We’ve all been there. You have a head full of ideas, blood full of caffeine and a diary free of meetings. But somehow nothing is appearing on the page.
Somewhere along the line, the often overwhelming and muddled ideas in your head just aren’t transferring to the word processor.
How on earth do you get started?
As counter-intuitive as this might sound, personally, the best way I’ve found to get into the flow is just to stop thinking altogether.
No note writing, no structure formulating – nothing.
IT’S CALLED FREE WRITING
You might have heard of the term 'free writing.' Often used as a task set by psychoanalysts, writing teachers and even playwrights. It’s a way of removing all of the constraints of writing, allowing you to write…you’ve guessed it – freely.
Structuring your writing with headings and notes can often pigeonhole you into a corner. You end up actively planning yourself into inactivity.
How many times have you been so restricted by a section header and so reluctant to change it that you end up getting stuck? It’s the equivalent of trying to shove three tonnes of sand down a drinking straw. There’s just too much in your head to fit the funnel that you’ve created.
The key phrase here being “that you’ve created.”
What’s important to note is that the process of free writing works when you already have plenty of ideas, but also when there’s nothing there to get started with.
Structuring a piece of written content works for some people but is only effective when you don’t have a lot of ideas to play with in the first place.
SOMETIMES, GOOGLE ISN’T YOUR FRIEND
Obviously, you need to know what you’re talking about before you write it. You won’t appear to have any credibility if your article is full of inaccuracies and misunderstandings.
However, the research must be treated completely separately from the writing. This should be seen as an entirely different project altogether.
Do the research, understand your topic, give it some time and then get writing.
You can always go back and add sources and anecdotes to your points at the end, but try not to research as you go. That’s one of the beauties of a computer. You can just edit later.
How many times have you been trying to express a point in an article, done a quick Google search to help and found something that completely contradicts your point? It’s all too easy to believe everything on the Internet as fact.
Finding these contradictions can easily throw you off course. Is everything I’ve written incorrect? Do I have to change everything I’ve written so far?
All of a sudden, an hour has passed and all you’ve done is confuse yourself further. If you already know your topic and are confident with your understanding and opinions, this really shouldn’t become a problem.
MY 6.5 STEP PROCESS
- Understand the topic. Conduct your research way before you even think about writing. Explore everything, organise your thoughts and find opportunities. Now leave it for a few days.
- Start writing. Don’t think about it too much. Just get writing. At this point, no one cares if that was the most effective sentence structure or which order these two paragraphs should sit. No one is going to read it other than you.
- Take a break. If you get stuck, don’t sit there and think about what to say. Just go and do something else. This could be as little as making a coffee or as large as going on holiday. Just get away from the article until you’re thinking clearly and ready to get stuck in.
- Add headings. Don’t write to fit the structure. Structure to fit the writing. Headings that you’ve added after writing the content end are far more contextual because you already know what you’re trying to communicate!
- Structure content around your headings. Now you have your headings in place, you can begin to restructure your content around them to create a clear and concise piece of writing.
- Include specific references. Finally, it’s time to head to Google to add a bit more meat to the bones. With all of your content already written and arranged, you will be able to find very specific references that fit perfectly within the context of your own writing. Remember, you include references to support your own piece of written content – not the other way around.
- Editing, proofing etc. This part of the process is less about the writing, so I’ve decided to lump it all into one section. By this point, you have already done your own editing. It’s time to pass it to someone else to add more clarity to your thoughts and tidy it up for the world to see.
What’s interesting to note is that I used this exact 6.5 step process to complete this article. I thought of an initial topic, created a very rough working title and just started writing.
It was also written across 3 separate days, with a weekend and a lot of other work in the middle of it!
Fortunately, I already knew enough about writing to make a good start before doing any initial research, although you could argue that my experience IS my initial research.
If you would like to learn more about improving your content writing why not discuss this at the next Marketing Leaders Lunch.