5 Techniques for Fighting Writer’s Block

Writer’s block is a deadly malaise that can shut down even the best-laid content marketing plans. It happens because writers aren’t machines (even machines need a rest once in awhile). Since content is king across SEO and social media, as well as in traditional publishing and print newsletters, a steady stream of relevant, interesting, and engaging content is often expected from the writers on a marketing team of agency. Anyone with a deadline for journalistic or other forms of writing has likely experienced writer’s block.

The problem can be especially serious for writers working for trade publications or specialized industry e-zines, where their command of a particular subject matter confines them to a granular content beat (like it or not, there’s only so much one can say write about programmatic media buying, quality score, or multi-channel attribution without repeating oneself ad nauseam).

The result is an increasingly erratic flow of tired, listless content that’s agonizing to read (if it’s even read at all).

Short of rest (hard to come by in today’s relentless, 24/7 content-driven economy), I’ve found the following techniques to be effective in warding off writers’ block and content marketing burnout:

1. Historical Analogies (Everything That’s Old Is New Again)

Americans don’t have much of an interest in history (we like to think of ourselves as the land of the new and exceptional, not the old and predictable), but that doesn’t mean that you can’t use historical analogies to make your point. For example, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has been referred to as “The Boy King.” Here, the writer is making a connection between today’s way new world and that of Ancient Egypt, circa 3,000 B.C. What problems did young kings face in the past? What brought them to power? What character flaws or exogenous historical forces brought them down? Historical analogies can open up a trove of useful parallels that can kick-start creativity.

2. Contrarian Positions (Whatever It Is, I’m Against It)

If everybody agrees that, say the death of Google Authorship is a terrible thing, don’t simply add your voice to the chorus. Was Joan Rivers the greatest comedienne of the 20th century? Maybe not. Taking contrarian positions shows your audience that you don’t automatically buy into groupthink (and neither should they). It also gives you the opportunity to skewer your opponents’ position (Jonathan Swift’s 1729 essay, A Modest Proposal, is perhaps the best example of literature using this technique).

3. Personal Anecdotes

True story: this morning – as I pondered writing this column – I paused at a busy New York crosswalk next to a young man who balanced a baby on his left arm while texting on his iPhone with his right. As his texting grew more intense, the baby became more unbalanced, slowly slipping from the guy’s arm until the kid was almost upside down. A half-second before the baby was going to fall to the pavement, the young man jerked the youngster back into position. Then he returned to his texting and crossed the street, without ever taking his eyes of the iPhone’s screen.

Whatever point you’re trying to make, a personal anecdote can drive it home because it bears the stamp of personal witnessing. Even if people don’t agree with your point, nobody can deny that you had the experience you had.

4. If People Were Like Things (or If Things Were Like People)

What kind of person would Google be if he/she was a person? Would you want to have a beer with him/her? If Facebook ran an airline, what kind of treatment could you expect in economy class? These kinds of odd comparisons can surface parallels that get the creative juices simmering. (By the way, I think Google would be a nice, very intelligent person, but no, I don’t think I’ll be flying Facebook Air anytime soon).

5. News Hooks

News hooks are great, both for their inherent currency and SEO value, but you’ll have to be quick on the draw to exploit them (there’s an entire content sub-industry specializing in “news-jacking;” The Huffington Post does this exceptionally well). You can get ahead of the curve if you time your content to events that you know will happen. For example, this month the FTC is running a panel on September entitled “Big Data: A Tool For Inclusion or Exclusion?” This is a huge issue and there will be a ton of press and commentary leading up to and following this panel’s deliberations. If you can get a high-quality article prepared in advance, you can lead the pack instead of following it.

Image via Shutterstock.

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