The Secret to Avoiding Content Writer’s Block

by 19 03/06/2013

Let me guess…

You need content. Lots of it.

But the mere fact that you need it — in high volume and high quality — is enough to create a block.

You’ve heard of writer’s block, I’m sure.

calvin and hobbs from help a reporter

It’s no different with content writer’s block. The challenge to create content that’s engaging and interesting day in and day out can be… well… stifling.

You can easily avoid these types of blocks with one simple adjustment to your thinking.

Don’t try so hard to write well. Just write like you talk.

As Seth Godin says,

No one ever gets talker’s block.

Want proof that it works? Let’s take a look at examples from seven of today’s top content writers:

David Wong: bar-stool philosopher

David Wong (pen name of Jason Pargin) is an online humorist, NYT bestselling author, National Lampoon contributor, and editor-in-chief of Cracked.com.

As you might guess from his introduction, David’s content is funny, personal, and though-provoking.

Take a look at this post (beware, it’s R rated), 5 Ways You’re Accidentally Making Everyone Hate You.

david wong - 2His writing

  • Uses some profanity.
  • Has a snarky, humorous point of view.
  • Illustrates points with real-life examples and images.
  • Sounds like a conversation over drinks, not an essay.
  • Very long: 3,333 words.

Results

  • Comments: 2,231
  • Views: 1,756,736
  • Likes: 29,263

How he does it

David doesn’t write fluff. He’s got good ideas, and he doesn’t mince words sharing them. So you get to know the real David when you read his work. Transparency, especially when combined with top-rate content, is always a winner.

TIP: Ideas — the information you share and the topics you cover — are the most important element of successful content writing. If you have good ideas and express them clearly, your style and length hardly matter.

Michael Hyatt: C-Suite overtones

Michael Hyatt is the author of NYT bestselling Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World (Thomas Nelson). He is also the former Chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, the seventh largest trade book publishing company in the U.S.

As you can imagine, he’s got more polish than the average content marketer.

Read this excerpt from 5 Characteristics of Weak Leaders (and How Not to Be One), and you’ll see what I mean:

michael hyatt - 2

His writing

  • Straight-forward and simple style.
  • Graduate-level vocabulary.
  • Medium length: 684 words.
  • Surprisingly, a 7th grade reading level.

michael hyatt - reading level

Results

  • Comments: 181
  • Likes: 1,742
  • Tweets: 955

How he does it

The content marketing rule about using simple words and a chatty style doesn’t always apply. Michael is the perfect example of someone who breaks the rules and gets away with it.

For him, this post is casual.

Sure he uses a textbook style, crafting phrases like “the narrative demonstrates an ability to tap into a broad array of perspectives.” But it doesn’t sound like he recently discovered those words in his thesaurus.

He really talks this way.

Even more important, Michael understands the value of being readable. He keeps his articles relatively short and uses simple sentence structures, netting a 7th grade reading level in spite of his wide vocabulary.

So he’s 100% himself — and still accessible to the average reader.

TIP: Don’t be afraid to break the “rules.” Your goal is to be yourself, not an imitation of everyone else. Just make sure your style is readable and clear.

Demian Farnworth: “hippest ink slinger this side of broadband”

Demian is a long-time writer and editor. Among other gigs, he’s written for Crazy Egg and other blogs, a nationally recognized lawyer, and an international humanitarian aid organization. Now he works as chief copywriter for Copyblogger Media.

One of his greatest strengths as a content writer isn’t his writing ability (which is top notch). It’s his ability to help you “see” what he’s writing about.

Take this excerpt from an article for Copyblogger, The 6 Unique Traits of All Remarkable Writers:

demian - 2

This is an educational article, sharing the qualities of good writers. But he doesn’t just teach. He uses vivid language and stories to make his points come alive.

Look at this example from the same article:

demian - 3

His writing

  • Clean, clear, concise.
  • Short paragraphs.
  • Lots of bullets and lists.
  • Lots of stories.
  • Casual, conversational style.

Results

  • Comments: 70
  • Tweets: 1,131
  • Likes: 413

How he does it

Demian does a terrific job of writing professionally and conversationally at the same time. He uses strong, active verbs and his sentences are immaculate, every word right and in the right place.

But he doesn’t sound formal. Far from it. He could just as well be relaxing in a lawn chair, telling you his stories.

How does he do this? He never lets his writing draw attention to itself. He selects the right words to express his ideas. Not to show off his writing skill.

And it works. His writing never distracts. His message comes through loud and clear.

TIP: Focus on your ideas more than your writing. But if you can develop your writing skill, it’s easier to express yourself clearly. So don’t settle for your first draft. Take time to edit your content until it expresses your ideas clearly and concisely.

Johnny B Truant: brand “epic”

Johnny says of himself, “The two things I do are writing novels and talking about becoming ‘Legendary,’ which is my own hard-edged, punch-you-in-the-face-because-I-love-you brand of human potential and personal development.”

Obviously, Johnny doesn’t hold back. Read this excerpt from his blog post, The universe doesn’t give a flying fuck about you, and you’ll see more of his in-your-face style:

johnny - 1

His writing

  • Shoots for “epic,” not just in length, but in content as well.
  • Uses profanity and slang.
  • Is conversational to the extreme.
  • Very long: 2,929 words.
  • 4th grade reading level.

johnny - reading level

Results

  • Comments: 247
  • Tweets: 641
  • Likes: 4,700

How he does it

Reading Johnny’s blog is like taking a coffee break with that guy you went to high school with: the class cut-up, the one who should have made straight A’s but was having too much fun to do his homework.

Well, he’s doing his homework now. Johnny takes the time to find, not just ideas, but epic ideas. And he goes deep, weaving his arguments together so logically that you can’t help but agree with him.

He does no pretending, no cleaning up for mom. But since that’s his brand — raw and over-the top — it works.

TIP: Adopt a style that works for your brand personality and your readers. Then dare to take it a little further, to be a little bolder and a little less conventional.

Oli Gardner: personality unchecked

Oli is the Co-Founder and Director of Marketing at Unbounce. He writes primarily about conversion-centered design, a topic that usually gets dry, technical coverage.

Not with Oli. He has a fresh, original voice that never makes your eyes glaze over. Take a look at the opening of this post, Where’s the Best Place to Put Your Call-To-Action (CTA)?

oli - 1

His writing

  • Fun, silly, and a completely random style.
  • Lots of metaphors and stories.
  • Bullets and lists to make a technical topic easy to understand.
  • Illustrations and screen shots to illustrate his points.
  • Long: 1,512 words.

Results

  • Tweets: 203
  • Comments: 12
  • +1’s: 44

How he does it

Oli isn’t a trained writer. He’s a designer and marketer.

But he has an engaging style that’s easy to read and understand. And he provides detailed, practical information.

His personality shows through in the way he talks, in the way he introduces his ideas, and in making his point. His unique way of expressing himself, combined with the useful information he provides, makes his content unbeatable.

TIP: Don’t try to sound like every other content marketer in your space. They may have a distinctive way of communicating and believe it’s the right tone for your industry. That’s all the more reason for you to write in your own style and voice — so you can stand out from the crowd.

Ann Handley:

Ann Handley is the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs and the Primary Caregiver of its blog, the MarketingProfs Daily Fix. She also blogs at The Huffington Post and on her personal blog, Annarchy.

When it comes to content, Ann knows a thing or two (or three). But what I want you to notice is how simple her writing is. This article, Vine: Stupid, Simple, and Brilliant, is a good example:

handley - 1

Her writing

  • Conversational “asides” in parentheses, so you can hear her inflection.
  • Short, easy-to-read paragraphs and simple vocabulary.
  • Subheads that divide the content into easy-to-follow sections.
  • Lots of Vine videos (or images in other posts) to illustrate her points.
  • Medium to long length: 857 words.

Results

  • Comments: 23
  • Likes: 188
  • Tweets: 290

How she does it

Ann has a professional tone and a great writing style. She doesn’t try to be too casual. But she doesn’t put on airs, either. Her writing reflects her own personality, and she goes overboard sharing useful information, which is all about creating great content.

Simply put, she practices what she preaches.

And it works.

TIP: Especially if you provide how-to information for your followers, use content to showcase your techniques. Don’t worry about how well you write. Focus on showing people how your solutions look in practice.

Bob Burg: conversation starter

In case you thought great content marketers only write long content, I wanted to include Bob.

Bob is a bestselling author and speaker who talks about success, influence, and being a go-giver. He believes that the amount of money you make is directly proportional to how many people you serve.

It’s a humble, we’re-in-this-together attitude that shows through even in his content. This post, Ayn Rand, Happiness, Values, and My Confusion, is a great example of this mindset.

Notice that this isn’t Bob’s ideas, shared from a guru’s perspective. Instead, it’s a collaboration project, crafted into a blog post.

bob - 2

His writing

  • Short: 413 words.
  • Open and engaging style.
  • Incorporation of social media interactions.
  • This content is a conversation starter, not a solution.

Results

  • Comments: 14
  • Likes: 102
  • Tweets: 56

How he does it

Bob doesn’t give all the answers. He starts a conversation and let’s others contribute. Write a good comment on his Facebook page, and you might get showcased in his content.

You have to admit, that’s engaging. The fact that he writes content like this encourages people to connect with him in all his channels.

So it isn’t great writing that makes Bob successful. It’s his ability to get people involved — which, after all, is one of the primary goals of content marketing.

TIP: Sometimes when we talk, we’re sorting out our ideas. “Writing like you talk” can do that too. Use content to build engagement by starting conversations, involving your social media followers, and asking questions. You don’t always have to have the answers.

Bottom line

The truth is, great content isn’t about the rules.

It doesn’t matter whether you position yourself as a guru or the guy next door. You can write long copy or short. You can adopt any style.

What matters is that you sound like you.

So don’t worry about whether you write well enough. Or what your English teacher, mom, or competitors will think.

Just write.

Write like you talk.

And keep the focus where it should be: on sharing your best ideas in an engaging way.

What about you? Do you have a strategy for injecting your content with personality? How do you “write like you talk”?

Cartoon is courtesy of www.gocomics.com: Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

About 

Kathryn Aragon is editor of The Daily Egg and publisher of the C4 Report. She is committed to helping businesses communicate, connect, convert... and capture their market. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.

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19 COMMENTS

Phil

I’m intrigued. What program are you using to get your wordcount and grade analysis. Is it Word or something else?

March 6, 2013 Reply

    Kathryn Aragon

    Hi Phil. To get the reading level, I copied and pasted the articles into a Word document, then used its Spelling & Grammar tool. Kudos for using a voice recognition software to help you write like you talk. I know of some first-rate writers who use DragonSpeak.

    March 7, 2013 Reply

Phil

Sorry, I forgot to answer your question. I am reviewing voice recognition software so my writing will exactly mirror how I talk (hopefully).

March 6, 2013 Reply

Neale

Interesting to see the different style of each writer and take note of how I felt about each one.

In the begining you mention ” Just write like you talk.” I have gone back and forth with this for at least 5 years now, been an awfull typist and a poor writer, I invested in one of those text to speech things.. It has allowed me to create better content in a more natural style “I can talk a lot” the only thing with text to speech is it’s a pain to use. I supose I will go dust the cobwebs off it again and put it back on my desk Thanks :-)

March 6, 2013 Reply

    Kathryn Aragon

    You’re on the right track, Neale. If typing is hard, go with a speech recognition software. Good luck!

    March 7, 2013 Reply

YotPo

Great tips! Awesome article.

March 7, 2013 Reply

Johnny B. Truant

Cool writeups, and thanks for featuring me! I find it strange that one of my biggest reactions here is indignation that that thing scored me at a 4th grade reading level. I mean, I use words like “indignation.” So I’m thinking that arrogance about one’s complexity must play into this too, because I apparently have that.

March 7, 2013 Reply

    Russ Henneberry

    Johnny, it’s not possible to sum you up with a few hundred words and a Reading Level test but Kathryn sure made a good run at it. Thanks for stopping by!

    March 7, 2013 Reply

    Kathryn Aragon

    I wouldn’t worry about it, Johnny. I had a blast reviewing your writing. Besides, who cares about the reading level if you’re connecting with your readers? Thanks for commenting!

    March 7, 2013 Reply

Lorraine

I love that fact that you emphasis the personal style of each writer. So many times, I am faced with really long, stiff, corporate content. And often the writers have something to say and a lovely person;aity – all hidden under a thick blanket of blaaargh corporate speak.

March 8, 2013 Reply

    Kathryn Aragon

    You bring up a good point, Lorraine. It’s tempting to use corporate-speak, big words, or a fancy style to sound smart. But writing should never draw attention to itself. Readers want our ideas, and the best way to share them is in our own voice. Thanks for commenting.

    March 8, 2013 Reply

Jay Oza

Kathryn,

I like the effort you put into this post. I appreciate the analysis you did of the blogs that you looked at.

Thanks.

March 16, 2013 Reply

Sam H

Hi there, I also found this information useful. I’ve just joined a company managing their social media and recently wrote a post covering similar points. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

http://www.exeid.com/news/uncategorized/the-secret-to-writing-an-amazing-blog-post/

June 10, 2013 Reply

    Kathryn Aragon

    Nice post, Sam! I especially like your 3 questions: – Who are my readers? – What do they need?
    – How will they change as a result of reading the blog? Find those answers, and you know exactly what to write. Thanks for sharing.

    August 2, 2013 Reply

Dana

Fantastic post! Thanks for sharing your reviews of the other writers :) Cheers, dana.

August 20, 2014 Reply


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