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How I Get Over Writer’s Block

writer's block

As I come off this epic cold, I’m struggling to get my writing mojo back. Before, I was in a nice groove where the ideas were flowing, and I could finish a post in a little over an hour. But now, I find myself struggling to come up with topics to write about and abandoning drafts a few paragraphs in.

In college, creative writing was my major, and no matter how much I didn’t want to write that day, the need to maintain my GPA to keep my academic scholarship was ample motivation. In my agency days, I got accustomed to my manager calling and asking me to send a press release over about such-and-such occurrence within the hour. The ticking clock ensured my productivity.

At this stage of my career, nothing is holding me accountable to writing other than knowing it’s what I need to do to keep my business growing.​​ I’ve had to come up with my own strategies for coming up with ideas and the get the creative juices flowing.

What I’ve found is that it’s very hard for me to write content that doesn’t feel urgent in some way — I find the greatest motivation in feeling connected to a real question or problem that some segment of my readers is facing.​​​​​​

​​As the end of the year approaches, I expect you’ll be taking some time off. I certainly am — I’m going to Seattle for New Year’s Eve! You might find yourself needing to overcome a little holiday-induced writer’s block of your own, or maybe you’re struggling to find the motivation to write now.

With that in mind, I thought I’d share with you three questions I ask myself to come up with relevant content ideas, no matter how blocked I feel.

1. Is there anything in particular my clients are struggling with right now?

The highest compliment is hearing “Your post came at exactly the right time. It feels like you’ve been sitting around the table with me and my advisors as we’ve been working out what to do around xx…”

Obviously I don’t receive these emails every week, but ​my aim is to make at least some readers feel this way with every post I write.

Here’s the key to relevancy: in any given culture (business culture or community), there are seasonal ebbs and flows to certain types of questions or issues. Right now is a clear example, as a lot of businesses are doing what they can to reach their year-end goals or to plan for the new year.

​When I am struggling to come up with post ideas, the first thing I do is try to ground myself in an awareness of what’s bubbling up for my audience right now. I want to see if there’s anything I can help with that’s most useful in this very moment.

2. What’s in the news?

The analysis I described in the first prompt only works when you’re feeling connected to your audience. Sometimes you get back from a break and feel totally removed from your work.

When this happens, I look outside myself for inspiration. Bloggers and magazines and podcasts are all excellent sources of content ideas.

I don’t like to rehash the content I find online, not because it’s wrong or somehow unethical to cover an idea I’ve seen elsewhere, but because it’s boring.

And if I’m bored doing this work…well…why would I continue?

So what I look for are two things:

  1. What topics feel most relevant to my audience right now? Traditional media nearly always prioritizes timely content. So if you’re not sure what’s relevant to your audience right now, looking at media coverage is a good way to figure it out.
  2. How can I put a fresh spin on the topic?​​ Like I said, writing the same-old thing is boring. And it’s also the fastest way to fit in with the crowd. That’s the opposite of what you want to achieve with your content. Instead, what you want to look for are the ways you disagree with the messages you’re finding in the media.​​

For me, this process is energizing. It’s intellectually stimulating to think through why I disagree with a particular piece of advice, and interesting to think through what I would offer instead. ​​

3. What have I learned recently or failed to address?

Sometimes even my media research fails to inspire. Maybe most of the articles I find are fairly evergreen (could be published anytime), or I don’t have a strong disagreement with the advice I’ve come across.

This is where I turn the lens back on myself. I can almost always find a topic by looking to my own experiences, or even looking through my archives to see what I’ve missed.

Often I’ll realize that I never covered an important concept on my blog, or write myself to a solution for my current problem. Funny enough, even if I’m not aiming for timeliness, these are the times I’m most likely to hear from someone in my audience, “I’ve been struggling with this exact same thing.”

​​​​If you’re struggling to get into your writing groove, I hope that one of my strategies will help you get out of your slump. The more you’re in the habit of writing, the easier your content flows.

Are Blogs in Big Trouble?

A quick note before we get to today’s content. Today is the last day to save $100 on the 50 Day Blog Boost. We kick off January 9th, and if this is exactly the program you need in the new year, I hope you’ll take advantage of this amazing early bird offer.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

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As a PR pro, I have a complicated relationship with blogging. On the one hand, the proliferation of voices is an overwhelming positive phenomenon. The structures that existed before blogs and podcasts often were not welcoming to small business marketers, not to mention people of color, women and disadvantaged communities.

If you weren’t already a part of the power structure, it was difficult to break into the conversation being facilitated through traditional media. Part of this was a simple space issue — before media went online, there was a finite amount of space that could be dedicated to rising voices.

At the same time, it’s been hard for me to witness the erosion of traditional media. I’ve been in this business a long time, and I can tell you that the life of a journalist is hard one. They work long hours for very little pay, with virtually no job security and in the face of constant criticism.

When you look at career rankings, journalists are always put at the bottom. For 2016, newspaper reporter is ranked at the bottom of a list of 200 careers due to the stressful working conditions and terrible pay.

In many ways, the rise of blogging has directly contributed to worsening conditions for journalists, as advertising dollars have been re-allocated. This is really hard for me to watch.

Despite that, I feel strongly that the good outweighs the bad. And clearly, I believe blogging is a powerful tool for your business.

But there are signs that blogs are about to hit a rough patch, if we’re not in troubled waters already.

As blogging has gone mainstream, I’m seeing a homogenization of voices online.

Five, ten years ago, blogging ​was still largely a casual thing people did for fun. It felt easy for newcomers to jump in, because it was all so experimental. Everyone was figuring out the platform, and that gave rise to so many different styles and topics.

But what I’ve seen in the past few years is a leveling out, a flattening of the platform. As more and more people recognize the potential in content creation to market their businesses, there is a great clamor for the magic formula that will build up your audience. All our blogs are starting to look and feel the same.

I’ve been guilty of this, too. It’s so easy to subconsciously mirror content models you see online, especially when you’re a fan and get a lot out of them.

I strongly believe we should collectively guard against this tendency.

As small business marketers, we’re starting to lose what made blogging so great to begin with.

The reason so many flocked to blogs early on is that you could find your people — those creators that were tapping into the feelings and interests you thought no one else shared. The writers and artists and business leaders that felt like a breath of fresh air in a sea of sameness.

The pressure to conform and to “do it right” is especially strong if your blog is a marketing channel. The stakes are higher, because you need to see a return on your effort.

But what gets lost along the way is your voice, and for a small business or nonprofit, your voice is your most valuable asset.

Why is it that a customer visits a local coffee shop and not Starbucks?

Why do they hire an independent designer and not a large web studio?

Usually, it’s because of the point of view you represent. You’re able to communicate your company’s values and priorities much more clearly, because you know you can’t appeal to everyone.

​​Mass market is crazy expensive. That’s why only the big brands do even attempt it.

It’s much more cost effective to be exclusive with your marketing than to try and include everyone.

But make no mistake, it takes practice to find your voice, especially if you’re well-practiced in saying what others want to hear or have been criticized for being too loud or opinionated.

develop-a-voice-albright

In blogging, the practice is putting your work out there. You have to be willing to test out your ideas in public and prepared to fall flat a few times.

And so you retreat into what feels like safety.

Not lending your voice to the conversation. Or bending it to someone else’s formula.

But there is no such thing as a safe choice in staking out a claim for your work. Everything you put out tells a story — and the biggest story of all is told when you stay silent.

People trust companies and organizations that they can rely on to be there when they need them. If you don’t have a physical storefront they can visit, that’s what your content offers. Proof that you show up, that you’re reliable. That you’re on their side.​​

If you’ve been blogging a long time like I have, or are just starting out, I want to encourage you to guard against the tendency to flatten your voice and to conform your content.

Here are some thing I’m personally watching out for:

  • Feeling like I “should” do x, y or z with my content.
  • Prioritizing content that can be backed up with data or third-party sources over my own ideas.
  • Editing out my personal story and experiences.
  • Asking, “Does anybody care?” or even “Is this useful” instead of “Is this thought provoking?”
  • Feeling like I can’t implement new ideas, or ticking too long to formats that don’t work, because I feel like I have to follow through.

I’m renewing my commitment right here and now to keep pushing forward. I hope you’ll join me.

And hopefully we can have some fun along the way, too.

4 misconceptions about blogging that are hurting your ability to generate revenue

computer-analytics

When you look at the data, there is no question that blogging, aka publishing content consistently on your own website, is a non-negotiable for small businesses and nonprofits that want to make it online.

This is because blogging regularly has a disproportionately high return on traffic and lead generation for micro businesses (companies with 10 or fewer employees).

And yet, I still get pushback from clients when I tell them they should be blogging more.

Today I want to address the most common objections head on, because if you’re not blogging at least once a week, you are losing revenue.

On the flip side, if you start blogging twice a week or more, you greatly increase your chances of attracting more customers.

So let’s knock down those roadblocks, shall we?

1. There’s no point in blogging until I build an audience.

This first misconception is the most common one I hear, and it stems from a fundamental misunderstanding in how a blog builds your business.

I think the challenge is that blogging doesn’t build your audience overnight. Instead, it’s a slow burn that provides cumulative benefits over time.

First, simply by producing content, you’re doing SEO…even if you don’t understand how SEO works.

The specifics of search engine optimization (helping your site show up in relevant searches) may change, but the fundamentals remain the same. Google, and other search engines, prioritize websites that produce regular, relevant content.

If you’re producing content for your audience, you’re going to get SEO benefits.

These benefits don’t show up overnight, which is why so many small business marketers get discouraged. It can take 6 months to see the bump in traffic you want, from producing content alone. But if you’re not creating content, your search rankings aren’t going to go anywhere.

Second, your blog gives your growing audience a reason to share your site on social media.

If you want your audience, no matter what the size, to promote your work to their network, you have to give them something to share.

Think about it. Have you ever seen someone just link to a company’s home page on Facebook, and not a specific blog post?

It’s pretty rare.

Every time you publish a piece of content, you’re giving your readers a fresh chance to share your site. Combined with the SEO benefits, these one-off shares add up to a lot of traffic over the course of a year.

A blog isn’t just something you do once you have traffic, it’s something you do to grow your traffic.

2. I only need to blog when I release a product or have something to sell.

I used to have a boss who said the trick to effective marketing is reminding people you existed in precisely the moment they need what you have to offer.

There’s something to that. You don’t ask your friends to refer a plumber until the toilet breaks down.

Blogging gives your audience a reason to stick around and remember you, even if they don’t need you that exact moment.

And in the meantime, you’re able to deliver value to them time-and-time again, so when they do, they know exactly who to call. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to build trust with your audience if you’re not delivering value on the regular.

By far, the easiest and cheapest way for you to do that as a small business marketer is to produce content.

3. No one cares about my story / I don’t have anything to say.

Maybe you know you should be blogging, but you don’t know what to share.

I totally get that — in many ways, blogging is message testing in real time. Because I promise you, you can’t think your way into a perfect strategy or platform. You have to put content out and see what resonates.

When you’re first starting out, it’s especially hard to go it alone, because you don’t get a lot of feedback. It takes a little time before you build enough of an audience to get any clear signal of what’s working.

If you’d love to get prompts, writing tips and promotional strategies for your blog , Megan Auman and I are taking a cohort through our live program 50 Day Blog Boost. You can get more info on the program right here.

Here is what helps me figure out what to write about. I bring to mind a specific person, maybe someone I talked to in a coaching call or exchanged a couple of emails with, and write a piece of content I think they’ll need.

It’s always better to write with one specific person in mind than try to reach the crowd. Ultimately what you want to do with your marketing is attract a ton of folks with similar qualities that make them a great fit for your work. So writing for one person who you know is a good fit is a great way to do that.

In fact, I’m doing it right now. :-)

4. I don’t need to blog, because I post on social media.

We’ve already talked about how blog content gives your audience a reason to share your website.

But there’s another reason you should be reluctant to give all your time and effort to social media.

You don’t own that content. People could move on from Twitter, Facebook could shut your page down without warning, or Vine could get shut down.

Wait, all of these things are happening…

Your content is way too valuable to invest in someone else’s property.

That’s why I advocate that you position your website as the hub of all your content. Social media channels are valuable promotion tools, but they shouldn’t be given ownership of your best content.

Are you reading this list and feeling motivated to start blogging every week?

If you need a little help and extra push to get going, Megan Auman and I are running our 50 Day Blog Boost program.

For 6 weeks starting January 9th, we’ll be giving a blog prompt, writing tip and promotional strategy, so you can make blogging a habit, improve your writing skills and promote your content.

With our support, you get the information and accountability you need to make blogging a weekly habit.

Registration is open now for the 50 Day Blog Boost. You can check out the full program details at www.50dayblogboost.com.

  

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