When you struggle to write

When a large part of your job is content creation, what can you do when you're struggling to get your creative juices flowing? Here's some approaches I take when writer's block strikes.

It’s staring at you, making you feel stupid. It’s an empty page, or a blinking cursor in a document of zero kb.

You want to write something. The will is there, but the idea just won’t come. You look back through your previous ideas, you voraciously consume content. Podcasts, other writers posts, your favorite websites. You seek out inspiration like a dry sponge, you wish for liquid. But it’s not coming and you’ve promised yourself you would write more, and you want to stick to your schedule. So what can you do to get going?

Tend to your ideas like a garden

I’ve said before that when I have an idea for a piece of content, as soon as I can, I write it down. Writing it down can mean many things. Sometimes it's a paragraph or two, sometimes it's some bullet points, but more often than not, it's a single sentence.

I think of this like planting seeds in a garden. Some will grow almost instantly and be ready for publishing that week. Others may take weeks or months to bloom. It’s that garden of ideas that I visit whenever I’m stuck. If you don’t already, start tending to your own garden of ideas, and hopefully you’ll always have some content ready to harvest.

To produce, you should consume

If you’re in the business of creating content, you should also be consuming as much content as you can too. This isn’t a case of "good writers borrow, great writers steal", but more that reading the work of others will help you form an opinion on topics that interest you, and from those opinions you’ll be able to write content that appeals to you and hopefully others.

I often say that when you can’t get a designer to help you build a visual asset, just do it yourself, because they’ll either be ok with what you’ve made, or be so horrified that they give you a better asset. Either way, you have the asset. Consuming other people’s content is kind of the same. You either find an topic you agree with and want to expand on, or you feel so strongly that you want to counter their opinion.

Give old content a new home

Martin Beeby from the AWS DevRel team has it absolutely right when he talks about assets and activities. In most Developer Relations work, creating new content doesn’t always mean writing a blog post. You speak on podcasts, you record videos or talk at events.

Sometimes the best way to getting out of a rut writing-wise is to take something that’s already been fully formed and look at ways to repurpose it. So try taking a blog post and turn it into your next talk. Or rewrite it into a script for a podcast episode.

When all else fails, just write about it

I was once involved in a conversation about the point of internal company hackathons, and a point raised by someone there really stuck with me. He said that we all have ideas we want to pursue that aren’t on the roadmap, or funded. They’re the kind of idea that if you just get started, you’ll be able to rapidly prototype it and make your case. But it’s finding the time to get the ball rolling that always blocked you, and that was were the hackathon came in. It gave you the space to get started.

Unlike regular hackathons, I reckon that writing about your inability to write something is probably a chip you can only cash in once, but when you do, you might find that everything else clicks back into place and you’ll have your 1% written. Now to just write the other 99%.


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