Kate Waddon Copywriting

We all need words. Let me help you find the right ones.

Writer’s block and writing blogs

Last week, I blogged about the need to have a blog and to keep blogging away at it. Insensitive of me. What about those times when you simply can’t? Writer’s block is that awful, grinding-down feeling when you have to write, but can’t. Something goes wrong between mind and hand, and you just can’t write a thing. It’s like having to write in a colleague’s communal birthday or leaving card, but worse.

Do I get writer’s block? For copywriting work, rarely. The work is pretty prescribed, so I don’t get that “eek, where do I start??” feeling very often. Blogging is a different matter. It’s like logging on to Spotify and realising that you have the whole world of music to choose from and going into a state of panicked stasis where you can’t remember a single piece of music or musician, apart from something really random like The One Show theme. If you have the kind of blog that covers a wide area, an almost agoraphobic anxiety hits you with full force, and that’s when writer’s block strikes. Even if your theme is narrower, there will probably be occasions when inspiration just isn’t happening.

Searching for my own inspiration, I Googled writer’s block. Unsurprisingly, there were lots of suggestions out there. Some were obvious and pretty sensible (Exercise! Walk around the garden! Brainstorm with a friend or colleague!). Some were so wacky that they were either apocryphal or the domain of the already rich and successful (Apparently Dan Brown wears gravity boots and hangs upside down like some crazy writing bat until he gets focus. Victor Hugo used to get his valet to hide his clothes so he couldn’t go out, which could backfire unpleasantly if he ran out of coffee…). Some just came under the header “Don’t even go there” (“Have sex”. What??).

My own suggestions are somewhat tamer (but cheaper, and don’t require a second person). Here are a few ideas to get things moving again. The prune juice of words, if you like.

Write anyway – write anything

The mere act of sitting down and banging out a few sentences can work wonders. Poor writing can be rewritten later – at least there is writing. Write any bit of a blog post that takes your fancy. I often find that a post starts with a thought or a sentence that catches my imagination, and this is rarely the opening paragraph. I write most blog posts from the middle downwards, then skip back up to the top. The first line of this post was “It’s like logging on to Spotify…” which got me going on the rest.

You don’t even have to write a blog post. Compose an email to a friend, a shopping list, a Facebook status update. At least you’re writing.

Jump around

If the sitting down approach doesn’t work, try the moving around approach. Swimming does it for me. OK, I am in the privileged position of being a freelancer and I appreciate that pounding the pool isn’t possible during the day for many. Walk, run, scamper a bit. If you’re at home, pull up a few weeds so at least you’re getting a useful by-product. Thoughts can flow freely during exercise.

There’s always coffee

Or tea. Or juice. Let’s not go down the stereotypical creative-off-their-faces-on-caffeine thing. It can be part of a comforting ritual (Stephen King always starts with a nice cuppa. I like the juxtaposition of the cosiest of drinks and the scariest of creative imaginations), or a break from the screen. I think what I’m trying to say here is don’t neglect your bodily needs. Don’t stare at your paper so hard that your eyes bulge and you break into a sweat.

Go with distraction

Read the news. Scroll through Facebook. See what’s trending. It could be a total waste of time – or an item could catch your imagination, and whoosh, off you go. As I said last week in my blog blog, try Google News for your specific subject and see what’s out there today that you can bounce off. Even Homes Under the Hammer may prove fruitful (Next week’s blog – literal songs for background music).

Come back again later

Do the mental equivalent of switching it off and on again. Give your thoughts time. Unless you have a deadline – and we’re talking about blogging here, not copy for tomorrow’s broadsheets – accept that it’s just not happening, and shelve it for another time. There may be a good reason why you have writer’s block (tiredness for example), so be nice to yourself and stop trying to force it.

Write a blog about writer’s block.

Damn. Gave myself away there…

 

 

Here are a few of the (many) articles on writer’s block that inspired this piece. The short BBC film is worth a look.

http://boostblogtraffic.com/writers-block/

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/11147203/How-to-cure-writers-block.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom/be-inspired/dealing-with-writers-block

http://www.theguardian.com/books/shortcuts/2013/may/13/dan-brown-authors-writers-block

 

Look after your blog (and it will look after you)

A blog is a commitment. It’s not just an extra page on your website that you get ready for launch date; it’s like a houseplant (I was going to say “puppy” but that metaphor rapidly gets a bit grim) that needs regular attention or it will dry up and fade away. Like a houseplant, it’s not a major commitment (“puppy” really would have been pretty bad…), and not terribly difficult to look after; however neglect can have a detrimental effect on your whole living room. Who wants to look at a dead plant?

OK, this metaphor is definitely dead now too, but you get my point. A neglected blog can drag a whole website down. Not only will returning visitors wonder whether you’re still out there (“The hotel website is still blogging about Easter offers – do you think it’s closed down?”) but essentially, the search engines won’t be picking up on lovely fresh content, which is no good for your site at all.

So, how do you keep your blog lively, especially when you already have a whole conservatory’s worth of plants to take care of (sorry, sorry)? Here are some very simple suggestions…

Get your copywriter to do it

Well, what did you expect me to say?!  But seriously, a professional writer will commit to getting a post out there for you on pre-agreed topics at regular intervals. Or, I will happily blog-sit for you if you are having a busy period/holiday/baby. This approach also gives you a lovely, polished post…

Use Google Alerts for inspiration

This also works for Facebook and Twitter posts. You can ask Google to let you know if anything newsworthy shows up about your subject. Alternatively, searching on Google News gets you a similar result. An easy way to find inspiration and keep your blog posts current.

Use it like a diary

Just write about what you’re up to. A new dish in your café, a refurbished hotel room, an exciting new product launch… It’s all stuff of interest to your users. Involve “real life” if it’s a family business.  Quick and easy, and posts do not have to be long – they can just be based around a photograph if that suits you.

Get those posts stacked up…

If you have a free day, and know you’re about to be busy, write a bunch of posts and publish them one-by-one over the next few weeks. I try to do this before school holidays (well, Christmas epic fail, but it is so worth doing if you can). How often you write a new blog post seems to be a vexed question. A quick search revealed several squillion opinions on this. Just be realistic. I aim for once a week, as I know I can fit this in.

Nurture your blog. Keep it well nourished and it will serve you well. Writing posts doesn’t have to be an onerous task – and remember (smiles charmingly and hopefully), you can always outsource it… (But I’m rubbish at looking after plants.)

Breaking news – I don’t proofread Facebook posts

“I even worry about messaging you on Facebook”, said a friend. “I imagine you going through it and checking my grammar.” Eh? When did I become a scary, proofreading fascist? Is this how everybody feels? Will I end up a Billy-no-Facebook-friends? “Well, you have set yourself up as some sort of grammar expert”, said my mum, helpfully.

Yes OK, I can be picky – and as a copywriter, I should be. However, we all need to kick back sometimes, and well, use phrases like “kick back”. Of course, I am merciless if I encounter mistakes in anything formal. Typos or dodgy apostrophes on anything to do with education are definitely worth an indignant howl. I have been known to whisper “The menu is really badly written! Can we find somewhere else to eat?” which is probably taking it too far, but it does suggest a certain lack of professionalism and attention to detail (and always makes me worry that they may also be slack in their food hygiene…). I have told insurance companies, NHS departments and on one really stupid occasion HMRC that their standard letters are awful, which believe me, never, ever helps.

But – in everyday, informal life, does it really matter? If your friend understands your text or email, surely that’s enough? (But, older relatives, please learn how to use the punctuation bits for texting. It’s like reading code sometimes.) Writing is just a way of communicating, like speech – and we all use very different language depending on who we’re talking to. Stick me in a GP’s surgery or a school parents’ evening and I mysteriously start talking like Lady Mary. At work, I probably speak a bit more formally than I would to my friends. The rest of the time, I just talk like me.

Is writing the same?

The style I get asked to write in the most by clients is “friendly yet professional” (rarely the other way round, curiously). There remains a need for accuracy and (sorry) good grammar, but in these less formal days, businesses don’t necessarily want to write the Queen’s English. Blogging for work is always an interesting exercise in style, as it walks the line between appearing professional and general chattiness. It is possible to be both appealingly informal and relaxed and write clearly and correctly.

But unless you’re posting for Grammarly, don’t stress about your Facebook posts. They’re just the writing equivalent of putting on your sweatpants and eating crisps in front of the telly.

“You put “lol” in a text”, said A Relative accusingly. “How could you?”

“Easily. It’s my day off.”

 

 

 

New year, new words…

I have just become aware of how I’ve naughtily neglected this blog over the last month. I have been letting down my readers, all three of them. Facebook keeps sending me messages about how my followers haven’t heard from me for a while. I’m sure they’ll cope; however, I still feel rather guilty.

I now have to explain this hiatus without sounding passive aggressive. Simply, I’ve had lots of work on, and what with Christmas and all that, something had to give.

All is calmer now. Work is still happily busy; but the pressure of being Father Christmas for two expectant littlies with near-impossible riders has gone, and I don’t have as much as a Christmas cake to inject anymore. Life is simpler. However four weeks ago, I was sitting at this very laptop, as yet another email requesting “completion before Christmas” pinged over, thinking “Why on earth do people need copy for Christmas???”

If I sold crackers for a living, it would make sense. Indeed, if I sold anything more tangible than words it would not be surprising. But why do people urgently need copy for Christmas?

Then, of course, I realised. It’s called New Year. New year, new business plan, new direction, new website, new copy. And as the site has to be populated with lots of lovely words prior to its January launch, the text is written in December. It all seemed very sensible when I thought about it.

It may be – gasp – the first week of 2015 already, but it’s hardly too late to get a nice, New(ish) Year launch for that fresh website or brochure. If you work in any form of tourism-related industry in particular, you’ll know that this is the time of year when people start browsing in search of cheering holiday plans. In other fields such as catering and retail, you may be having a quick post-festive breather – the perfect time to step back and look at your promotional material.

So, if you make any business-focussed New Year’s resolutions, cast your eyes over your website, leaflets, posters etc. Looked at in the cold, clear, mildly hung-over light of January, it’s easier to see what needs refreshing.

And a very happy 2015 to you all.