How to defeat blank page paralysis and write great content NOW
Nobody wants to sit down at the computer feeling like they’ve got a gun pointed to their head and some sweaty psychopath shouting, “Okay, go time! Be smart and clever and funny and write a bunch of things! Go!”
Yet this is exactly what we do to ourselves, right?
Something happens—we finally invest in a business coach who kicks our ass, or we get an unexpected bill, or we vow to hit a new level of income in our business—and ding ding ding, pressure’s on.
Wound up by our lack of sales and viable leads, we pound the pavement of our brains, repeating gottashowupgottashowup. Then, in a state of churning, nervous angst, we sit down and attempt to write a newsletter, blog post, or sales page. (Better make it pithy, insightful, and hilarious to boot!)
Listen, this kind of pressure sucks. Better take some deep breaths and hit the gym and/or meditate.
But eventually you will have to write that content. Eventually you will feel some amount of pressure to write.
Honestly, it comes with the turf.
No pressure, no diamonds
I am someone who writes on a very regular basis. At minimum, I write website copy and newspaper articles and blog posts and social media posts and emails several times a week. (That’s what you sign up for when you choose a career as a writer, I guess. 🙂 )
When I’m feeling inspired—when the muse makes her once-in-a-blue-moon appearance—that blank page looks like a playground. It’s a canvas full of creative potential and delight, and I do figurative cartwheels all over the page.
But most days, I’m like everybody else. I hate that stupid flashing cursor and big white wall of nothingness.
Because here’s the reality: creation takes work. It takes focus and determination and commitment. You aren’t watching TV, you’re writing the freaking script.
Being forced to write is like jumping into a pristine swimming pool after you’ve been baking in the sun for hours. At first, you hesitate. You know it’s going to feel WAY too cold. You might dive in and scream. But once you actually submerge your head and start paddling around, you’re going to feel fantastic.
How to defeat blank page paralysis—no muse required
When you’ve got to take the plunge, mind these few don’ts…and one simple do.
- DO NOT fall into the trap of starting from scratch.
- DO NOT put the pressure on yourself to come up with brilliant ideas and magical new worlds and blah blah blah.
- DO NOT fall into the perfectionist trap of believing you’ve got to “wait for the muse” or “get inspired” before you write.
Instead, I want you to actively SEEK OUT inspiration.
So how do you do that, dear luminous questing soul building your business via content marketing?
- DO find questions in your field of expertise…and answer them.
Really. It’s that simple.
Because when you copy and paste that question into a Word doc, your page is no longer blank.
So simple. So effective.
When you sit down to answer that question, picture a specific person asking it. This can be your ideal client avatar, or your favorite client of late, or the person who actually asked it, if you know him or her.
Once you have a specific person in mind, you can:
- Journal your response.
- Type directly into a fresh document (Word or Google Drive are my faves).
- Open a new email in your iPhone, click the tiny speaker button, and speak the answer out loud. Watch in amazement as the magic of technology records your brilliance and populates the page!
After you’ve got a nice chunk of text to start with, jump in and get your hands dirty. Flesh it out, plump it up, and tweak to your heart’s content.
The hardest part is already over.
Where to find questions that get your wheels turning
So now you might be asking “Fine, Derbs, I’ll give questions a try. But where in the world will I find them?”
Thanks to the internet, questions are everywhere. Your job is to create a running list and pluck a fresh concept whenever you need it. (Use Evernote Web Clipper to snag screenshots of interesting questions.)
Here are 4 places to search for questions you can answer:
Option 1: Facebook groups.
I’m a member of several free and paid Facebook groups, and they exist for just about every industry.
Here’s how you find a Facebook group that’s relevant to you:
- Open Facebook.
- Type your area of expertise or key solution into the search bar.
- Click the “Groups” tab.
- You can request to join “Closed Groups” and “Public Groups”.
- Make sure you read and abide by the Group Rules!
Option 2: Google.
I mean, duh, right?
Here’s how to use Google to find questions that need your expertise:
- Search “[your area of expertise]+forum.”
- Scroll through results and investigate potential subjects.
Option 3: Blog post comments.
If you’ve got a viable business, chances are high that other thought leaders share your area of expertise and speak to your ideal clients.
Here’s how to use blog posts from your fellow thought leaders to generate new content ideas for you:
- Visit the blog of a fellow expert.
- Check out popular blog posts.
- Search the comments for common or unanswered questions.
- While you’re at it, weigh in on the topic! It’s good content karma.
Option 4: Your email subscribers.
Last but not least: tune into your peeps.
Major influencers pay attention to their market. They ask questions before they create products, before they launch products, after they launch products, and just about every moment in between. They keep their ear to the ground, but they do it in an unobtrusive way—because they consistently deliver loads of valuable content interspersed with a few targeted Qs.
Here’s an example from Tara Gentile, who send out this email prior to her launch of a webinar on becoming a better teacher:
See how smart this is? She not only asks you for a favor in a super-simple way (it’s only one measly question!), she explains how answering this question will actually add value to your life.
You can’t guarantee that everyone will respond when you ask, but it’s worth it to do every once in a while. How to do it:
- Create an email that goes out to your peeps, either a one-shot deal or something embedded into your initial auto responder sequence.
- You can link to a separate survey, like Tara does.
- Or you can ask one question in your email and tell people to respond directly.
Just be mindful of your favor to value ratio. Always give before you ask to receive. 🙂
Now I’ve got a question for you!
Do you routinely use questions to jumpstart your content? If so, what’s your favorite way to find them? If not, what are your favorite ways to get inspired?