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.
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.’)
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.
Posted in Blogging, Content Marketing, Ebooks & White Papers, Freelancing, Ghostwriting, Grammar & Syntax, Press Releases, Social Media, Web Copy
- Tagged copywriting for dummies, copywriting is dead, informal writing