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.
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.
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.
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?