Have you ever sat down to write content for your business, only to…
Get stuck halfway through?
You’re not alone. Writing can be tough, but it’s essential if you want to attract customers and clients.
If you want to know that the next time you write you’ve got tools to stay in the zone until you’re finished, these tips are for you:
One: embrace overwhelm (and give it a swift kick)
Writing is a creative project. It’s not like washing dishes, or doing laundry where there is a set pattern and outcome.
Which is probably why dishes and laundry are common go-to chores when people want to put something off — there is comfort in knowing exactly what you need to do and what will happen.
When you sit down to write, there is a space between the idea in your head and the finished piece. And this space is a magnet for overwhelm:
You might choose a topic for a piece of content and find that it’s spiraling out of control in your mind, getting bigger and more complex until that laundry starts looking very attractive.
How to kick topic overwhelm
If you feel like this:
- Think about choosing a topic for beginners instead — those topics are often easier-to-write, in demand by prospects, and overlooked by competitors
- Have a place to capture future ideas (also known as sticky thoughts — see further down). You can always come back to this list and see if your ideas will fit into the content you’re writing, or if they deserve a post of their own
- Make sure you can sum up in one sentence what your content is going to be about. If you can’t do this, you might be trying to cover too many things in one piece of content.
I love working on content projects with large businesses, but I also get frustrated with how slow they move when creating (or more accurately, approving) content.
Pieces are passed from committee to committee, from manager to manager, and focus group to focus group, looking for the comfort of mass approval and ‘perfection.’ If you’re a small business, you can move much faster when creating content.
However that doesn’t mean you’re immune to perfection overwhelm. This can be a real productivity killer if you’re constantly tweaking content until it’s ‘just right.’
How to kick perfection overwhelm
There are two main ways you’re going to solve this affliction:
- Go for ‘good enough’
- Set a firm deadline
‘Good enough’ isn’t average, it’s good enough for what you need your content to do.
Yes you want to be professional, but don’t forget that if you’re publishing online you can usually change content after it’s live. Nothing has to be set in stone.
A deadline forces you to focus on completion rather than perfection. Some posts will be fantastic, others will be less so, but the skills you’ll get from those productive writing hours will be invaluable.
Two: Distract your mind with checklists
You sit down to write a piece of content.
Your to-do list lies next to you: “write blog post.”
A couple of hours go by. You’ve written a good structure but you’ve still a long way to go.
Glancing over at your to-do list, “write blog post” is still there, taunting you. Despite your effort, you still have not completed your task.
If you only have one thing to tick off, your brain thinks “not there yet, not there yet” like a bored child on a long car journey. And just like the parent of the child, it can make you feel irritable and frustrated.
On a car journey, you might play games and distract the child’s attention to the journey, rather than focusing only on the destination.
You need to do the same, and a checklist is the perfect game to play.
Breaking down all the little steps that go into writing a piece of content does two things to improve your productivity:
- It shows you’re making progress, boosting your confidence
- You can use the same checklist as a system for future writing, making it easier next time
What might you include on your checklist for a blog post for example?
- Choose a topic
- Highlight 4-5 points to make
- Create a placeholder title
- Draft sections
- Polish subheadings
- Create headline
- Choose an image
- Final polish, proof, and publish
Once you’ve conquered any overwhelm and have a checklist to follow, it’s time to write. And this next step is an important one.
Three: Fall in love with the chaos of a first draft
Don’t worry if your first draft is nothing more than a rambling expansion of your thoughts on the subject you’ve chosen.
Don’t self-edit, don’t look at the squiggly red lines that tell you there’s a typo, just keep going and know that:
- Your draft will not be as bad as you think it is
- At this stage, momentum is better than high-quality
This isn’t the stage where you should even be thinking about writing a great sentence, it’s really just a place to develop your thoughts and put them in order.
It’s a bit like spring cleaning — there’s always that point where you’re knee deep in junk thinking: “this looks worse than when I started!”
What we’re aiming for at this stage is not brilliance, but completion.
Because you know what happens then? You get to check it off!
Four: Use a notepad to capture “sticky thoughts”
Often when writing you can be distracted or knocked off course by thoughts that spring into your head, for example:
- Do I need to explain that term I’ve used?
- Should that subhead address the reader directly?
- I must remember to link to that resource I mentioned
If you think about them too long, they can clog up your momentum and get you stuck, so have a notepad nearby to capture these ‘sticky thoughts.’
Here’s how it works:
If a thought pops into your mind that doesn’t directly relate to the next sentence you’re writing:
- Jot it down quickly on a separate notepad
- Forget about it
Ideally you want the notepad just out of sight so you’re not tempted to glance over to it and start thinking about these thoughts instead of writing your content. Come back to your list once you’ve completed your draft. See what you need to include and what you can deal with another time.
Five: Take a break to avoid Writer’s Eye
No matter how productive you’re feeling, take a break between writing and editing, otherwise you get writer’s eye.
Writer’s eye is a very serious condition which I’ve just made up. It means that when you work on the same piece of writing for too long, strange things happen:
- Everything takes twice as long
- You make errors
- You miss things
Even Stephen King advocates letting drafts settle before you come back to work on them again, and he’s not a bad writer. 😉
How long you wait is up to you. I like to leave my drafts overnight because:
- I have more energy
- My subconscious seems to help me out with new ideas overnight
So after your break, when you edit your draft, what are you looking to do?
- Tidy up those sentences so that they make sense
- Make sure your content flows logically
- Make sure you’re making one point per paragraph
- Make sure it’s formatted and spaced out so it’s easy to read
- Make sure sentences aren’t too long
- Create eye-catching subheadings
- Develop a strong headline
- Choose a suitable image
Feel free to copy that list of things to add to your checklist and yep, check them off when they’re done!
Where to next?
Your content is part of a long-term conversation with your customer, so always give them somewhere to go next.
If you’re writing a blog post you might want to link to your newsletter or related articles, or a relevant product.
The more you practice writing pieces through to completion, the faster you’ll get, the more productive you’ll be, and you’ll have a wealth of great marketing pieces working hard to attract people to your business.
Perfect for anyone who wants to have a Big Brand!