Writing fucking sucks sometimes. Every sentence of every word can feel like using a rusty fork to scrape an idea out of your brain on onto the page. There is nothing worse than staring at a blank screen or page while waiting for some strange alchemy that turns blankly staring at a wall into brilliant words on the page. But this isn’t about writer’s block, because for the most part, especially in content marketing, you probably already know what you need or want to write about. Whether it be a fancy new piece of tech that is going to change the world or some reason doctors hate whatever simple trick you’re writing about.
This blog is about finding that spark that gets you in your chair with fingers fluttering over your keyboard to get the task at hand accomplished. I’ve spent countless hours in undergraduate school, graduate school, and as a writing instructor, writing, evaluating writing, and teaching how to write. So here are some simple tricks that doctors hate to help you get started with your writing project.
#1: Find Inspiration
First I want to dispel a myth. Well two myths really. Myth 1: Hemingway said, “Write drunk, edit sober.” No he didn’t, that’s a flippin’ lie. Myth 2: Writing while drunk works. As badly as I would love to have an excuse to grab a beer in the middle of the day, I usually have some writing to do. So if you are looking for that spark that gets you going at the bottom of the glass, you are doing it wrong. Instead try telling yourself that as soon as you finish you get to go get a drink.
I find that when I’m having a hard time getting started (usually because I love procrastinating so damn much) that taking a walk before I know I need to start usually helps. This walk usually does not involve music or podcasts. It’s just me and my thoughts. I do prepare a little before the walk with a bit of research. If I am writing about something new or something I don’t know anything about, I will do about 45 minutes or so of research on the topic and set out for a quick walk. During my walk I try not to get too distracted by the stuff around me and just kind of meditate on the topic. Usually if I can come up with a good opening line, it’s off to the races after that. It’s really all about finding your entry point into the topic. That’s the hardest part because before that many topics either seem too narrow (You want 900 words on the best color highlighter for taking notes?) or too broad (500 words on the best way to raise a child). But as soon as you find what it is you find interesting or what it is you want to say about the topic, you can at least get started. There is probably more research to be done, but at least you won’t be staring at a blank screen anymore.
#2: Talk It Out
Another really helpful way to get started is to talk about the topic with someone you don’t mind boring to death. When I was at IU I would go to the library to do a lot of my writing. I was like 19 years old and taking a class on Faulkner. I had no idea what The Sound and the Fury was about. I knew I liked it, but outside of that, I found myself staring at a blank screen without a clue as to where to get started. I went outside to get a little fresh air and decided to call my mom. I ended up talking to her, well at her, about the book (which she has never read) for about 45 minutes, until I finally landed on a good thesis. And with that I hung up, probably without saying goodbye, and ran back to my computer and got started. I think I ended up getting a C- on that paper to boot! Nowadays I usually end up bugging either Ryan (Metonymy’s CEO), Amber (Creative Director), or Natty (fellow Content Manager) when I’m having some difficulty getting my thoughts down on paper. But there is just something about articulating your ideas and working through them out loud that really helps. They don’t mind as they know it’s part of the process. Or at least they are really nice folks who will bear with me, but maybe are secretly super annoyed and I will soon be fired. Who knows!?!
#3: Embrace Your Perspective
This last tip is one that I dispense quite frequently to students. This one is kind of cheesy and a bit less action oriented than the first two suuuuper helpful tips. This one is about managing your frame of mind so that writing isn’t such a monumental task. One of the biggest questions that I ask myself before I get started is “What do I have to add to the conversation about this topic?” This is where a big roadblock can be thrown up. What can I add to a century’s worth of scholarship about Huckleberry Finn? What the fuck am I going to say about Progressive Web Apps that some nerd hasn’t already said (and probably a million times better)? It’s this type of thinking that gets many people stuck right out of the gate. But it’s important to remember (and this is going to sound like something straight out of the mouth of Mr. Rogers, but I swear this is true) that each one of us has a lifetime of our own unique experiences that will never be duplicated. We have perspectives that are a culmination of not just a lifetime of our own thoughts but also the thoughts of friends and family as well as the books you have read or movies you have watched. So it’s important to remember when you might feel overwhelmed at the scope of a writing project that you can’t get started, that you are the only person who can write like you. It doesn’t matter whether you are saying something new or not, all that matters is that you are saying it like you.
Oh shit! I just hit my word count. Later nerds.