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Your writing hang up: The vile blank page


The vile blank page. 

This specific blog post was blank for weeks before I got started. The intimidation is real, and it applies to novices and more seasoned writers as well. Nowadays, it’s more typically the blank screen, but the same rules apply (with a few unique caveats I’ll mention in a moment). There are three main ways to get started here.

Choose a topic and begin reading

When I was an instructor, I was amazed at the number of students who would pull a topic out of their heads and expect to begin writing at that moment. They assume that’s what all writers do, and, more tragically, that’s what our public school system teaches them. Let’s all be honest–if there’s nothing in your head on a topic, don’t write yet because you have nothing of interest to say. 
I was writing for a law firm once, and I had no knowledge of their industry. Before I could have an intelligent conversation with the client, I read. I read their site, their competitor’s sites, articles on the industry and event a book tangentially about what the client did. When I was expected to begin writing, I read even more. 
Read, and think, before you write. 

Draft an outline

As a professional writer, I refuse to skip this step because of the amount of time and money that is saved here. I typically take the outline to my clients, going over my plan for the article, key words, research and images, before drafting the complete article. Then, the client recommends changes and I make them instantly. I am not attached to the product at this point, and the client does not hesitate to state his or her opinions because it doesn’t feel final.

To pull back the curtain a bit more, I paste my outline directly into the blank page and add the rest of the content around the structure I’ve written. This is when the screen is different from the blank page–you really can’t open an outline on top of notebook paper. 

For students, I recommend spending the majority of the time on the outline. 

Freewrite

The outline should do the bulk of the lifting for the body of the paper. If you’re working on the introduction and trying to find a hook or wrapping up the conclusion and looking for a way to connect to the reader, freewriting is an option. It’s basically just writing everything that comes to your mind, leaving nothing out. It’s brainstorming in sentence form. However, be prepared to delete. These ideas will not all be good, and many won’t make sense, but it does get you started.

So, I hope you’re ready to begin your next paper. The key is to have something to say about the topic. In our modern world, we are lead to believe that we have something worth saying because we are still breathing. As writers, that is not the case. If you want to write, make sure you write something worth reading, and the only way you can do that is to think, and read, before you write.

social media marketing

Why Another Social Media Consultant?

Because small business owners are being taken advantage of. Social media marketers are the modern financial planners. There are good and bad, and the bad are really, really bad for you and your assets. And, you may never know until it is too late.

What’s the difference between an amateur and a pro?

  • Analysis
  • Marketing mind
  • Calendaring
  • Open hands

Analysis

Who are you online? Do you know? More importantly, does your social media manager know? Your social media manager should report to you at least once a month with your current position in relation to your competitors and your month-over-month progress.

  • What were the most successful posts last month? Why were they most successful? How can they be repeated?
  • Where is your audience going on your website? How can you make that page better? Where else do you need them to go?
  • How is social contributing to your bottom line? How many people are going from social to your website? Are you being found on Google more?

Marketing Mind

If you’re seeing posts that don’t fit with your brand, that don’t promote your brand, that don’t speak to your market and that don’t (occasionally) talk about who you are and what you’re doing, you’re probably working with an amateur.

Posts on topic for the audience are great and can serve to get reposts. But, are those post interspersed with brand-specific commentary? Do they carry your logo, color theme, brand style, or are they just free stock pics with hashtags? The ratio is 60:40; 60 percent listening and reposting and commenting and 40 percent commenting and discussion about your brand. That 40 percent has to be there or else you’re simply sending your time into the ether.

Calendaring

How far out does your marketing calendar go? A day, a week, a month? The reality is, for social media, you can with have a set calendar (which should go out at least a month), or you can have both a set calendar and an in-the-moment posting strategy. For B2C or industries that work well with photos, both are necessary.

The pressure should not be on you, the business owner, to produce great content every day. The social media marketer should have a plan in place to release dynamic content for your brand and comment on the marketplace regularly, and you, the business owner, should be free to add great content that catches you in the moment. You should also have the tools to make that content look as great as all the posts from your social media marketer, which brings us to our last point…

Open Hands

This, by far, is the most important part. I dealt with this in a previous post, Are You an Expert? Open Your Hands. You, as the business owner, should have access to every tool the social media marketer is using, and he or she should set up brand specific accounts for you to use. A pro knows how to deliver value, and he or she should make your life easier. However, if you choose to take over the social media, you should know how and have access to every single thing your business uses.

Do not hire a social media marketer who won’t take you behind the scenes. You’re likely dealing with the Great Oz–all smoke and mirrors and no substance.

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Are we fated to shorter attention spans than a goldfish?

Is this a definitive truth, limiting all of us to thoughts with the same depth and meaning as a Twitter post, or are we creating a machine that teaches us little of value extends beyond 8 seconds?
This was part of a #socialnomics video I watched during a social media class at Northwestern. I don’t think we’re yet doomed to a world that can’t comprehend Shakespeare or Frederick Douglass yet, but it will require a conscious choice to avoid such a fate. 
I have four school-age children as well as two brands I manage on social media. I see school reaching out to the lowest common denominator, touting that as the new norm, rather than driving aspirational thinking. However, when parents demand more and create a culture of intentionality, children can leverage longer attention spans and learn, truly learn, anything. Same thing with social media–we can dedicate our entire marketing effort to the lowest common denominator, or we can speak to those who are looking for depth as well. let’s be honest–some concepts cannot be adequately expressed in SnapChat, especially B2B services.
You can’t believe that everyone is looking for a James Joyce novel, but you also don’t want to speak so simply that the nuance of your message and brand is lost.
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Where’s your writing hang up?

Image: process.st

An interesting question was posed to me by the writers at Oz (@ideasbyoz)–where do you feel the bottleneck is in your work. After working with writers for a while, it seems that there are common sticking points.

Now, I know every writer is unique–one only need look at the gamut of professional writers to know that (Gonzo Journalist Hunter Thompson fueled by drugs and rum, Balzac who drank 50 cups of coffee a day, Maya Angelou who had a hotel room in her hometown). However, the problems are similar, as are the solutions.

Personally, I was tormented by procrastination–I believed it was a part of my personality, the essential make-up of who I was. This belief continued through college and was only fueled by a career as a newspaper and television journalist. However, graduate school, first in creative writing then in English medieval literature, was sufficiently terrifying to kick procrastination to the curb. Out of necessity, I began scheduling draft dates and meetings with friends who would hold me accountable. It worked, and now I am a bit on the OCD side about scheduling.

So, where’s your bottleneck? In the next few posts I’ll be offering tips to writers on how to overcome their bottleneck(s), wherever they come in the writing process.