Updated: September 9, 2015
Writing is not my favorite thing in the world but as a blogger, it’s sort of essential. Here are the tips I’ve picked up along the way.
If you have writer’s block…
My advice here is to just write something. Anything. Even if it’s horrible. Set a timer for 15 minutes and just write. By the time the timer beeps, it’s likely you’ll be on a roll and can keep going. You know how sometimes when you try to get lotion out of a bottle that hasn’t been used in a while the tip is clogged, but if you give it a good pump or squeeze, the clog gets unstuck and the lotion flows freely? It’s kinda like that.
Explore the why to your writer’s block.
If you frequently experience writer’s block, do you really enjoy this niche? Do you enjoy writing? Do you really want to blog? Do you feel ill-equipped? Ask yourself the hard questions. Be honest. Either commit to deep-down change by strengthening your areas of weakness or ditch it (gasp!). (We should all do something we really want to do, don’t you think?)
Pretend you’re your target
The ability to see things from the perspective of your reader is key. Sometimes we know a topic so well we forget that others may be seeing it for the first time.
Do some serious thinking about who your target market is. Define them. Picture them in your brain. Anticipate their questions. Pretend you are them and think about what would most connect with you. Then, write that.
Don’t edit as you go
Just get it all out and accept that the first draft won’t be stellar. Write it and come back later. Editing as you go is enough to drive anyone crazy (OK, me, but I can’t be the only one) and coming back to what you’ve written with fresh eyes provides so much perspective.
Don’t format as you go
By formatting I mean bolding, italicizing, adding bullets, creating headings, etc.—basically all the stuff you would do to make your ebook look appealing and be readable.
Open a very basic text editor and write. Skip a line between paragraphs perhaps, but other than that, save formatting for the end. (I use TextEdit on my Mac. You might have NotePad or something similar on your computer.)
Save your work constantly. A simple yet frequent click of Control-S (Command-S on a Mac) is a small price to pay in order to make sure you don’t loose your precious work.
Another thing I recommend is to find an alternate place to save your work, preferably not on your computer. Here’s an idea: At the end of every power writing session, copy and paste your draft into an email and send it to yourself. If you’re using Gmail, just archive it and you’ll always have a copy not on your computer too. Something like Dropbox (referral link) would work too.
Establish a writing habit
Unless you’re a master at project planning and follow through, I suggest dedicating a chunk of time every day (or several times a week) to writing. If there are days you have more time to spend on it, excellent! If not, at least you’ll see steady progress, even if it’s only 15 minutes at a time. When I wrote my ebook, there were days and sometimes weeks when I didn’t touch it — life happens, you know? It was discouraging and a bit defeating. It also caused undue stress toward the end of the project when there was a deadline looming and I had to make up for lost time.
Establish a posting schedule
Some people plan their meals like this: Monday is pasta day, Tuesday is chicken day, Wednesday is slow cooker day, etc. Do the same for blogging so you know what’s coming and you’re not scrambling to come up with something—anything—at any given time. Assign a category to each day like Monday I’ll write about productivity, Tuesday about writing, Wednesday will be for Q&A etc.
The more you post, the easier it will be to write and the more traffic you’ll get.
Set a timer
If you have trouble writing, set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes and commit to write whatever you can until the timer goes off. Sometimes having a finite amount of time makes the prospect of writing less overwhelming. And more often than not, once you get started, you can continue long after the timer goes off. That always happens to me.
Live your real life
If you’re not living your life but sitting in front of your computer all the time, you run out of things to write about. Nothing will give you more fodder for posts than stuff that happens to you for real.
Write in batches
If you set aside an extended period of time to write and make a goal, say, to complete 5 posts at once, sometimes you can get into the zone and the ideas flow a lot more easily. I keep trying to do this but admittedly, I’ve had a hard time making it a habit. When I do it though, the pressure to get a post out today is gone, and therefore I’m less inclined to freak out and freeze up.
Don’t start writing from the beginning
Instead of trying to come up with a brilliant opening paragraph, start in the middle or the end instead. Somehow it’s not so overwhelming that way. I can trick myself into this sometimes. Like, I’m not really writing, just putting some thoughts down on the page for when I really start writing.
Keep a note-taking journal or app handy at all times
Choose one place you will keep a running list of possible blog posts. This might be your phone or a simple paper and pencil notebook, but use it all the time. I’m still trying to get this right. I am a notebook and calendar/planner junkie. Not to mention the fancy ways to keep notes online like Evernote (referral link). Having one central location for ideas, though, is very helpful and time-saving.
Write with your non-dominant hand
So, I was in therapy for a couple of years in my twenties. About that time, I heard this suggestion and frankly, I thought it was a bit cooky. Someone suggested I write in my journal with my left hand (I’m right-handed). The reason? It makes you write differently. I don’t know if it was just because it was more cumbersome to write mechanically, but I found that I didn’t beat around the bush as much. I got to my real thoughts and feelings quicker. It also eliminated some of the “I’ve got it all together” walls because, well, when I looked at the page, I reminded myself of a 5 year old. Then again, maybe its effectiveness was all in my head. In any case, I don’t think this would work for all bloggers, but I throw it out there as a suggestion anyway.
Quit while you’re ahead
If you’ve been writing a while and feel your brain slipping, just stop. There’s no use trying to push through another page or another paragraph if you have to go over it a million times to get it right or it takes you an inordinate amount of time to get through it at all. Take a break.
If you’re really stuck on ideas, have a good old fashioned brainstorming session. Grab a piece of paper and write down whatever comes to mind. Don’t self-censor, just write. A lot of what you write will have nothing to do with your topic, but you just might find some hidden writing gems among the irrelevant.
Mind mapping is, I suppose, a form of brainstorming, but for me, it’s slightly more organized. It can be easier than writing an outline because the format makes it easy to squeeze in a few more points into the ones you’ve already written. There are computerized mind mapping tools, but I prefer pencil and paper. If you don’t know what mind mapping is, here’s a video.
Use online tools for the basics
There are countless writing tools, but some of the ones I use are the character count tool, the word count tool (although WordPress keeps track of this and displays your word count in the bottom left of your content box as you type) and the Alphabetizer. Check the definitions of words quickly by simply typing define:yourword into Google.
Change your blogging schedule
No one says you have to blog every day. Or every other day. Or every week even. Do what works for you. You’ll relieve that stressful feeling of always having to come up with something worthwhile and your readers will appreciate getting only your best content.
Write at your peak times
I am almost a complete zombie between the hours of 1pm and 5pm. My brain just does not function. Writing is always a struggle for me, but during these hours, it’s worthless. When my kids were still napping (why can’t they nap until they’re 13?), this was a bummer because that was basically the only time I had some peace and quiet. However, I quickly realized I could adjust my schedule to fix the problem. I’d much rather get up at 4:30am for the peace and quiet than try to come up with something coherent during those afternoon hours. Frankly, I’d rather take a nap then myself.
Write when you’re tired
Now this is a bit different than what I just said. There’s tired, as in, a zombie-like state and there’s tired, as in, relaxation mode. This point is about the latter. You see, I tend toward perfectionism. I’m doing my best to overcome it, but still, it gets the best of me sometimes. But I’ve noticed a funny thing. Some of my best ideas happen on Friday nights. I’ve realized this is true because on Friday nights I’m exhausted from my week and my perfectionist tendencies are exhausted as well. When it comes to my writing, I’m a lot more courageous on Friday nights.
I hate to exercise. Hate it. In fact, one of my top ten reasons for wanting to go to heaven is to be in a place where I won’t have to exercise to stay healthy. You have no idea how much I look forward to my new won’t-get-run-down body. But I digress. As much as I hate to admit it, exercise gets the brain’s juices flowing. It’s good for unblocking blocked thoughts.
Pretend you’re emailing a friend
Put their picture in front of you and write as though you’re writing them a note or an email. For some reason, I can write an email much easier than I can write a blog post. Personally, I find it a bit looney, but seriously, sometimes I write my blog posts in Gmail instead of my post editor in WordPress because somehow it feels a lot less intimidating.
Create a persona
In order to keep your writing clear and focused, imagine a person in your head that is your ideal reader. Conjure up an image of them and their life’s story. What color is their hair? Their eyes? What’s their name? How many kids to they have? Are they married, single, divorced, widowed? Give them a name. Now, every time you sit down to write, ask yourself if they would appreciate what you’re writing. You might even draw a picture and stick ’em on the wall above your computer.
It’s important to write with excellence, that’s true, but if anxiety about making it “just so” keeps you from posting at all, no one wins. This is what I tell myself: If I do _______ and it completely fails, no one will die. Many ideas of mine have been flops, and no one has died yet.
Don’t over think it
This is a blog post, not a PhD dissertation. This post you’re writing is going to be pushed off your home page before you know it, so don’t stress about it. No single blog post is likely to singlehandedly make or break your blog. Sometimes we have to just write something and be OK with good enough.
Write an ebook instead
If you do find yourself writing a dissertation because you have that much to say, why not turn it into an ebook?
Make yourself comfortable
I wrote much of my ebook sitting on the floor in my closet, hunched over my laptop. That was mostly because I was desperate for a quiet place. Let me tell you, it wasn’t ideal. It was hard on the backside and the back, and the fluorescent lighting was depressing. Find a spot that has natural light and doesn’t make you sore hours afterward.
Step away from the computer
Many times, the more I sit and stare, the more blank I become. Sometimes the very best thing you can do is to not do anything at all.
Change your scenery
I’m a homebody and am content to spend the majority of my time in my house. But it’s easy to get into a rut this way. If I go to the coffee shop, the library or somewhere else, it seems to shake me out of my rut and the ideas flow again. If you’re used to quiet, find some place noisy. If you’re used to noisy, find some place quiet. If you’re used to being alone, find a crowded place. If you’re used to being among people, find a place where you can be alone. Mix things up bit.
Listen to the right music
Sometimes I go to the library, find an out-of-the-way spot in the corner, turn up my upbeat classical music (with headphones of course) and go to town. I can crank out a fair amount of work this way. The music blocks out any noise and the fast pace of the music (often angry, I admit) keeps me alert. Choose music that keeps you going and doesn’t distract you, like, I cannot write when there’s words in my music because then I start singing. And that’s not helpful for anyone.
Forget all the fancy gadgets and go old school
What about writing the old fashioned way, with pen and paper? Heaven knows there are a million and one things vying for your attention on the computer. Plus, maybe the act of writing with a writing instrument will help you more fully engage. I just drafted a presentation on paper this morning. Sometimes it just works better that way.
Turn off and log out of everything but your text editor
I can write a lot faster when I type, paper and pen are not the most efficient way for me to write in large doses. On the other hand, my tendency to procrastinate and find anything to do other than write is huge, so I turned it all off. It was just me and my text editor. Email, Facebook, Twitter, blog comments, phone, texts—turn it all off.
Find time for inspiration
Block out time in your schedule for inspiration-gathering. People watch (at the airport, large gatherings, the mall, events, conferences, etc.), read other blogs, other social media platforms, books, magazines, TV, etc. All kinds of things can spark new ideas.
Really. God is full of excellent ideas and I think He loves passing them on.
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