All I Do Is Write, Write, Write No Matter What

In the past, there was writer’s block. Now, there’s Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs and…writer’s block.

You have a million excuses not to put words to paper. Are you going to let that stop you?

Writer’s block is an honest-to-god condition. In its simplest form, it manifests itself as a subconscious rebellion against creativity. At its worst, it causes anxiety and insecurities about your occupation as a whole.

This guy had writer’s block. So did the creators of this movie. All went on to do great, strange things.

Only fiction writers, authors creating from scratch, should experience the latter form. But the former can creep up on anyone at anytime. There’s always Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs.

Take a step away from the blank page for a moment and think rationally. If you have content in some form, you shouldn’t let writer’s block get the best of you. If you have no content to write about, then you’re missing a step in the writing process.

Starting content varies from interview notes to research to knowledge trapped inside your head. Here are a few tricks I use to get ink on the page. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

  • Work directly from your notes: When I interview someone, my notes are scattered phrases and sentences. If you’re good at interviewing, they may end up on the page in a linear fashion. Either way, find important snippets of notes and turn them into assertions. The supporting material will flow more naturally.
  • Put snippets of thoughts down as they come to you: Working from a blank slate? Don’t fret. Throw out any semblance of narrative and start writing thoughts as they come to you. When you have something beginning to resemble a piece, go back and reorganize the thoughts and add information where necessary.
  • Put audience in perspective: Sometimes, we get stuck because we’re not sure what best appeals to the reader. Start writing about your audience and trying to gain a little perspective on their needs and motivations. When you begin identifying knowledge gaps, you may be surprised how quickly you find a place to start.
  • See what other people are saying: This looks like a cheap one at first glance. Just to clarify: don’t steal other people’s shit. But reading about the topic may spark ideas. Some of your best stuff will come from points of contention you find in other articles.

One, Two or Three Spaces Between Sentences?

Don’t be a butthead.

Think McFly, think!

I had a fun debate with an ex about this one. I’ve always used a single space between sentences. In the business world, these corporate robots are constantly placing two, three, even FOUR spaces between their sentences.

The ex was adamant that you had to use two spaces between sentences. Of course, she works in PR and is consistently exposed to a bunch of chuckleheads masquerading as writing professionals. I kid. Sort of.

One space will do. Why are you forming such a wide berth? You have enough words on the page. You don’t need to leave room for later additions. A period denotes the end of one sentence and the start of the next. A little extra insurance really isn’t necessary.

So why do so many people do it? Ah, thanks for asking. It’s a pretty interesting anecdote.

An article in Slate puts this argument to rest like a boss. According to Slate writer Farhad Manjoo,

The problem with typewriters was that they used monospaced type—that is, every character occupied an equal amount of horizontal space. This bucked a long tradition of proportional typesetting, in which skinny characters (like I or 1) were given less space than fat ones (like W or M). Monospaced type gives you text that looks “loose” and uneven; there’s a lot of white space between characters and words, so it’s more difficult to spot the spaces between sentences immediately. Hence the adoption of the two-space rule—on a typewriter, an extra space after a sentence makes text easier to read.

To quote the great old balls Biff Tannen, “You sound like a damn fool when you say it wrong!”

5 Reasons to Create “5 Reasons” Posts

The biggest blogs on the web are stacked with “list” posts, or articles that include tips, tricks, favorites and the like. You may recognize list posts parading in such classic forms as “5 Reasons,” “3 Tips,” “15 Blogs,” “4 Ways,” etc.

You see these posts ad nauseam everywhere you go. There’s a reason people use them, like most marketing techniques that are done to death. Except for just about everything in GoDaddy’s playbook. That shit is beyond me.

Short digressions aside, people create list posts because they’re successful. For whatever reason, if you throw a number in your headline, you’ll grab the attention of your audience. Here’s some insight into why.

Courtesy The Official Blog of Gathering Books

1. Easy to read: My personal opinion is that the author projects the facade of a concise, organized post that serves as an easy, useful read. When you’re trying to appeal to an audience of professionals with ever-shrinking attention spans, that’s an important distinction to make right off the bat.

2. Organize your thoughts: Hey, even professional writers skip the “outline” process sometimes. With list posts, you can simplify organization by “skipping” the outline process and merging it with your post. And let me tell you; it’s a huge f-ing time saver.

3. Readers relate: Whether it’s laundry, grocery or to-do, people everywhere create lists to organize their daily lives. Your audience may have the capacity to read long, in-depth feature articles, but they’ll relate better to lists.

4. Attract content curators: Because list posts get so much traction, bloggers and content curators looking for high-quality posts may request to reprint your post. Or they’ll say screw it and steal your content anyway. As long as you get proper credit and a link, this is a good way to bolster dissemination of your content.

5. Why not? You got a better idea?

Content Dethroned: Communication is King

If these kings were content, would they be stabbing themselves in the head?

To those not in the know, this headline could be misleading. Let me clarify: content is still king, but content is also the byproduct of communication.

If you had a simple ability to connect members of your audience, would you actively block it? Would you close the comments section of your blog? If you had an active audience crying out for forums, would you deny them?

Executives with years of one-way marketing experience sometimes impose this hurdle. Before the internet, brand control was job number one. Now, entrepreneurs and executives must accept that people are discussing their brands in public forums.

They obsess over negative brand perception in a company-managed space. “This is my website, dagnabbit, and I’ll be dagnabbed if I’ll let dagnabbers speak ill of my company here.” (That’s how I imagine executives in my head.)

There’s a simple and absolutely critical policy that businesses should adopt immediately or risk failure. Stop trying to control the brand and start controlling the conversation.

If someone has something negative to say, they’re going to say it. Don’t you want the opportunity to respond? While I think this is the key selling point, there’s a ton more to it than just that.

Opening public communication channels like ‘comments’ sections or forums offers you benefits like:

  • FREE content: Yep, you heard it here, folks. Let people chat in a public forum and you gain a raging stream of free content. That means better search visibility, more new and return visitors and less time spent building content on your end.
  • Reduced support workload: How much time do you spend answering questions about your business and/or product? How often do you have to answer the same questions over email? Think of how much time you can save if the answers lived in one spot. Not to mention, other members of the community jump at the chance to answer questions. Don’t buy it? Ask Autodesk.
  • A searchable knowledge base: Beyond support, your content (in a blog or other social media channel) might open up to a wider discussion relevant to everyone in your market. That’s the point of your content marketing in the first place: to draw in leads with valuable content. Let your audience interact and they’ll support the cause.
  • Greater brand loyalty: Empower your followers with a voice and they’ll thank you. If they’re deriving value from your content and making useful connections, they stand a much better chance of becoming brand advocates.

A marketer could spend his or her entire day policing your brand across various venues online. Make your website a place to share and discuss, and you can get a better handle on brand perception.

Write What You Know. Or Don’t. Whatever.

Courtesy NewsRealBlog.

Teachers and writers told me for years that you should only ‘write what you know.’ Yet every day, agency and freelance writers wake up and write about clients in industries they’d need a doctorate to be a part of.

‘Write what you know’ is reserved for fiction. If you want to become a professional writer, you must become a professional interrogator.

Interviewing is much more difficult than you might imagine. I started my career with zero professional writing experience at a chop-shop of a public relations firm. They threw me right into the thick of it. Imagine you’re pretty fresh out of college and you’re hemming and hawing at three CEOs daily, desperately trying to get all of the information in one call so you won’t have to bother them again or turn over a half-assed press release. This was my daily battle. Like many writers under duress, I drank a lot.

I’m sure some of you out there share that battle. Some high-pressure, sink-or-swim situations would help with your interviewing skills (but not your blood pressure). If you don’t have that luxury (used loosely here), check out a few ideas to start refining your interview process.

  • Be aggressive: Listen, writing is an enviable skill set, but it’s no match for experience. Perhaps you’re chatting with a serial entrepreneur or a busy exec who is trying to shoe you off the phone. Show them the respect you’d show any client (e.g. rip a loud fart into the phone and hang up). But show a little backbone, too. After all, he or she is paying you to do a job; if they want it done right, they’ll have to deal with an extra 15 minutes of answering questions.
  • Focus on benefits and differentiators: This will be a running theme through most of my posts. Any marketing or PR copy you write should lead with the benefits of your product/service to the buyer and the differentiators that make that product/service unique to your industry. Unless you’re writing for a highly technical audience, you should focus on the high-level view.
  • Set expectations up front: Before you start interviewing, be honest with your interviewee. If you don’t know much about the industry, explain that you need the basics first. Tell them that you may ask the same questions in different ways until you get the answers you’re looking for. The final product depends on it, and even if you annoy the client during the interview process, they’ll be happy when you deliver a strong piece of content. (Clarification: ‘annoy’ does not mean ‘antagonize.’)

Copywriting Is Dead

Have you ever assembled a piece of furniture? Reading the directions is like taking a blow to the head from a drunken frat boy.

Reminds me of the old days of marketing. No one talked like a human. Companies loved the sound of their own voices. Business is catching up with the world of social media, and it turns out people would rather hear from real human beings.

Copywriting is dead — at least in the traditional sense of the practice. What I hope this blog will impart on its readership is that you can all finally drop the act. Throw formality out the window and start speaking to your target audience in a voice they can relate to. And don’t be afraid to end a sentence or two with a preposition.

You’re asking, “Who the hell is this guy?” I’m just a man, like any other. I’m also a freelance writer. I’ve ghostwritten a business book, created web copy for entire websites and dabbled in writing mediums you’ve never even heard of.

I write good, and I’m here to help you write gooder. So let’s get this thing started.