Beating Writer’s Block #2: How Consuming Great Content Leads to Producing Even Better Content

A month or so ago, I wrote about why bloggers and writers need to be active readers if they want to have any hope of succeeding in their artistic venture.

While I touch on many reasons writers should read as much as they write, the main point I drive home in that post is this:

You can’t produce great content if you don’t consume other awesome content.

There really isn’t an adequate metaphor I can make here. When your car consumes gas, it doesn’t create more fuel. When you consume a delicious meal, you don’t create more food. Most consuming processes just don’t work that way.

But this is what makes artistic endeavors so special: When you consume great content – be it a well-written article, a beautiful painting, or a catchy song – you likely feel some sort of inspiration or motivation to create something as well.

Effects of Consuming On Writer’s Block

Whenever you take in meaningful material from an outside source, whether by reading a book, watching a video, or listening to a podcast, you’ll be able to use the material as fuel to:

  • Create a reactionary piece of your own
  • Improve your base of knowledge or skills
  • Connect with your community

Again, notice that each of these outcomes will result in even more material being produced. Your consumption of content that’s already been created will continue a long chain of production – one that, quite possibly, will stretch ad infinitum. In other words, you can potentially become a part of human history simply by taking the time to learn something new.

Reactions

Think about the last time you went to a movie. When it was over, did you sit in silence with your friend or partner the entire ride home?

I sincerely doubt it.

My guess is, immediately after exiting the theater, one of you burst out with some comment about what you just saw. You might have loved it, or you might have hated it – but there’s no way you had absolutely no reaction to it.

Would you have ever had that same conversation if you didn’t see the movie?

Of course not.

Regardless of the quality of the movie, you definitely had something to say about it.

This same phenomenon will occur whenever you consume something another person has produced.

You might agree wholeheartedly with what the person had to say. You might disagree completely. You might have wished they would have gone into more detail. Or you might want to attack the topic from a different angle, or take it a step further.

No matter what, though, by taking in material created by someone else, you’ve given yourself something new to write about.

Improving Your Own Skills

I doubt I need to explain the idea that you can learn a lot by reading or listening to educational resources. That really goes without saying.

But maybe your writer’s block stems from the fact that you don’t feel worthy enough to create the content you want to create.

You know what you want to say, but you don’t know how to say it. Or you don’t see the value in creating something that no one will read. Or you’re just bored writing the same old stuff the same old way.

If you approach other material in a “meta” sort of way, you’ll be able to push past this block almost immediately.

What I mean is, instead of reading new material for content, analyze the author’s style.

(Side note: Henneke Duistermaat discusses this in much greater detail in his post The Sin of Originality.)

Experiment with it.

Take an old blog post or an idea that you’ve written about ad nauseam and rewrite it using a different style.

You don’t need to publish this experimental piece.

But, you might even end up replacing your old content with this updated post.

Even though you might only end up rehashing an old idea, you’ll still have created something new, and moved past the block that was stopping you from doing so before.

Connecting with Community and Other Resources

I discussed this in the earlier post I mentioned before, so I’ll be brief here.

Simply put: When you produce reactions to a piece of content, you’ll spark discussion within the community in some way. Like I said before, this could potentially start a never-ending chain reaction.

But, you’ll also open the floodgates for more resources to come your way. If you engage in conversation with the author of a post or other content – or his readers – they’ll likely point you in the direction of content that has inspired them in the past.

The value here cannot be overstated. This won’t be a simple “one-off” occasion, in which you’ll read one other article or listen to a single other podcast. Whatever you consume next will point you toward yet another resource, and another, and another. And, of course, each piece of content you consume will produce within you a reaction, resulting in yet another idea to write about.

And all of this happened because you decided to make one initial point of contact.

Targeted Consumption with a Purpose

So you know it’s important to take in as much content as you can in order to be able to produce great content. But what content will serve what purpose?

The short, confusing answer is: It depends on what you’re looking for.

Staying Informed

Above all else, the purpose of creating content for an audience is that you know something they don’t – and you want to be the one to teach them about it.

If you don’t stay in the know, someone else will come along and teach your audience whatever it is they’re looking to learn.

Because of this, you need to stay up on the latest trends within your industry. You need to know what’s hot before it hits the mainstream. This means reading press releases, blog posts, and other articles the minute they’re released.

You should know by now that, in the Age of Information, news that’s two hours old isn’t news anymore. If your niche relies on relaying trending information to your audience, you need to consistently know what’s happening within your industry as it’s happening.

Even if your niche doesn’t have such a sense of urgency, you still need to be informed. If you’re not providing anything new, why would your audience read your post?

Staying informed is easier nowadays than ever before. A smorgasbord of tools, sites, and services exist to help you curate the latest trending news in any niche you choose:

  • Feedly: With Feedly, you choose the sites you wish to follow based on the topic of your choosing. You’re then provided with RSS feeds for these sites, so you can be sure to get the absolute latest update from each of them. Feedly can help you stay on top of the latest breaking news or trending information in any given industry.
  • Paper.li: Newspapers might be dying out, but Paper.li is doing its best to remind you of the good ol’ days when news would literally be hot off the press. Paper.li curates stories based upon your chosen topics from Twitter feeds and other sources and presents them in a headline news-esque fashion for you to browse at your leisure.

Unlike Feedly, your Paper.li is not updated constantly; rather, new “issues” are released at specific times of your choosing on a daily or weekly basis.

  • Flipboard: Flipboard is one of those apps that can overwhelm you if you’re not careful. When you sign up for Flipboard, you choose which topics you want to receive information about, and are then provided with articles and stories revolving around these topics. ]

The overwhelming part is that you can choose as many topics as you want, and will quickly get backlogged if you don’t stay up on your reading (which in itself will be tough to do). This often results in a lot of time being spent flipping through new stories to see if there’s anything really important that you missed. A word of caution: If you’re going to start using Flipboard, try not to be so liberal when selecting topics you want to hear about.

Using these tools, you should be able to find something interesting to write about.

If someone has covered a specific topic before, read through their articles and see if there’s anything they could have gone more into detail about.

Check the comments section and see if the audience has any questions that were left unanswered.

Think about your own past struggles or experiences with the topic, and write about them. A personal anecdote, coupled with sound advice, can bring a fresh outlook to even the most stale of topics.

Like I said before, if you’re reading with the sole purpose of getting rid of writer’s block, do so with a critical and analytic eye. Be as active a reader as you are a writer.

Stylistic Refresher

Have you ever written something only to realize, when you come back to it later, that it’s absolute crap?

So has literally every other writer in the history of humankind.

When this happens, it can be tough to fix up your mistakes. It can be just as tough to get started on the process of rewriting your work entirely.

Reading someone else’s work can help you get out of this funk.

Read prose. Read poetry. Read different blogs focused on different topics.

Don’t worry so much about the content. Analyze how authors structure their writing. Understand how and why they use certain words in certain cases. Think about the way in which they provide information to their audience.

Along with the aforementioned tools you can use for this exercise, take a look at Shelfari and Goodreads. Think of them as Rotten Tomatoes for books. Not only can you use these services to make a list of books you’ve read, are reading, and plan on reading, but you can also use these lists to find suggestions for further reading.  

As with any other artistic medium, sometimes all it takes is exposure to greatness to inspire and kickstart your own creativity.


So now I want to know: How do you find inspiration as a writer? Where do you get your ideas? Whose style do you try to emulate?

Most importantly: How do you use other media to get past your own writer’s block?

Beating Writer’s Block #1 – Take It Step By Step

Charles Bukowski supposedly once said, “writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all.”

As writing is a creative venture, it requires much more than simply going through the motions like many of us do during our nine-to-five day job. It’s not enough to just show up; you have to actively do something after you sit down at your keyboard. And it’s not always easy.

While doing my daily rounds through the blogosphere the other day, I came across an awesome post by Kevin J. Duncan on Be a Better Blogger revolving around beating writer’s block. His post is full of valuable tidbits of information to help get you started, but I’m wondering if Kevin even realized what he had on his hands when writing it.

While reading through his article, I thought to myself: “Each of these points could be an entire post on its own!”

And so, here we are.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be diving deeper into Kevin’s words of wisdom and unpacking them for you. We’ll take a look at the how and why behind each piece of advice, and I’ll provide you with some valuable resources along the way.

So, let’s start off where Kevin began.


Kevin’s first piece of advice to those facing a bout of writer’s block is this:

“Tackle it One Bite at a Time”

When I had just gotten started with my blog (and other online writing), I routinely became overwhelmed whenever I came across established blogs and bloggers with hundreds, if not thousands, of posts under their belt. I simultaneously wanted to be one of them, and felt like I would never get there.

I had nothing in my portfolio. I had little to no experience. I was unsure of whether I could actually build up enough writing samples to get noticed. I felt stuck.

This feeling of intimidation often froze me in my tracks, unable to write a single thing.

Seeing the Forest, But Not the Trees

My main problem when I was just getting started was this: I was thinking too much of the big picture.

Ironic, isn’t it?

Usually, advice columns and whatnot will tell you to look at the big picture.

But when you’re just getting started – with anything, not just blogging – the big picture can be intimidating.

Don't be intimidated by established blogs. Let them inspire you.
Hard to believe they all started from tiny seeds, right?

As a fledgling blogger, it’s easy to get lost in the forest of established blogs already out there on the Web. It’s tempting to throw in the towel before you even get started, believing you’ll never be as big as some of the fully grown trees – I mean, blogs – out there.

In times like these, it’s best to do a little reverse engineering.

What I mean by that is, take a look at some of the blogs that intimidate you. Go allllll the way back to their first pages. Read the first few posts ever published by the author.

Chances are, they’re nowhere near as fine-tuned and effective as the more recent articles the author has posted. In fact, you might even have your doubts as to whether or not the same person even wrote them. It’d be like watching a tape of Michael Jordan the first time he ever picked up a basketball: Sure, you can see potential – but it’s certainly not superstar material.

What this will help you realize is that even the best of the best got started somewhere. Just as there was a point in time that Michael Jordan wasn’t the MJ we all recognize today, those big name, powerhouse bloggers who you could only aspire to be all that got their start the same way: With one single post.

Taking Steps and Understanding Their Importance

You’ve probably heard the old cliche: “A journey starts with a single step.”

So, what are the steps you need to take when writing a blog post? Among many, many others, you’ll have to:

  • Brainstorm
  • Research
  • Create an outline
  • Come up with headlines
  • Find multimedia to supplement your main points
  • Actually write the damn thing
  • Proofread and edit it countless times

If you just sit down at your keyboard and expect to bang out a flawless article…well, it’s no wonder you have writer’s block. It doesn’t happen that way.

Thinking you can create a perfect blog post without going through the proper steps just because you have a great idea is like thinking you can build a house without making a blueprint just because you have some bricks laying around.

Don't get blocked up because you didn't do the background work.
Someone didn’t do their prep work…

In both cases, you’ll be left standing there with a blank stare on your face, wondering what to do next.

You should never just dive into a blog post and hope for the best; you’re going to end up getting stuck somewhere along the way.

Instead, recognize the value of each of these steps – from prewriting to editing and proofreading – as part of the overall process that will help you become the successful blogger you aspire to be.

You’ll soon realize that each step you take along your journey is as important as the last.

Celebrate the Small Steps

I get it:

The reason you want to get started writing a blog post is you want to feel the satisfaction of a job well done. You feel like hitting that publish button will be the ultimate victory, and you want to get the celebration started as quickly as possible.

Nobody sees all that background work, so none of it really matters, right?

Well, not exactly.

First of all, if you just hack away at your keyboard without doing all that behind-the-scenes stuff, your readers will notice immediately.

Second of all, all of that other work absolutely does matter. You just have to reframe your way of thinking about it.

If you’re writing a blog post just to get it done, are you really even enjoying it? This isn’t some boring assignment given to you by your English teacher. You don’t have to do it. Nobody’s forcing you. You should be blogging because you want to blog.

What I mean to say is: If you’re going to write a blog, you better go all in.

Like I said before, all the background work is just as important as the actual writing. Learn to see it that way.

Instead of reserving all your celebration for after you hit “publish,” take the time to truly experience and celebrate each step you take in the process:

  • Show off your mindmap and brainstorming to friends, family – and even your audience.
  • Comment on blogs and posts you plan on linking to throughout your own post.
  • Ask for feedback from trusted sources based on your outline.
  • Save a copy of your first draft, and read it side-by-side your polished final one.

Creating the perfect blog post is a process, and there’s no getting around that. But once you reframe the way you approach this process, you’ll start to actually enjoy every step along the way.

The more effort you put into your blog posts, the more you’ll have to celebrate. If you rush through the whole ordeal, do you really even deserve to put on your party hat?


In my next post, I’ll revisit a topic I’ve already spoken a bit about: the importance of reading. I’ll share some insight as to what bloggers should be reading, as well as how they can find new material to read on a daily basis.

But for now, I want to know: What is your least favorite part of writing/blogging? What always gets you stuck? How will you change your mindset in the future so these steps start to become part of your routine, and so you actually begin to enjoy them?

Let me know in the comments below!