You’ve heard the “writer’s block” story hundreds of times. Maybe you’ve even experienced it yourself. It usually goes something like this:
- Writer sits at desk to create amazing masterpiece.
- Nothing happens.
- Writer stares at a the wintery wasteland of a blank, white piece of paper/screen.
- Nothing happens.
- Agony/weeping/gnashing of teeth.
- Nothing happens.
There are few things more miserable for a writer than not knowing what words to put on a page, especially when there’s a deadline looming.
Yet despite its infamous reputation, “writer’s block” isn’t some wordsmith’s disorder that strikes without reason. In fact, it’s not what’s “causes” the block at all. It’s a symptom that appears when you haven’t done your pre-writing homework.
Writer’s block: fiction vs. reality
There’s a common misconception that writers just go into their lonely writer’s garrets, sit down, and start plopping words onto the page. This can work if you’re a fantasy novelist who practices “discovery writing,” but it’s a different story when it comes to marketing copy.
Writer’s block, then, is a sign that your brain needs you to do one or more of the following things before you hit the keyboard:
Listen to the client
What does your client want to communicate? If you’re working with someone who already has some marketing savvy, you’ll probably get a creative brief with background on the topic and some strategy guidelines. If not, you may need to ask the client for more details. Try to think like a member of the target audience when the client is filling you in. This will help you spot information the client may not have thought to provide because of their intimate familiarity with what they sell.
Identify the desired action
Every piece of marketing copy should focus on encouraging the reader to take one specific action. Download content. Request a consultation. Attend an event. Make a purchase. Make sure you know what it is before you write a single word.
Writer’s block sometimes strikes when you don’t know a key piece of information. For example, if you’re dealing with a very specialized or technical subject that you’re new to, you might need to learn about it before you can write about it. You’ll also want to learn as much as you can about the people you’re writing for. Who are your client’s buyers? What do they want and need? How do they talk? Do they think like your client, or do they have different motivations? The more you know about them, the more effectively you’ll be able to communicate your client’s message and encourage the action they want.
Another common cause of writer’s block is being overwhelmed with information. When this happens, your job is to get organized. First, figure out what you don’t need. Compare your material to the goals of the project, and set anything that isn’t relevant. Next, organize the remaining information in a logical order for the reader’s action journey. Stuff that attracts and excites their interest needs to appear first. Everything else should build on that, with each additional point of information guiding them one step closer to the desired action.
Low-tech solutions often work best here. I frequently tackle complicated projects by making 3×5 cards with summaries of all the key copy points. I spread them out on the table, move them around to find the most compelling flow of information, then gather them up into a stack and use them as my guide for the finished piece.
Still not sure where to begin? Try mapping things out in outline form. Once it makes sense there, you’ll literally have a roadmap that tells you exactly what to write. All you’ll need to do is add a little polish and detail.
If you’ve done the 3×5 card exercise described above, you’ve essentially built your outline already. Just pick up the stack and start at the top.