Writing when you don't wanna write: it's a bit of an obsession with me.
When I was growing up, I always envied the stories I heard about people like Ursula LeGuin, who submitted her first story for publication at age 11, or Isaac Asimov, who famously wrote so many books that even superfans have lost count. I always thought that if you weren't prolific, you shouldn't bother. Maybe you've heard something along those lines, too.
But for many writers, that product doesn’t come so easily.
About eight years ago, I worked as a fact-checker for Gourmet magazine. At the time, the copy chief was working on a memoir. He didn't chat much, and anyway I found him intimidating, so I rarely spoke to him.
Maybe that’s why one exchange stands out in my memory. One of us was delivering a proof to the other’s desk. I asked him how he was progressing with the book. I remember him scrunching up his face in what looked like literal, physical pain.
He said something like, “Writing is a torture."
Yes! Even for writers who have book contracts with Random House, writing is a torture. What hope, then, is there for the rest of us?
If you allow this line of thought to take care over as you're writing, self-doubt will defeat you. You'll defeat yourself.
One way to combat this line of thought is to answer these questions with your writing:
- Who are you helping?
- What are you helping them do?
These questions shift the focus from you. (Are you a good writer? Who do you think you are? You don’t how to do this. etc. etc. etc.).
Now you can focus on the impact you’re making on THEM: you audience.
Your frame of mind goes from self-defeating to problem-solving: What info are they looking for? What do they need to know? How will you write to get that information to them?
Here are 3 things you need to do in order to answer the questions about who you're helping and what you're helping them do.
1. What do you know all about and can't wait to tell others about? You can break this down in a few different ways. Jeff Goins has a great exercise that I recommend for explicitly naming your topic.
2. Who is your ideal reader? If you sell a product or service, are you writing to your ideal customer? Who is that? Write down a list of his or her traits and keep it somewhere handy. Refer to it when you're wondering what you should write about. What does that person want to know that you have the answer to?
3. Connect what you know with what they want to know. Go through your e-mail, files, notes, memories to find frequently asked questions. What do clients and potential clients always end up asking you? Match those FAQs to the topics you can't shut up about.
Voila: A blog post idea.
As you're fleshing out your new idea into a blog post, you may get stuck. When you do, you can come back to this thought: “How can I write about this topic in a way that answers my ideal client's question on this topic?”