Updated: Jun 23
Have you ever felt as though you’ve lost your ‘mojo’; that you want to write something, but you just can’t get into the flow? You sit in front of your laptop, determined to get your next blogpost written, and the ideas just won’t come. Worse still, you manage to find a hundred and one things you need to do to avoid even sitting at your laptop.
Does this sound familiar?
Most writers suffer from writer’s block at one time or another. You know you want to write, but you don’t know what to write about and even if you do have an idea you don’t know where to start or how to order your thoughts. Even the most prolific writers can experience this state, which can be frustrating and lead to feelings of disillusionment. (Well-known singer Adele famously admitted to struggling with writer’s block while attempting to create a follow up to her acclaimed debut album ‘19’, which thankfully she overcame).
Writer’s block can occur for many different reasons. Possibly one of the most common reasons for bloggers to experience writer’s block is not having enough fresh ideas to write about but it could also be caused by lack of motivation, by having other distractions or worries in our lives which block our creativity or it can even be caused by our own perfectionism, when we feel that nothing we write is quite good enough.
At one point during the recent pandemic lockdown I was struggling to come up with content for my blog. My original intent for my blog was to share my journey as I negotiated the ups and downs of developing my passion for photography, and each new learning necessitated going out ‘into the field’, practising what I had learned and evaluating the results for myself before sharing what I had discovered. Being in almost total lockdown meant that I could no longer go out and about with my camera and the photographic opportunities provided by my garden soon became exhausted. I felt that I had written about every photography related topic and had nothing more to say in the absence of practical application of what I was doing. There was no point in discussing landscape photography techniques when there were no opportunities to capture and critique landscape images. I had intended to do some experimentation in street photography but that was not an option in empty streets, which were ‘out of bounds’ anyway. As for travel photography, even travel in my own country was prohibited and there were no opportunities there for trying anything new.
As we emerge from lockdown, I hope to practise some of the landscape techniques I have been learning and improve my landscape photography
I look forward to getting back into busy streets to capture those candid moments
Travelling around the countryside to capture some images almost became a distant memory, but while I wait to start travelling again I have dug out some images of one of my favourite subjects – boats!
5 ways to overcome writer's block that have worked for me
I have a subscription to problogger.com and unexpectedly, just when I was wondering where to go next with my blog, an email from Problogger invited me to participate in a free 7-day blogging sprint. This was the motivation I needed to look anew at my blogging content and try to take it in a slightly different direction. The advice given in these sessions has changed my thinking about the content I write and has broadened my view on the whole area of content creation. Instead of simply sharing what I am learning I have begun to look at how I can boost my creativity in general and this is helping me to overcome the barriers to creativity thrown up by an unexpected forced lockdown.
While my writer’s block was brought on by unprecedented circumstances the solution is common to all circumstances when writer’s block occurs. Below are my five proven ways to overcome writer’s block and keep that content coming!
One of the most useful pieces of advice which I have gained is that in times of confusion, when what was normal is no longer possible, the best option is to try to diversify. And with my efforts to diversify content in the face of a lack of ideas I found that I began to breathe new life into my blog and became motivated to write more often. I found that I didn’t have to do a complete overhaul of my blog, but I just needed to take a slightly different approach to content creation. Experimenting with content helped me to discover new ways of presenting that content so that it might be more appealing to an audience. By writing different types of content I began to make more use of links as well as referring to prior posts that I had written and looking at the work of other bloggers. I read articles on blogging and came to understand some of the associated jargon. For example, one topic which I found to be of interest was about the desirability of creating evergreen content. Some of the new content that I was creating was written in response to the crisis which the world was experiencing, and how it can affect our creativity. While it could also have a more general appeal in that there are often similar situations which affect our productivity and creativity, it may also be the case that in a year or so from now no-one will want to hear the words pandemic or coronavirus or any of the other terms immortalised during this time, so whether content written during this time will be truly evergreen may be debatable. With that in mind I am trying to create content that will remain relevant for some time to come while still relating to the very real issues which Covid has thrown up.
2. Brainstorm ideas
This might seem to be a ridiculous notion. If we can’t even think of one idea to write about, how will we think of lots of ideas? Yet I have found that it's not as ridiculous as it sounds. Often the problem is that we are obsessing on one idea and the content is not flowing. That’s ok, maybe it’s not the idea we need to write about. If we have brainstormed, we can go to our list and consider another topic. As a result of doing the Problogger 7-day blogging sprint I took on the challenge of doing a brainstorm of blog post ideas and before I knew it, I was again finding that ideas were coming thick and fast. I now have lots of ideas that may or may not materialise into blog posts but at least they are there to be developed if I need them. Most of the time ideas for my list come to me at unusual times; in the shower, when working in the garden, when out walking, even when I’m cleaning! Often, the only times the ideas don’t flow is when I am sitting at my computer! To capture the ideas that come to me on random occasions I try to jot them down as soon as I can, either in a notebook or on my phone, so that I can retrieve them when I’m ready to write. Some ideas on my list may never get to become blog post topics, but I hope that many will.
3. Make a commitment
The purpose of a blog is to provide something useful to our audience. And if we go to the effort of sharing our ideas in a blog, we would like that blog to be successful. Most blogs are successful because bloggers build a relationship with their audience. This is done by writing consistently, not just producing occasional blogs when we feel like it. I have found that one of the ways to ensure against writer’s block is to make a commitment to myself that as soon as I finish one blog, I will start working on the next, or even have a few running concurrently. I do find that the more I share, the more ideas I have. Even in the middle of one post my mind seems to generate more ideas which in turn I want to share, so often it is then that the idea for my next post is born. For example, the idea for this post came while writing the last one.
4. Just write
Maybe it’s the title you are stuck at, or maybe it’s getting an effective opening line. The trick is to not dwell there if the right idea does not come easily, but to work on another part of the post. Sometimes I just write anything that comes to mind then re-read and scrap a lot of it, but at least it gets me started! If I can get going on the body of the post, even to write an outline of what I want to say, it can get me past the block. Rather than obsessing about getting a great headline I can settle for a working headline and just move on, although I do try to at least have a working title to keep me on track and stop my thoughts wandering all over the place. If I really can’t get down to working on my blog post I try reading an online article and making some notes. These notes may or may not be useful to my blog, but at least it gets me writing something, and something is better than nothing! The adage ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ comes to mind here!
5. Plan to succeed
If I am tired after a hard day it won’t be surprising to sit in front of my laptop and find that no ideas will come, or that they won’t come in the way I want them to. If, on the other hand, I plan to write when I am fresh and my mind is free of other distractions, I will be setting myself up for success rather than failure. Everyone is different, some of us write best first thing in the morning, some like to settle down mid-morning with a cup of coffee, for others the best time is evening. I know some writers who can’t write a word until the house is quiet at night. I can’t write if I have something else on my mind, or if I’m experiencing anxiety or tension, so I must deal with that in whatever way I can rather than bring it into my writing space. Whatever time is right for us, physically or emotionally, if we plan our writing for that time instead of forcing ourselves to write at a time that doesn’t work for us, we’ll be planning to succeed.
Learning from the pros
I came into the blogging world less than two years ago and quickly realised that I had a steep learning curve in front of me. I didn't know very much about SEO or how to grow an audience, and I didn’t really know how to write as a blogger. For this reason, hitting a wall in terms of my content creation was a blessing in disguise as it has helped me delve more deeply into the blogging world. Apart from listening to countless Problogger podcasts by a prolific creator like Darren Rowse, I have also been reading blogs by other experienced bloggers and these have given me a greater insight into this world. One such blogger is Seth Godin, the man behind one of the most popular blogs in the world. He doesn’t write long blogs, he doesn’t use images, he doesn’t link to other blogs. So, what is his secret? He blogs often, his blogs are short and snappy, and they take a unique view of the word. His words in a recent blog have given me heart to know that, even if I don’t have a huge audience, even if at times I struggle with knowing what to write about, even if I get disillusioned and want to quit, what I write is valuable to me, it is something I want to share, and for that reason it’s worthwhile.
Your contribution isn’t noise. Not for the right people, at the right time.
The internet isn’t a mass medium. The voices online are not for everyone, it’s not the Super Bowl or M*A*S*H or even the nightly news. Nobody reaches much more than 1% of the audience on any given day.
That tiny slice that does want to hear from you, that needs to hear from you, that would miss you if you don’t speak up–for that audience, you’re not noise. You’re essential.
Seth Godin (Seth’s Blog, June 23, 2020) https://seths.blog/
When perfectionism kicks in, when I feel pressure to write in a certain way to attract more readers instead of just writing for myself, I will re-read these lines and hopefully overcome any temporary writer’s block I might be experiencing.
Sometimes just managing to capture a beautiful sunset with my phone camera is enough to bring back the motivation to make better photos and to share that process
I hope you have found some of the ideas in this post to be useful. If you have, or if you know someone who would benefit from the Problogger Facebook training session mentioned in my last post, please share them.