and sooner or later the words will be back on topic.
Once you get going, you will find your brain really gets engaged and the words start flying out. It does take practice. And you will have to edit it later. I find free writing works best first thing in the morning, when my mind is fresh and not distracted by the day.
8) Don't edit as you go
Like a lot of people, you might be used to editing as you write. You get a sentence down and then think of a better word, or perhaps re-write the whole sentence.
Unfortunately this blocks your writing flow. Try just getting the words down without editing and editing at a later time. I find editing a day or two after I wrote the draft works best.
Outlining tools like Workflowy are a great way to turn a list of ideas into blog posts. Mind mapping tools also work for this. Try brainstorming everything you know, everything you think you want to teach and any other idea and log it in the outlining tool. Then organise it into themes. Then organise those into more concrete topics. Each one can be a blog post.
10) Keyword research
You might think that keyword research is something that should be left to SEO experts. However, keyword research is a great way to come up with blog ideas because you can identify what information people are searching for. Therefore, you know what they want you to write about.
11) Follow-up posts
Do you have some posts that standout as the most popular on your blog and have received a lot of comments? Try writing a follow-up post. The follow-up could dive deeper into a particular part of the original post. Or you could ask people for their feedback as part of the first post and use that in the follow-up post. I did this with my Top Ten Drush Commands post. After writing up my top ten Drush commands, I asked people for theirs. This formed the basis for a second post, Top Ten Drush commands follow-up.
12) Ask people on your email list
If you have an email list, asking people questions like "What is your biggest problem with X", or "If you wanted me to write about one thing, what would it be?" is a great way to identify the struggles people in your audience have. If you know their struggles and where they need help, you know what to write about.
13) Remember, not all posts have to be published
A great way to form writer's block is to worry about what people will think of what you are writing. Sometimes it can feel like people are actually reading as you type! The reality is that not all your words need to be published. You can select your best posts for publishing at a later date and polish them with a few rounds of editing. I find that reminding myself that not all posts will be published frees me up to write more without worrying what people will think.
Do you have any tips you want to share? Let us know in the comments below!