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
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 Best Practices for Effective Copywriting and Blogging in 2019
Copywriting and blogging are both essential in any business, but when it comes to their purpose, each one differs. Copywriting advertises a service or product as it directly encourages the audience to make a purchase, while blogging, on the other hand, entertains and informs the audience about the product through a related article. It is not as advertorial as copywriting.
Both, however, help generate leads and advertise products. Whether you’re blogging or copywriting or doing both, you should consider these important practices:
- Know Your Audience
Knowing and understanding who and what makes up your audience is a must, whether you’re copywriting or blogging. No matter how much traffic you get, your content is useless if no leads are generated. Just like any conversation, knowing a person’s interests, preferences, and the like is one way to create a meaningful conversation. If you want to know more about your target audience, consider working with companies like Make Your Mark Digital so that they can help you analyze the characteristics of your target audience so you can engage with them successfully.
When you’re blogging, you need to create content that relates to your audience. In copywriting, what you write should depend on whether your audience desperately needs your product or if they are simply interested in it.
Create content that can increase your leads by understanding your audience. You can do this by considering the following strategies:
- Create an Audience Persona – First, gather data about your audience by using Facebook Audience insights, interviewing customers, reviewing analytics, and creating surveys. After compiling the data, create a fictitious profile of your ideal customer. You can then use this persona to think of your audience’s needs, wants, and thoughts upon which you could base your content.
- Use Analytics Tools – Tools like Google Analytics will help you figure out whether the person is convertible into a buying customer or not. It can also help in finding keywords that your target audience is using when typing in their queries. Use these keywords when writing content for a specific audience.
- Be Empathetic – After creating your content, use your audience’s point of view to evaluate it. Consider varying perspectives, such as someone who is using the product, someone who wants to use it, or someone who is disappointed from using it. Thus, these perspectives will help you write to cater to their needs.
- Write Valuable Content
People who need useful information search the internet. Thus, the content of your writing must be valuable, as well as optimized if you want to have high-ranking copywriting articles and blogs.
In copywriting, the first information that must be displayed should be the most important. After which, you can add details to support it. Following the inverted pyramid—wherein the order of information must begin with the most important to the least—you must capture your audience’s attention with the most vital piece of information. Then, the statements that follow must engage the audience.
For blogging, on the other hand, your content should be engaging, useful, and original. Applying all these can increase your ranking, thus inviting more traffic, leads, or even a blog email list. Just like copywriting, you must present the most vital part of your content through a strong headline. Then, add thought-provoking and engaging content while also providing answers to your audience’s most common questions. Lastly, your final output must be easy to read but accurate.
To create valuable content, whether for blogging or copywriting, you must practice the following:
- Use Power Words – Instead of using dull words, use vibrant words, but don’t overdo it. These are trigger words that make your audience respond positively or negatively. For instance, you can use “breathtaking” instead of “beautiful” for more impact.
- Proofread Your Content – Mistakes are inevitable, even if you think you’ve been very careful with your writing. The best way to proofread is to sleep or leave your output for some time before rereading it so that your brain would be fresh when you review your piece.
- Rebut Their Objections – Make a list of possible arguments from your readers and make counter-arguments so you can address them.
Search engine ranking is vital as it affects your traffic and leads. Making your website rank high on search engines through an unpaid and organic process is called Search Engine Optimization (SEO). When your content is optimized, you can increase your potential readers or customers. Thus, copywriting and blogging must be SEO-friendly.
There are a lot of SEO tips on the internet, and here are some of the most important ones to remember:
- Use Keywords Correctly – Include keywords in the title, first sentence, and other parts of your page, but don’t overdo it. Instead, use alternative keywords or synonyms.
- Use Headlines – Easy-to-read copies and blog posts engage more readers. Headlines can spell the difference between an interested reader or not.
- Write More Content – Writing one blog a day does not help your page if it’s only a hundred words or so. Google acknowledges content with more than a thousand words that are useful and of high-quality.
Just because you’re selling or promoting a product or service doesn’t mean you can’t produce a well-written blog or copy. Applying the best practices mentioned above will help you achieve your goal. Just remember that when you write, you have to make it SEO-friendly without sacrificing the quality of your content.
Do Your Homework: How to Do Online Research Before Writing a Blog Post
Unlike academic research, which we all learn in school and often get bogged down in, online content research is pretty simple. Unfortunately it is that simplicity that can often lead to mistakes, or just bare facts that don’t hold as much detail as our readers could use.
Your pre-content online research consists of two stages. The first is the research you do before, and the second is the research you do during the article writing process.
Before you write is the pre-research, as in pre-writing. This is where you are going to find your general facts that will support your post. This is also where you are going to draw your primary sources, which will be linked through the body of your content.
I always prefer to follow the 3x rule. You want to find three times as many sources as you will use, and pair them against one another. You keep finding sources in batches of three until you are able to verify each against one another.
This is a simple way to ensure you are finding non-biased, verifiable facts, and not baseless opinions. With misinformation running rampant thanks to lazy bloggers and social media, this is a very important process.
You don’t want to become one of those bloggers posting factual inaccuracies like they are gospel truth. Not only does this add to a serious problem in online content creation, but it impacts your authority. We all know how important that authority is to the growth of a brand.
Your article is going to be broken into sections and subheadings. These will steer your research in many ways giving you more ideas which angles and problems to cover.
Text Optimizer helps you research related questions. TextOptimizer is the semantic research tool that extracts related concepts and questions right from Google search results:
All of these questions may become subheadings of your future article (or inspire follow-up articles). You can export them in Excel and sort them into “existing content”, “currently working on” and “future articles”.
Next, you have the research you do while you are creating your post. These are supporting details related to the above citations you have found. It is also where you will narrow down the links you intend to embed, if you don’t choose all three supporting posts.
This part is much simpler, and it more about giving readers additional information to follow. Sometimes I just provide a small masterlist of links for more data if the reader chooses, so I can focus more the quality of the content.
6 Tools To Make Research a Breeze
1. Google Drive Research Box
I use Google Drive for pretty much everything, including writing and backing up posts. I find it much more manageable than other cloud services. One of the features I love best is the research box. You highlight a keyword or phrase, and right click. It will have an option to research the highlighted section.
This brings up a side box with related sources, which you can view right in your screen. Because it uses Google results you have to be just as selective as you would be from a straight search, but it is much more convenient. Google Drive includes lots of useful information visualization and organization tools including Google Slides, Google Drawings, and more.
2. Mind Meister
This is a great tool if you are dealing with a large post that is going to have a lot of involved research. Breaking the task down into simpler, smaller parts is a tried and true tactic.
MindMeister is a mindmapper tool that lets you do that. You can plan out the entire post, including linking sources so everything you need ends up in one place. All using a template that lets you easily move, edit and reformat before you ever get to the writing process.
You may be wondering what an SEO tool is doing here. After all, this is about researching for articles, not for marketing. I would argue that they are technically in the same vein, but that isn’t why I included it.
I have used this tool to create lists of related key phrases I may not have thought of. This helps me to broaden my research based on what people have published or searched for online. So I may end up with sources I never would have found, because I wasn’t using the right combination of keywords.
If you have Yoast plugin installed, you have keyword optimization basically covered. Plus there a few more plugins that will help you keep content research and optimization under control.
4. Digital Research Tool (DiRT)
This is a fantastic masterlist of tools aimed at scholars, especially those in the social science and humanities. However, I think it is a great place for bloggers to find research tools they need for any number of purposes. They are broken down into categories, which you can select on the front page.
You are then taken to the tool that is best for the job at hand. It is the best collection of research redirects I have ever found, and much more efficient than trying to keep track of everything on your own.
Normally I would avoid social media like the plague when it comes to research. There is just too much garbage floating around, and opinion outweighs facts and logic at almost all times. But I will make an exception for Quora. In spite the fact that it is a platform that is very easy to abuse, it is full of genuine experts with backed up information.
It requires you to offer well thought out answers, and to provide a source or reason for your knowledge. I go there all the time to find great links to scholarly articles, studies, website tools, or to get first hand soundbites from major players in the industry that know about topics first hand.
Speaking of experts, MyBlogU is another great place to find them. I usually go here for expert quotes as part of the secondary research process (finding backup information and supporting details). It is an easy way to add further gravity to something you have already officially cited, straight from the mouths of the people who know best.
Do you have a research tool to put on the list? Let us know in the comments!
4 Blogging Tips for Freelance Writers
Freelance writers, do you blog?
You better be blogging.
Running a well-stocked, self-hosted, WordPress blog showing off your writing skills is the most direct way to earn a lucrative living through freelance writing. Why? People with ample means get to see what you can offer through your blog, then, pay up. Both parties win. You have fun rendering a useful service. Clients get helpful, business-building content.
Blogging is a skill freelance writers need learn, and practice, to grow their business through blogging.
Follow these 4 tips to make money freelance writing through your blog.
1: Show Off Your Writing Skills by Publishing Content
Most aspiring freelance writers expect to make money freelancing without showing off their writing skills for free. Why in the heck would anybody hire you if they have no idea what you do, how you do it and why you do it?
Show off your writing skills by publishing content to your blog. Be generous. Publish one post weekly, at a minimum. Running a freelance writing blog seems smart to me. Along with teaching people how to be a skilled freelance writer, you build your friend network and show prospective clients your writing stuff.
Note; do not hold back. Many freelance writing blogger newbies publish one post and expect the floodgates of traffic, profits and clients to open up. Nope. Be generous, patient and persistent to gain client trust and to build your business over the long haul.
2: Network with Fellow Freelancers to Grow Your Reach
Get out of a competitive, poverty conscious vibe.
Enter into an abundant, generous, vibe.
Comment genuinely on fellow freelance blogs. Promote freelancers on your blog. Promote freelance writers on social media.
Here’s how money works, guys; if you do not fear losing money or clients to other freelance writers, you make tons of money through freelance writing over the long haul because all freelance buddies you make through your generosity promote you, endorse you and heck, some may even hire you.
Be generous. Help people. Make friends. Amplify your reach. Grow your business.
3: Build a Clear Freelance Writing Services Page
If you claim to be a freelance writer you better publish a clear, easy to understand, freelance writer page.
List specific services offered. Be clear to attract ideal clients who love what you offer.
Consider adding your writing rates to avoid tire kickers and other folks who want to bargain, barter and do other silly stuff. You are a business person. Bartering is for people in a Middle Eastern Souq. Set fixed prices. If people cannot afford your prices they can move on to another freelancer. Have posture.
Feel free to show off client testimonials if you have these endorsements but I have found this; if you get clear on your writing skills, show off your work through free content and clearly state what you offer, clients will find you and hire you. I did not even have a freelance business page when I landed my highest paying client. This shows you the power of clarity and mental alignment.
4: Build Blogging and Freelance Writing Posture
Please guys, do not barter, bargain or debate your writing rates. Do not charge $5 for a 600 word post. Do not work for peanuts just to say you landed a client. Do not work for demanding, overbearing clients. Never work for someone unless the person aligns with you, your values and your work.
Work for nice people who appreciate what you have to offer. This is the path toward great success online.
You choose clients. You pick clients. Have posture. Think and act abundantly.
Most freelancers struggle terribly because they have little or no posture. Believe in yourself. Believe in your abilities. Have faith. Trust in yourself.
The more you practice writing the more you gain confidence and clarity in your offering.
Enjoy your freelance writing success!
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