Beat Writer's Block - BFO

For a subject matter expert, SME, who is a reluctant writer, few words induce more terror than these: “We need your blog post by tomorrow.” Even though many of us love our work and relish the opportunity to talk about it, we don’t always feel great joy in writing about it.

Much has already been written to help SMEs find topics for blog posts, so I am going to presume that the SME has a viable topic but still is facing a looming deadline and a blank page. I am going to further assume the SME has the expertise to write the post without a great deal of additional research and that writer’s block is the primary problem. An SME is an SME so knowledge of the topic is not usually the source of the writer’s block.

I have empathy for those who suffer from writer’s block. For most of my life, I was that person. I wrote a lot of papers the night before they were due. Only the threat of the deadline and the fear of failure could make me write. I still sometimes have days when the words won’t come, but I have learned some techniques to get started and to get past the blank page.

Get Clarity and Purpose

The first step that a reluctant writer with a blog post to write should take is to write one-sentence answers to these four questions:

  1. What is the purpose of my post?
  2. Who is the audience for my post?
  3. Why is this topic important to them?
  4. What do I want the readers to think or do after reading the post?

Writing out these answers keeps the focus on the goal of the piece. For example, for this post, these were my answers:

  1. To help SMEs and managers of content writing teams composed of SMEs to beat writer’s block.
  2. SMEs facing deadlines and having difficulty writing and content team managers seeking to help their SMEs beat writer’s block.
  3. Writer’s block is painful and prevents some SMEs from writing content as quickly or as well as they would like. If the block prevents the content from being written, it disrupts the businesses content plan and delays the benefits the post would have produced for the business.
  4. I hope some SMEs try the techniques and share them with other writers facing the problem.

Create a Mind Map

Before writing a draft, I recommend making a mind map. Although it sounds complicated, a mind map is simple. Write a two or three-word question you are writing about in the center of a circle. As you think about the topic, your mind will cluster ideas. Draw a line from the main topic and write a phrase for each cluster. Fill in details in each of the clusters with phrases for the ideas and examples you intend to use. Group other details under the cluster they belong to. Write only a few words, just enough for you to remember the point. For a blog post on the benefits of geofencing, a mind map might look like this:

Publication Coach Daphne Gray Grant taught me this technique. It often works better than outlining because the early part of drafting a piece of writing is not linear. Mind maps let you cluster ideas but still see relationships. If you would like to try mind mapping, Daphne has written an excellent post about how to create a mindmap.

If you are more comfortable using an outline or a list, you can still do so. However, if you have used one of these other methods and are still stuck, why not experiment by doing a mind map? It may turn out to be a better way to get you loosened up to write.

Write Awesomeness

Let’s suppose that you have mind mapped or outlined and you are still stuck. You still can’t get the words to flow. The clock is ticking and you don’t want to disappoint. Peter Nevland, a writing teacher who teaches a course called “How to Write Awesomeness and Get Away with It,” offers this tip to get beyond writer’s block.

Pick two random nouns and a seemingly unconnected verb and challenge yourself to write an introduction that weaves in these seemingly random words. He advises not to think too much or to edit what you write, but to just start by trying to write a bridge to your topic that includes these words. He says to keep writing for five minutes. I have used this technique several times to get past writer’s block. I have had to edit out some of the randomness, but, by the time I do, I am no longer looking at a blank page.

Grab a Random Sentence

Another technique that I sometimes use to start a blog post is to grab a random sentence from a novel. Open a book and pick a sentence and use it as a starting place. Imagine I were writing about geofencing and wanted to share how some BFO clients with brick and mortar stores have used it successfully.

“Is it a boy or a girl,” she asked delicately. (p. 28, The Great Gatsby). The question was not unexpected, after all, I had taken my infant daughter out in an outfit that was neither pink nor blue. What I had not expected was to get a coupon on my smartphone from Babies R Us when I got within a block of their store….

It works less well with non-fiction books, but the technique still can work. Imagine again that we are writing about geofencing. “There is no worse mistake in public leadership than to hold out false hopes soon to be swept away.” (p. 65, Good to Great). So said, Winston Churchill, as he contemplated the disappointment that big broken promises produce. Not all disappointments are world-shattering, but even small ones can affect how well a retail business performs. The tiny disappointment of expired coupons can be avoided by merchants who use geofencing….

Not every introduction you write using this technique will be good enough to survive revision, but the technique will get words on to the page. Like the other techniques, it gives you a starting point and challenges you to connect to the topic, a skill our brains are surprisingly good at.

Get clarity on the post’s purpose, make a mind map, use unrelated words, or borrow a starting sentence. Whether your blog post is due tomorrow or next week, I hope these 4 tactics will help you and your team kick writer’s block to the curb for good.

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