Writer’s block is an illusion, albeit frequently, a very persistent one. Most writers, at some point, grow weary, bored, stressed, etc. with their craft—their thoughts and written words, stuttered. Common causes of writer’s block include, but aren’t limited to:
- Lack of enthusiasm about the subject matter
- Stress and/or anxiety
- Lack of research or knowledge about the subject matter
- Lack of understanding of the subject matter
- Self-consciousness about the author’s style of writing or writing abilities
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What too many fail to realize, though, is that this apparent ‘stifling of literary creativity’ is only temporary—and that for every symptom of writer’s block, there’s a cure (or, at least, treatment). Following is a brief list of tips and explanations for overcoming the issue. And just as in medicine, sometimes different prescriptions work differently and more or less effectively for different people.
1. Just Do It
It’s ridiculously simple: Just start writing when the anxiety of creative writing rears its ugly self. It doesn’t even have to relate to the primary task (topic) at hand. Recognize from the get-go that the first drafts of virtually anything and everything you write won’t wax like Shakespearean prose. Do whatever you must to get inspired and energized, and be determined to set forth an honest effort. And when the perception (and it’s always merely a perception) of writer’s block starts forming over your head like an ominous storm cloud…
2. Brainstorm Your Way Out
“If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.”
Brainstorming involves rounding-up a specific topic, circling or underlining it, and running with it with damn-near reckless abandon. Here’s a good example (in horizontal form, nonetheless):
U.S. Politics, GO>liberal democrats ideology ideologies partisan republicans theology theocracy monarchy cohen franklin jefferson congress senate gop d.c. soviet supreme pledge of allegiance flags and stripes bursting in the air blind justice justice justices peace war constitutional constitutionality framework founders debates history divide conquer obama romney crazy flipflop shiptop
Simply put, it’s a chaotic word-cloud that branches out from a central topic. Weed through it, disregarding meaningless or irrelevant terms and phrases. Then, organize the remainder into distinct categories. Keep the list handy. Lather, rinse, repeat.
3. Escape From Writing Purgatory: Free Write
“In writing, there is first a creating stage–a time you look for ideas, you explore, you cast around for what you want to say. Like the first phase of building, this creating stage is full of possibilities.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Write. Let loose. Similar to No. 2, transmit this steady stream of thoughts onto paper or into digital form without care or consideration. Disregard, for now, any notion of the rules of writing—that is, grammar and style. Let your fingers run wild for a while, allowing random ideas to trigger (potentially) exponentially more ideas. Try to stay on-topic, but not to the extent that it interrupts the tidal wave (or at minimum, river!) of ideas and solutions.
Afterwards, go back and read through all of the raw data, highlighting and saving useful, relevant thoughts and facts and weeding out redundant, irrelevant, and/or useless tripe.
4. Forget the Introduction: Take It From the Middle
“One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph. I have spent many months on a first paragraph, and once I get it, the rest just comes out very easily.”
~Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Despite that [very worthy] advice—from an awesome author, nonetheless—concentrating on the actual guts of your piece is often a great way of overcoming a perceived blockade (Note: Works a deal better with non-fiction/informative pieces than storytelling, for obvious reasons). Say your work entails the subject ‘Fundamentals of Microeconomics’. Instead of focusing on a killer introduction, dig into one or two of the key topics you intend to cover—e.g. for microeconomics, it could include anything from opportunity costs and the Kaldor-Hicks criterion to demand curves, price elasticity of demand, and unlimited other subtopics.
Again, don’t focus heavily on spelling, grammar or style. Doing so in the early stages of writing will prove a real hindrance or even total block of creative juices. In fact, turn off spell-check. Turn off the grammar-checker (in programs like Word) for now. Just write. There’s plenty of time later to edit, revise, and polish your masterpiece into a literary jewel.
5. Gather the Facts | Master Them
“Facts are to the mind what food is to the body.”
As directly related to the previous step, rounding up and categorizing all of the relevant data is particularly effective for good writing. But what’s even more killer than collecting a hodgepodge of random data about a subject and simply regurgitating it? Being an expert on that subject. Being well-studied empowers you to write more concisely, accurately, and with less back-and-forth. Know the subject inside and out, and realize the overall message you wish to convey to a particular audience; however, keep relevant facts, ideas, self-proposals, and sources somewhere handy.
6. Draft an Outline
Establish a rough/tentative outline of sorts. Use subheaders throughout to break up and organize your thoughts and the data. Also, keep in mind that it’s a good practice to limit paragraphs to 4-5 sentences, and to vary the length of sentences from short, to medium-sized, to long. However, there’s no need to worry about these stylistic issues until after the first draft is completed.
7. Take Frequent Breaks
No one writes an entire book—all revised, polished, bound, and barcode-stamped—all in one sitting. Whoever makes such an audacious claim, well, they’re lying. Be realistic: Break your work up into 30 or 60 minute chunks. It’s worth nothing that the average person’s attention span, when doing something akin to watching a movie or reading a book (essentially being entertained), drops off substantially after about one-and-a-half to two hours. With fresh, creative writing, the same usually holds.
8. Change Your Surroundings, Change Your Mindset
“Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.”
Which place would be the most ideal for writing: A living room chock-full of beer guzzling guys watching the game, a busy yet fairly calm public library, in a boat on a desolate lake, in a dimly-lit closet, or in your home office? The answer, maybe surprising, is wherever the author feels most comfortable, most in-tune with his or her thoughts, and the least distracted or bothered by external happenings.
9. Physical Inactivity Is Terrible For Effective Writing
This one’s a no-brainer by any measure, but it’s worth putting out there nonetheless. Writing requires of the author to sit and write (or in this digital age, type). After enough time has elapsed, though, the mind and body typically become frustrated, per se, with such physical inactivity (and no, moving fingers don’t count)–paralyzing creativity and even the writer’s ability to conjure up coherent sentences. Get up every 30 to 45 minutes; walk/run around the block a couple of times, hop on the treadmill, clean the house, or soak up some sun. Getting active boosts dopamine (the brain’s “happy” chemical) production and jump-starts your creative neurotransmitters to fire on all cylinders. Bottom line: Get up and move around as needed!
10. Get Inspired
“Actually ideas are everywhere. It’s the paperwork, that is, sitting down and thinking them into a coherent story, trying to find just the right words, that can and usually does get to be labor.”
Like painters and sculptors, writers employ tangible things—such as people, places, things, ideas and so forth—for inspiration and ideas. That said, inspiration is everywhere and can be anything. A sunset (cliche? probably). Dark clouds. A stray dog. The hair on the back of some old dude’s neck. You get the point.
Whenever you’re out and about, always keep a small memo pad to record inspirational thoughts and ideas that may, and often do, randomly manifest themselves in your mind. If it’s another person or an object, snap a couple of photos with your phone’s camera to use later.
11. Start With the Most Complex Stuff First
Try to knock out the more complicated areas first. Doing so, you’ll probably feel a helluva lot more motivated to finish your work than if you had started the other way around, a.k.a. with the simple and/or obvious stuff first. Remember rule No. 3? It’ll more than likely directly apply here as well. Start writing, dissect ideas and facts in the most logical, comprehensive, yet easiest-to-understand, fashion.
12. Get Pumped With Caffeine
Admittedly, extended, drawn-out periods of even inspired writing can take a toll on even the most creative mind. When you’re not up-and-about, stretching out (#7), keep your system alert with a moderate (keyword: moderate) amount of caffeine from coffee, energy drinks and so forth. Or, if you must, have an unhealthy smoke. Don’t overdo it, though, as consuming too much of any of the aforementioned only has the opposite effects: decreased energy, mental fatigue and—surprise—hindered motivation and creative abilities.
Bonus Tip for Fiction Writers
The value of ‘word prompts’ can’t really be overstated. Word prompts work like jumper cables, but igniting creativity instead of fuel combustion. They force your creative juices to roar like whitewater rapids.
“Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.” ~Nathaniel Hawthorne
Let’s briefly review. Once you sense this notion of “writer’s block” creeping up, or if you’re just getting started and just want to preempt “it” (notice the clever and hopefully inspirational use of quotation marks there?!), find a quiet, calm place and get out the creative drawing board, per se. Start with a general outline—inserting relevant headers, marking where bullet lists/charts/illustrations/etc. may possibly be beneficial, determining how many sentences and/or paragraphs you’ll use (that are totally tentative, of course) and so forth.
Brainstorm and free write. Use both the tangible and intangible for inspiration. And after your butt sinks far enough into that Laz-E Boy, put writing aside, go outside and stretch out already. Return bursting with positive and creative mental energy, determined to make positive headway on your project!
This is a guest post by Michael Bock, staff writer for Lifed. There he writes about life hacks, health, finance and productivity tips.
3 Rewarding Benefits for Bloggers to Consider Joining An Honor Society
Over approximately one million students are members of the National Honor Society (NHS). Many of which are likely bloggers, freelance writers, and/or have a passion for writing or pursuing their own path in life.
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High school students with outstanding achievements are joining the organization every year. But you may not be familiar with the NHS and what it does, and also how it can benefit you as either a blogger, affiliate marketer, or an entrepreneur.
You may be asking, “should I join an honor society?” Is it really that important? Before you become an honor student yourself, you should weigh the benefits.
Here’s your guide to the benefits of the National Honor Society.
Should I Join an Honor Society?
In order to join the NHS, you’ll need to know what they do.
Established in 1921, the foundation recognizes students who have achieved excellence in several different ways. These include areas of service, leadership, character, and of course, scholarship.
Members need to meet certain criteria to join. Students who want to join should have at least a 3.0 on the GPA scale. They should also show great leadership and a commitment to volunteer work.
If you think you may be eligible, here are three rewarding reasons why you should join the NHS.
1. Making a Difference
One of the great aspects of the NHS is the opportunity to make a difference. Given the foundation’s emphasis on helping others, each student must meet a service hour requirement.
As a member, you’ll be a part of service projects whether individually or as a team.
This is not only an amazing way to get involved in your community but a way to meet new people. Volunteering opens up so many doors, personal and otherwise. It helps you find yourself and connect with people in the process.
The service you complete may also open other doors and interests for you along the way.
2. Building Your Resume
Every college and university knows what an NHS membership suggests about a student. This makes it a wonderful addition to your resume or college application. It makes you competitive and helps you stand out in a sea of students.
An NHS experience shows that you’re an outstanding citizen who’s engaged with the world. It shows that you have great academic standing and the potential to be a future leader. However, academics aren’t everything, and if you can compile all of your achievements and goals into an online resume website, you may win over some new audiences and personal opportunities as well.
Joining the NHS will help you turn your goals for the future into a reality and set your professional life into motion.
3. Developing Skills
To become an NHS student, you need to exhibit certain traits and character. But your experience as a member will also help you further develop your skills. The NHS is an excellent avenue for becoming even more well-rounded and capable.
The NHS helps students flex their skills as a leader and a part of a team. The volunteering component will help you develop great time management skills. It can also motivate you to maintain your good grades.
You’ll also learn a lot about networking and professionalism during the process. This will be indelibly valuable in the future.
The answer to “should I join an honor society?” is a resounding yes. There are no downsides to becoming an honor student and so much to gain from the experience, and if you are thinking about launching a website or blog of your own, the experience and skills you will gain from such an environment and community will only help.
Not only does being in the NHS prepare you for what’s to come, but it’s also a nice way to celebrate what you’ve already worked so hard to accomplish.
To learn more about school and lifestyle tips, be sure to visit our blog.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Writing Your Very First Blog Post
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Your very first blog post is a very big deal.
For businesses, it’s their way of attracting more clients by creating content that resonates with your target audience.
For hobbyists, it’s their chance to of sharing to the world your thoughts and ideas about their topics of choice.
Either way, nothing validates your online identity more than a well-written blog post.
Therefore, you need to make the most of this opportunity by writing the best possible blog post. Assuming that you don’t have much experience in writing, you can always keep things simple by following the basic do’s and don’ts of writing a blog post for the very first time.
Do: Come up with a topic that your audience would like
The success of bloggers stems from the ability to determine what their audience wants to read. To reach their primary goals, bloggers must appeal to the need of their target readers for useful and relevant information. Doing so allows them to attract lots of visitors with the content they publish, resulting in increased conversion rates.
Therefore, you need to approach blogging deliberately. You can’t just pull a topic out of thin air and expect your audience to come in droves. You must find out what makes your readers ticks and what their wants and needs are.
That means research, research, and more research!
First, you need to come up with a reader persona that you will target for your post and the succeeding ones. The persona you will develop will embody your demographic such as age, gender, hobbies, and others. Researching these factors will help you refine how you will write your post and what you will write about. From here, unearthing blog post ideas to write about will become much more convenient for you.
Don’t: Veer away from your branding and persona
Your brand is what defines you online. Your audience will associate all your online activity with the brand you’ve developed. Part of your brand is the persona you project from the blog posts you will write.
The best blogs exhibit unique voices that set them apart from the rest. The Onion is popular for its tongue-in-cheek humor veiled in satire. Lifehacker is famous for producing informative blog content geared towards readers who want to find ways to simplify their lives.
The brand and persona these sites exude help bloggers develop consistency in their writing. By observing their persona on all the posts they write at all times, they allow readers to create a level of expectation every time you publish a post. By meeting their expectations with every post you write, you can develop a sustainable stream of blog traffic over a period.
Therefore, it is crucial that you develop a writing voice that resonates with your readers and then sticking with it. You need to play your brand and persona across all your blog posts, starting with the very first post you’ll be writing.
Do: Edit before publishing
Before hitting the “Publish” button, you need to make sure that there are no grammar mistakes and errors in your writing. Your command of the language is crucial if you want to send the right message to your readers.
A post that’s filled with errors will cause readers to leave your blog and possibly not read another post from you. If you can’t write correctly, then why should your audience read your posts?
Double-checking your post and reading it again can do wonders for your edits. It’s best to take time between finishing the post and reading it for review. The time allows you to get your mind off from writing so you will have a fresh perspective on the post, which lets you spot errors easier.
If you’re not comfortable with your editing skills, then you could use tools like Grammarly and Hemingway Editor. Both will make recommendations on how to tighten your sentences and improve your blog post. Keep in mind, however, that these tools are meant to complement your editing process and not replace it entirely.
Don’t: Worry about word count
If you’re counting words when writing your post, then you’re blogging for the wrong reasons.
When writing, your focus should be communicating ideas as clearly as possible.
For SEO reasons, you want your post to be as long as possible. According to the latest studies, your post should be at least 1,890 words if you want to rank on top of Google Search.
However, if you can’t reach that many numbers of words, you don’t have to beat yourself up about it. Having lots of words doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a great post.
What’s more important is that you can share everything that your readers need to know about the topic. By focusing on the quality of the post and not the number of words, you can engage your audience and keep them longing for more.
Do: Promote your post
Promoting your post is not part of the writing process. However, part of your job as a full-fledged blogger is to be a marketer as well.
Sharing your first blog post is your step towards reaching out to your online audience. After all, your post won’t promote itself. You need to proactive share your blog post to the right channels, so you show it to as many people interested in your topic as possible.
One of the best ways to promote your post online is to hop on Facebook and Twitter.
“If you have created high-quality content on your blog then social media is a great way to your blog to go viral.” said Scott Chow of The Blog Starter.
You can also submit your post on platforms that allow you to reach out to your audience more effectively. I have detailed the best sites where you can send your post for promotion in this article.
Don’t: Set unrealistic goals
Starting at the bottom and working your way up to where thousands of blogs are also vying for the attention of your readers will be a tumultuous journey. Therefore, you have to curb your expectations as a blogger. It is ideal to set the bar with attainable goals in mind instead of aiming for the moon.
Don’t get me wrong – reaching thousands of visitors for your blog post in a day is not impossible. However, like catching lightning in a jar, it’s more improbable than anything else. In fact, this problem is what plagues most bloggers. They set high goals that are difficult to achieve. As a result, they get discouraged once they realize that they can’t fulfill them and stop blogging altogether.
Therefore, it’s always better to follow a tried-and-true template that you can sustain for a long period. You don’t want to be one of those flash-in-the-pan bloggers who fizzle out as fast as they started.
Did I miss any other tips for first-time bloggers in preparation for their very first post? Chime in with your advice by commenting below!
4 Tips for Effectively Training New Hires and Freelance Writers
You’ve been interviewing prospective job candidates for weeks. Whether this has been for adding talent to your existing company, or if you’ve been looking for some qualified blog writers, the process is quite overwhelming, yet one that needs to take place. You’ve narrowed down the field, compared resumes and extended an offer. Soon, you’ll have a bright-eyed new employee walking through your door, eager to get started. Are you prepared for the onboarding process?
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Handing each new employee, a packet to read at their desk doesn’t cut it these days. In order to help new hires hit the ground running with their duties and acclimate to your work environment, you’ll need to utilize more dynamic methods for effectively training new hires. Here are four tips to help you get started.
Prioritize Need-to-Know Material
Training includes a veritable avalanche of information—like a general company overview, employer-specific policies, human resources information and specific job duties. It’s your job to equip your team members with everything they need to thrive. So, where do you start? This is also usually simple enough when looking to hire freelance writers or new blog team members, as there are many online job boards that allow you to fill in the needs and requirements you are looking for, while also having the ability to weed out any leads that don’t fit.
Create an outline that breaks down different training sessions into manageable chunks. This way, you’ll provide some foresight to the new hires and keep them from getting overwhelmed. For example, on their first day, you could start with job-specific information: frequently used programs and files, chain of command within their team and department and the location of hotspots like bathrooms, break rooms, conference rooms, HR, etc. The next day, the new hire can easily see that they’ll be learning about a broad company and departmental overview, project management and communication best practices within the office. After that, they’ll tackle short- and long-term goals and KPIs that show they’re doing well in their new job.
Take it one day at a time, based on order of importance.
Make It Interactive and Engaging
Passive presentations make it all too easy for new hires to forget material almost as soon as they learn it. Remember, they’re encountering new information left and right. To make it stick, you’ll have to make it extra engaging. Delivering an interactive presentation with crowdsourcing tools like Poll Everywhere will wake them up, collect their honest thoughts and make them feel like part of the team right off the bat. Instead of listening to a one-way stream of information, new hires can grab their mobile devices and get involved.
Create a Longer-Term Plan
Whew, you survived the first day of training. Your newest batch of hires are basically onboard, right? Not so fast. You need a long-term plan to ensure a smooth process over time. One HR manager uses an onboarding checklist complete with agendas for the first week and first month—including future training sessions, group lunches and manager check-ins. This way, the employee knows that they’re not suddenly on their own after the first round of introductions; they have resources, a plan and scheduled times to ask questions and provide feedback.
Assign a Concrete Task
Training often feels theoretical for new hires; they’re left wondering “but how does this connect to my job?” One way to drive the points made in training home is to assign a relevant task after a learning session. It should relate to their daily duties and allow them to learn (and make mistakes) as they go. They will be able to put the principles they learned in general training into actual use on an actual assignment! At the end, a manager can go over the results with them in a helpful way, pointing out things they did well and how they can improve in the future.
These four tips for effectively training new hires should help you with the onboarding process, but be sure to experiment and come up with a system that works for your company. After all, onboarding is the first impression new employees get and it factors heavily into company culture. If you want to build a success blog, brand or business on the internet today, you need to make sure you are building a quality and talented team around you.
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