Words, words, words.*
Whether you’re writing for social media or email, words matter. How you stitch them together, whether you choose a highfalutin adjective or a simple one, or how you explain the next step you want the reader to take. All these decisions you make for a given piece of writing can lead to an overwhelming paralysis, especially if writing isn’t your favorite part of your job. This paralysis is better known as writer’s block.
Marketing deadlines can be frequent and unforgiving. In my 16+ years of marketing writing, I’ve hit that block more than a handful of times, often when facing a tight deadline. What do you do when you’re feeling stuck? Here’s what I do:
#1 – Chip away.
By far, the number one reason I find myself stuck is a lack of definition around my project. Even when I am 100% certain I have everything I need to write, if I find myself spinning my wheels, invariably it’s because something is unclear.
Do you know who your audience is? Do you need it to be narrower? Do you need context (how the piece will be used–is the email or blog post part of a campaign or a one-off?) Do you have a new boss and are unclear as to his/her goals? Do you need to know what will happen to the reader/prospect after taking action on your piece (will they get a sales call, or fall into a nurture campaign?) Do you need to have a talk with the designer about how graphics and layout will work?
If you are stuck, sit back and write a list of questions, even “stupid” ones. Often you’ll find that all you need are answers–ones that you yourself may have the answer to, but you need to be conscious of them before diving in.
#2 – Do it wrong.
OK, so you’ve got all the answers to your questions. Still stuck? Try ignoring your audience. Write a draft for the wrong audience. If your actual target is female consumers age 25 – 44, write for male consumers age 45 – 60. Or if your target is teenagers, write for CEOs. What will happen is that you know that this won’t get used, so you will be free to write. And anything that’s written can be edited. It will also help you think about your product/service in a fresh way, which will give your writing some spark. You can then return to revise it with your actual audience in mind.
#3 – The sincerest form of flattery.
Now this is one I don’t use often, but it’s really helped me break out of a couple of deep ruts. Here’s the deal: go find an example of the type of piece you need to create and use it as a template.
For example, if you’re writing a piece of email marketing, grab a marketing email out of your spam inbox (not a tasteless one, but one that’s from a legit company!). Then copy the structure of the email, using words applicable to your product. If it says, “Summer’s here and everyone is wearing shorts!” and your product is IT hardware, you’d write something like, “Budget season is here and your peers are upgrading servers!” Or “Competition is everywhere and you are desperate for a more robust server!” (Or whatever. You can create your own rules–and break them–when you’re banging your head against a deadline.)
#4 – Step away from the computer.
Or, at the very least, get away from your tool of choice. That means, if you draft your work in Word, start your draft in Notepad. Or open up a blank email and start a draft in that. If you draft email copy directly in a template in Eloqua, switch to Word and play around with your copy in there. If you’re drafting a tweet, don’t write it in Twitter. Go wild and write a list of ideas using a pen and paper. Using your usual tool tells your brain that this is important, and you may be blocked from the commitment of it. Using a different tool gives you permission to play around with the words without them needing to be perfect. (They don’t need to be perfect: that’s what editing is for.)
Then, once you break the seal on writing, the rest will come. Even the crappiest first draft can be polished up into a sparkling content gem. But these are just a few ways to get started. Feel free to share in the comments: when you feel stuck, what do you do to smash writer’s block?
*That’s your Hamlet reference for the day.