Photo by Juliet Warren
Fun fact: I think “writer’s block” is bullshit.
Firstly because I don’t like the phrase. A ‘block’ implies a third party sitting stationary in your path, when in reality, the only thing in your way is… you.
Secondly, I don’t dig the way some writers use “writer’s block” as an excuse to stop trying.
“Welp!” they say, throwing their hands in the air. “That’s it. Writer’s block. Can’t do anything about it. Guess I better go do something else while I wait for my muse.”
The reality about content creation, and creative work in general, is that if you want to be good, or even great, at it? You have to stop giving yourself excuses to throw in the towel.
You are capable, and you are accountable, and no pretend invisible obstacle or “muse” is going to change that.
However, that doesn’t negate the fact that anyone who’s spent more than 3 months blogging has experienced the most annoying of internal dialogues:
You: “OK brain. We need a new idea for a post!”
You: “The. Blog. Post. We’ve gotta put something out there soon.”
Brain: “Oh! Hm. Nah… I got nothing.”
You: “Well maybe you should try harder.”
Brain: “No thanks. Hey, I know — let’s watch that Cats vs. Cucumbers again! For inspiration!”
You: “I hate you so much right now.”
There’s good news and bad news here. Bad news first.
The bad news: If you haven’t run into this challenge yet, you’re going to.
Oh, and Donald Trump is going to be President, in case you missed that.
The good news: There is a way to avoid bumping up against that blocked feeling — and it has nothing to do with an invisible idea fairy coming to find you.
It involves changing the way you think about your work, and anticipate sitting down to write.
After all, at the root of all of internal dialogues like the above lies the same reality:
You can’t wait for inspiration to hit you “in the moment”. You have to start gathering it, consistently and persistently, from everywhere you look.
While you can always grab ideas from things you see and hear around you (read more about that in this post), there’s one big secret to keeping good ideas flowing — the kind of ideas you want to write about, every time.
That secret? Asking yourself questions. Constantly.
And not superficial questions like “How am I feeling today?” (Although sometimes, that’s enough. See: the collection of post-election think pieces making the rounds right now.)
I’m talking specific questions that trigger an emotional response from you. I call these “trigger questions” — original, I know — because they tap into where you are right now in your life and work, and get you ramped up about insights you have and want to share.
It sounds simple, but it’s the absolute best way to stay inspired, and keep yourself in touch with the way you want to talk to, and rock with, your audience.
The coolest thing about questions? They’re easy to carry around with you at all times.
Make a physical list, or keep a rolodex in your head of some trigger questions that really get you talking. Think them over on your commute, write your responses down in a note on your phone, in your journal, or on your laptop.
Then, based on your answers (and the angle you get the most excited about), shape an outline if you need to. However, if you’re feeling especially passionate that day, a post might just flow out of you effortlessly.
To help you get started, here’s my list of trigger questions that get me completely fired up and ready to write (without fail):
- What do you love right now about your industry/niche?
- What do you hate right now about your industry/niche?
- What book, movie, song, artist, or public figure is influencing you most right now?
- What’s something more people need to be talking about?
- How do your clients/the people around you influence you?
- What advice do you catch yourself giving over and over?
- What do you wish you knew when you started your business?
- What cool scientific breakthroughs or discoveries are making waves for you and your craft right now?
- What lessons have you learned along the way?
- What lessons are you still learning?
- What makes you feel good about your work?
- What makes you feel bad about your work, and how are you overcoming it?
Your trigger questions will ebb and flow as you and your writing evolve, and you’ll add some of your own before long.
So remember to give yourself time and space to figure out which ones work best for you.
After all, when you’re striving to share original and insightful content, the more deeply you dive into your own ideas, the better off you’ll be. And the ability to share your opinions, fearlessly and freely, will make you a better creative, a better writer, and a better servant to your audience.
So start thinking. And start asking.
And tell your muse you won’t be waiting up.