Modern marketing requires a constant stream of fresh content: blog posts, white papers, case studies, landing pages. It’s never ending. And all of that content begins from the same place — a blank screen with a flashing cursor on the left hand side.
If you’ve been a marketing writer for any length of time, you know how it feels when you’re staring down that cursor, and despite your best efforts, you can’t think of anything to put on that page.
Writer’s block doesn’t have to be a permanent situation, however, There are techniques that can help you break through it. But before we get to those tips, let’s first discuss the underlying causes of writer’s block.
Reasons why you’re blocked
Many times, we can’t write because we lack self-confidence. We doubt our ability to write something that anyone would want to read, or we worry that our work will compare poorly to that of our colleagues and competitors.
I wish I could tell you that there’s a simple trick for getting past these fears, that you can just ignore these feelings, and they’ll go away. But they won’t. Not immediately, at least. The only way they will go away is by proving to yourself that you can create great writing and that your work does compare to that of others. And the only way to do this is … to write.The more you write, the better your work will become. It takes time.
Other times, though, the block isn’t a fundamental sense of self doubt, but a more specific one — you have to write about a topic and you don’t know much about it. Or the opposite problem, where you know so much about the topic, you don’t know where to start or how to boil it all down into an 800-word blog post.
Let’s talk about how to overcome these obstacles.
Tips for Just Writing Through It
Serious runners know that, while a side stitch can be uncomfortable, they must simply endure it during a race. Eventually, the pain will go away. If they get too bad, some runners slow down to a light jog or a walk. Once they subside, they can regain their former pace.
That technique also works for writing. When you’re blocked, sometimes the only way to overcome it is to barrel through. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to make the barreling a bit easier.
Turn off your internal editor: Creating and editing are two different functions, even though we often use them together while writing. When the editor overpowers the creator, nothing we create can pass muster, and that means nothing gets created.
Turn that editor off. Don’t change what you write while writing it. Just write without worrying about quality. There will be plenty of time to edit later.
Freewrite: This is an even more expansive version of turning off your internal editor. Here, you’re not even directing what you write. You free-associate on the topic, writing whatever comes to mind.
Change your audience or format: If your goal is to write a blog post on AI and construction safety for decision-makers at top North American contractors, but you can’t think of a thing to say, change it up. Write it as a letter to your uncle Barney, the lobster fisherman in Bar Harbor, Maine. Or as a secret communique from a space alien spy to its homeworld in the Trappist-1 system, 40 light years away.
Obviously, you’ll have to rewrite it so that it suits your needs, but even if the tone and form are far afield from what you’ll eventually need, you’ll have something to work with. That’s no small feat. Starting with something is much easier than starting with nothing.
Don’t start at the beginning: Start in the middle, instead. Or begin at the end and work backwards. Sometimes, the hardest part of a piece is the introduction. Do the easy stuff first!
Write an outline: Outlines are easier to write than completed text, and the nice thing about them is that they make writing the final product much faster.
Take a break
Barreling through doesn’t always work, however. In these times, the best thing to do is take a break from writing to do something else. Give your brain a chance to rest. Find some creative spark elsewhere that you can use once you’re ready to fire up the blank screen once again.
Do more research: This is particularly useful if your issue is that you don’t know enough about the topic to write something meaningful.
Read a competitor’s material: Unless this will spark even more anxiety (in which case, this is NOT a good idea), reading competitors’ blogs, white papers, case studies and infographics can help generate ideas that will help you cover that nasty blank screen with beautiful prose. And it doesn’t have to be a competitor. Any company whose marketing you admire can do the trick.
Read your own material: Need a boost of confidence? Go back and read over some of your prior work that you KNOW was good. Email copy that generated a ridiculously high click-through rate. Blog posts that top the charts for views. Prove to yourself that you can write good stuff, because you’ve clearly done it before!
Go for a walk: Human beings were not built to sit in front of a monitor for eight hours a day. Exercise, even if it’s just a 10-minute stroll around the building, can clear your mind and lower stress levels enough to break through writer’s block.
Writer’s block is a painful experience, but it’s not a permanent one. The tips above, either alone or in combination (how about a walk, followed by reading a competitor’s material and then writing the blog post as a 18th century French epistolary novel?) should eventually help you regain your confidence and creative spark. And if they don’t? Often a good night’s rest is the best medicine -- tomorrow is another day.
Still can’t break through writer’s block? Need some help generating content that gets results? Talk to us!