Blog Writing and Writer’s Block
John: Hey I’m John Maher, and this is Digital Marketing Madness. This podcast is brought to you by McDougall Interactive. We’re a digital marketing agency in Danvers Massachusetts, and today my guest is Ben Canner. We’ll be discussing blog writing and writer’s block. Welcome, Ben.
Ben: Thank you for having me on the show John.
John: Absolutely, so Ben how long have you been writing?
Ben: I suppose since I was about nine years old, but professionally writing since I was off college, so about three years now.
John: Okay and we’re talking a little bit about writer’s block, so why do you think that writer’s block is one of the biggest obstacles to writing successfully?
Ben: It’s not so much that it’s writer’s block. Everybody gets writers block from even the most senior professional blog writers. Even Neal Patel I presume, I don’t know precisely that but everybody, every creative person gets writer’s block in some capacity or another. That’s not what the problem is; the problem is when you let that get to you, when you let that discourage you.
I see a lot of writers, especially when I was teaching them in school because I was working as a writing tutor, I’ve seen a lot of writers who have great skills just stop writing because, “Oh, I can’t get over the writer’s block, this must not be for me.” That’s how blogs stagnate. That’s how great creative people go by the wayside.
John: Right, so you just let it get to you like you said, you start to have a problem. You can’t think of what to write about, or maybe you’re in the middle of a post, and you’re like “I don’t know what else to say.” You just let it get to you, and you say, “Forget it, I’m not going to do this.” Then the likelihood that you’re going to come back to that later and try again after you’ve already quit.
Ben: Nil, absolutely nil. I would say that it’s statically likely as successfully dieting. It’s close to zero.
John: What are the best solutions to writers block then?
Ben: Well for bloggers, speaking specifically for bloggers, I think of two particular solutions, two methods really and they’re after two of my favorite writers. There is the Vonnegut Method by Kurt Vonnegut; by his own admission, his writing process was more of a writing demolition session. He would, as he said, he would bash his head against the wall until he got to page two, and then he would bash again until he got to page three.
Sometimes writing is work and a lot of times writing is work, but you just got to keep writing even if it sounds bad to you, it’s best to just keep going even no matter how bad you think it is.
John: So just force yourself to do it?
Ben: Right, you have to get to the business of writing, especially for blogging.
John: Then what’s the advantage of that? Say you go ahead you bash your head against the wall, and you just keep writing, and then you look it over afterwards, and you go, “You know what? This is a little bit of a mess.” Does that then give you the opportunity to go back and you can fix it and make some changes, but you’ve already done the bulk of the writing? Is that the idea?
Ben: Exactly. Everybody’s first draft is terrible no matter how good you are. Everybody’s first draft is garbage generally, unless you are the greatest writer who’s ever lived. Even then their first draft is always a mess, but that’s why you go back. It’s a process. You go back, you edit; you find out what works and what doesn’t work, and you fix those parts that don’t work to make those parts that do work better. As long as you can get words on that page, you’ve made progress. You’ve taken that first step, and that will help get through the rest of the process so much easier.
John: Okay, all right, so that’s the Vonnegut Method. What’s the other method?
Ben: The other method is a little bit more of a– I believe Vonnegut called the swooping method, but I like to call it the Pratchett Method, by Terry Pratchett because I’m a huge fan of his. He would stare at his computer screen for I would say 20 minutes, and then he would research. He would look after the subject of anything that [was] even tangentially related to what he was supposed to be writing about. He would study and study and study for hours until he finally felt ready to start writing, and then he would just write.
He found that doing all the research ahead of time about whatever subject he was doing, even if it was stuff he already knew, helped unlock those creative energies for him. I think that’s really important especially when you’re blogging about subjects you don’t necessarily know much about. I have recently had to do a lot of blogging about subjects I don’t know about especially for the legal world, but by researching them I found that I do have something to say, actually, and that’s made the process so much easier for me.
John: Right, what about the time involved in doing that? I see people thinking “But I don’t have time to do a day’s worth of research just to write a blog post, I have my job to do, I have to do other things.” How would you go about that if you don’t have hours to put into research?
Ben: I would say then try to break up your research into manageable chunks. If you have a full-time job, and blogging isn’t your full-time job, I would set aside maybe part of your lunch hour just on your phone [to] do a little research. Or during a coffee break do a little research. Or when you get home first thing you do, open up your computer, do a little bit of research, do a little bit of reading and then sit down to write. And it’s always good to schedule that kind of a time out anyway for writing whether you are blogging or writing or any other capacity, just setting out a schedule time or for whatever time that works for you. Some people it’s in the mornings, for me personally it’s in the evening. But to have that kind of commitment and to keep to it, keep to a schedule makes the process so much easier as well because it makes it so much harder for you to blow it off and let your blog stagnate or anything like that.
John: Right. So if you are only– say you are only writing one blog post a week for your company, then you can spend four days spending a little bit of time doing some research and then on the fifth day sit down and do the writing.
John: That might be a good way to approach it.
John: But do you have any other bits of advice?
Ben: I would say trust your own voice. It’s easy to compare yourself to other, more successful people. I just mentioned two very successful people in this podcast, but your own voice has value, and I think that’s something you have to embrace when you are blogging even when it’s blogging necessarily for other people. They want to hear your voice in particular. Still, be professional, but it doesn’t mean you can’t– have to censor yourself too much. Well, censor is the wrong word, but it doesn’t mean you have to constrain yourself too much. Explain the world as you understand it and I think that adds a lot of value to it.
John: Right. Yes that’s interesting, and I think that blogs are a good place to do that as well if you are writing blog posts for, say your company. I feel like a blog is a place where you can have a little bit more of a personal voice than say like one of your service pages or one of your product pages on your website. That has to be more informational whereas it has to be written in the voice of the company.
Ben: Yes, there is a standard.
John: So the standard for the company but whereas on the blog people can express themselves a little bit more. So like you said, that’s your opportunity to show a little bit of your voice as an individual author.
Ben: Yes, and your personality as well. That’s just as valuable as the information in a lot of ways. It turns yourself into a force, into an authority to be recognized.
John: All right well that’s great information, Ben great to speak with you today.
Ben: Thank you very much for having me, John.
John: And for more information about digital marketing visit mcdougallinteractive.com and subscribe to this podcast on iTunes. Thanks for listening. I’m John Maher. See you next time on Digital Marketing Madness.