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4 Time-Saving Productivity Hacks to Keep You Sane

As an online writer, you’re probably familiar with at least one of these scenarios: Oh no (or expletive of choice)! I only have 30 minutes to get this blog post written… or, I need to come up with at least 10 blog topics for this month’s editorial calendar, but my brain is drained… or, I want to get to my own writing project, but I have no time… or, I am stuck in writer’s block hell

Whether you’re a “newbie” or veteran copywriter, you’ll face a few of these challenges in your career, and likely more than once. With that in mind, here are four productivity hacks from Heather to help you meet your deadlines, make progress with your own writing projects, conjure creative blog ideas, save precious time…and keep your sanity!

5 Weird Writing Productivity Hacks That Work

 

Heather starts out by asking: “Do you feel burned out and brain dead after a full day of writing?”

Drawing on her own experience, she then shares five time- and sanity-saving tips that are “a little weird” to help you recoup your writing mojo:

  1. Chart your writing rhythms
  2. Limit your writing time
  3. The five minute brainstorm technique
  4. Wear different hats (literally)
  5. The two minute trick

Do you have any of your own weird ways of keeping the creative writing juices flowing? Please share them with us!

How to Generate 3,640 Blog Post Ideas in 12 Months

Sounds over the top, doesn’t it? But it really isn’t.

Heather writes that she borrowed the idea from James Altrucher, who recommends writers to exercise their “idea muscle” each day by selecting a topic and then jotting down ten (or more) ideas – whether good or mediocre, no matter. The goal is to simply get them written down.

She confides: “This tip changed my life.”

It can change yours, too! Heather shares her step-by-step process for capturing blog post ideas that fleshes out her editorial calendar, and shares her favorite tools for assistance when it’s needed.

How to Write a Killer Blog Post in 30 Minutes or Less

Need to write up a quick and dirty blog post?

Heather writes that while she’s not a fan of super-fast writing, there are times (i.e., imminent deadlines) when it’s required. And while it won’t be your best work, it will suffice.

The process she shares covers what to do before you begin, after you start writing, and when you finish.

Some key takeaways include:

  • As a bare-minimum guide, give yourself at least five minutes to plan and outline your post, 20 minutes to write it and five minutes to proof and tweak.
  • Keep your inner Web writing editor at bay.
  • Always proof your work. Always.

Achieve Your Writing Dream in Just 25 Minutes A Day

Heather begins by asking: “What’s your writing dream?”

Perhaps it’s a book in your back pocket that you can’t seem to get around to actually writing? Or perhaps an idea for an online course that takes a back seat to work priorities? Or maybe you’re just too overwhelmed to write “just for fun”.

She then shares her experience about wanting to write a book about SEO copywriting in the mid-2000’s that she was excited about, but found herself stuck.

Through much trial and error – “either working too hard and burning out, or procrastinating and feeling guilty” — she found how to get her writing groove back! She outlines her simple 2-step process and discusses the reasons why she thinks it works.

What say you? Any productivity hacks you’d like to share? Please do in the comments below!

 

 

 

 

Need Blog Post Ideas? Have You Tried These Tips…?

dreamstime_s_30606781

Need blog post ideas? Try these tips!

Let’s face it. Magically coming up with blog post ideas is grueling. Sure, you can schedule time to brainstorm post ideas (here’s how to generate over 3,000 a year!). But what about those days when the ideas don’t come, you’re on deadline, and you feel like you’ve written it all before?

Don’t get stuck – get inspired, instead! Here are 5 ways you can generate blog post ideas.

Portent’s Content Idea Generator

How could I have not written about this gem before? This tool is brought to you by the good folks at Portent, run by Ian Lurie (if you don’t follow Ian Lurie, do it now. You’re in for a snarky treat.)

Simply type in your general post idea and let the Content Idea Generator do all the work. For instance, I typed in one of the most boring topics I could dream up: screw compressors. Years ago, I used to handle the marketing for a company that made flash freezers for fishing boats. I often had to  come up with sexy press angles about screw compressors.

Yes. Pity me.

Here’s what the Idea Generator came up with:

Content Idea Generator

The verdict? Not bad. If you’re in an industry that makes, needs or sells screw compressors, you could easily come up with a list of 18 things. Well done, Content Idea Generator!

Use forums for fun and profit

Some people think forums are old school. I mean, aren’t all the cool kids hanging out on Google + now (OK, OK…I had to make that joke.) Seriously, it’s amazing how many people forget about forums as great idea generators. Plus, all you need to do is some quick Google searches to make it happen.

Simply type [forum:your topic] into Google and see what comes up. In this case, I used the search term [food cart]. Us Portlanders really love our food carts.

 

forum_food_cart_-_Google_Search

Voila! You’re rewarded with a plethora of post ideas! If this is too overwhelming, you can search inside the forums. Try using search terms like:

  • I hate it when
  • can’t find
  • need advice
  • question about
  • can anyone help me

(H/T to Pat Flynn from the Smart Passive Income blog for the search terms tip.)

Check out industry conference topics

Conference organizers spend hours figuring out the best session topics for their events. Why? Because they know the right session topics (read: the ones that people want to know about) will drive ticket sales. Plus, many conferences now crowdsource their session ideas and ask people to vote on their favorites – virtually guaranteeing that the topics are spot-on.

For instance, sensory deprivation float tanks are all the rage right now (heck, I was even interviewed for a piece in The Nation about float tanks!) The float industry has an annual conference held in Portland, OR for float enthusiasts, float tank center owners and people in the industry. One of the days is an intensive workshop geared towards owners:

Float_Center_Workshop

This page alone provides scads of blog post ideas, from, “how to soundproof your float tank room” to “how to use social media to promote your float business.” If you’re stuck for topic ideas, conference pages will shake loose some great ideas.

As a side note, I’ve never read any other post discussing this tip (although one may be out there.) So, by using it, you may have an inside track on your competition. You’re welcome.

Webinar Q & A sessions

Here’s another idea I’m surprised isn’t utilized more. You know how you’re tempted to boogie out of a webinar session when the Q & A kicks in? Yes, I know you have things to do, and you’ve already learned what you want to learn…

…but by walking away from the Q & A, you’re missing out on a bevy of blog post ideas.

dreamstime_14382654

Think about it. People in your target audience are asking questions. Some (if not most) of those questions could turn into a blog post idea. Heck, you could even write the title like a headline, for instance, “How can I find float tank regulations for my city?” That’s SEO copy gold, baby!

Plus, if you include the webinar presenter’s answer in your blog post, you can send them a note and let them know you cited her. BOOM, now an influencer may tweet your post to the masses.

You can use this blog post idea hack during conferences, too. While other people are filing out of the room, you can smile knowing you have enough blog post fodder to last you for a long time.

Podcasts

“I don’t have time to listen to podcasts!” I get it. I love the idea of podcasts, but I don’t always have the 10-20 minutes to listen to them. Fortunately, this tip is less about listening to a podcast (although you certainly can) and more about learning from their descriptions.

For instance, Jeff Goins includes show highlights on his site (where you can also listen to his podcast.) Just look at all these tasty topics:

How_to_Write_Fiction_for_a_Living_with_Stacy_Claflin

Look – there are 11 bullet points you could transform into a meaty blog post! What are you waiting for? You should start writing right now!

Granted, not all podcasters post their talking points on their blog. In that case, even checking out iTunes provides some good information. Do a keyword search for what you want to know more about and check out the podcasts that come back. For instance, if I search for [make money blogging], the ProBlogger Podcast pops up. Here’s a screen shot:

Podcast

If the podcast titles don’t birth a brainstorm, the podcast descriptions will. Just hover over the “information” button in iTunes to get the scoop.

Plus, this technique is a great way to find podcasting influencers you may not have heard of before. I hadn’t heard of some of the [make money blogging] podcasters that iTunes returned – but now they’re on my radar.

Blogging day in and day out can be a chore. Hopefully, these five tips will help expand your topic horizons and make the generating blog idea process a little less painful.

Inspired? Let me know in the comments! Or, feel free to post a tip. I’d love to read it!

 

Achieve Your Writing Dream in Just 25 Minutes A Day

What’s your writing dream?

Do you want to write a book, but you have no idea how you’d find the time?

Do you have a great idea for an online course, but work priorities keep putting it on the back burner?

Have you wanted to write just for fun, but you’re too overwhelmed to start?

Read more

How I Beat Writer’s Block By Interviewing Myself

This is me, happy that I beat writer’s block.

I have a confession.

You know those tasks you put on your to-do list — but you never do them? You keep carrying them over day after day thinking, “I’ll get to it tomorrow.”

For the last few months, I’ve been sitting slack-jawed in front of my laptop every time I tried to start a writing project. I’d write a few words, hate them all and put it off for another day.

The project? My “About Us” bio page.

The bio I had was…OK. It did what it did to do, but I felt that it didn’t have much pizzaz. Nor did it reflect my personality. It was mechanically correct, but flat from a copywriting perspective.

Never was that issue so in my face than when I redesigned the site. When I asked people to review it, one of the top comments was, “You don’t really showcase who you are or what you’ve done. You’re an expert. You need to put that front and center.”

Sadly, I knew they were right.

Read more

5 Weird Writing Productivity Hacks That Work

Do you feel burned out and brain dead after a full day of writing?

Heavy writing days used to exhaust me. My brain felt like mush. I could barely talk. Exercise was out of the question. All I wanted to do is sit in front of the television and force my brain to stop thinking.

You’ve probably had days like that, too.

I’ve learned some great time (and sanity saving) writing hacks over the years. And I no longer feel like my brain is going to explode at the end of the day.

But yeah, these tips are a little weird.

Here are five of my favorites:

Chart your writing rhythms

Your writing brain doesn’t click along at peak capacity 24/7. To leverage this hack, simply notice when your brain is on and your creative juices are flowing. For me, I can write a 500 word blog draft in about 15 minutes between 7-10am. Between 3-5pm, I’ll stare slack-jawed at my laptop and check Facebook every few minutes.

Chart your own writing rhythms and notice the patterns. Then, give yourself permission to write only during your peak times. Yes, you will feel guilty if you’re not writing during your “off” times, but get over it. Let the process work.

Limit your writing time

Are you used to long, ultra marathon-like stretches of writing? You may get a lot done during a 10 hour write-a-thon, but it often has a heavy cost. Instead, break your writing time into 25-minute chunks. This technique, called the Pomodoro Technique, forces you to focus 100% on a task for less than 30 minutes. At the end of the 30 minutes, you’d take a short break and let your brain rest. Chris Winfield discusses his success with the Pomodoro Technique here.

Some people worry that 25 minutes isn’t enough time and they’d feel rushed. For me, it’s the exact opposite. I love to see how much writing I can accomplish in a 25 minute block of time. Plus, the Pomodoro Technique is a great way to complete tasks you don’t enjoy doing. It’s much easier to keep up with your bookkeeping when you know you only have to do it for 25 minutes.

The five minute brainstorm technique

Do you feel like your first drafts are all over the place without a cohesive flow? Spend five minutes outlining some quick notes before you start writing. You don’t have to create a full-fledged outline. Just let your mind wander and see what comes up. This hack seems to rearrange things in my brain and makes the actual writing process easier.

Wear different hats. Literally.

Sometimes, I feel like two people live inside my brain. My inner writer is laid back, easy going and just wants to let things flow, man. My inner editor is much crankier–and she forces me to reexamine every word. Their constant fighting can make life…difficult.

If the two sides of you can’t get along, it’s time to separate the voices inside your head. Some writers wear one hat (like a baseball cap) when they’re writing and another (say, a cowboy hat) when they’re editing. You could even write at a Starbucks and edit at a Dunkin’ Donuts. The key is to physically do something that cues your brain into the right writing mode. It sounds like a cheesy solution, but it really does work. Try it and see.

The two minute trick

There are days when the writing muse isn’t with you, even when you’re writing during your peak time. You can’t think. You don’t feel like writing. You can feel the icy-cold beginnings of writer’s block seep into your brain.

Don’t pack in the keyboard! Instead, set a timer and force yourself to write for two minutes. At the end of two minutes, you can walk away if you choose. Or, you can keep going. Some days, you may close your laptop and know that you’ve done your best. And that’s OK. I often keep going past the two minute mark and write for an entire 25 minutes. There’s something about giving myself the permission to stop that loosens up my brain cobwebs.

What about you? What’s your favorite writing productivity hack (the weirder, the better!).

Feeling Stuck In Your Freelance Writing Business? Read This.

Is your gut filled with sharp stress knots? Do you feel so stuck that you feel there’s no way out?

I feel your pain. I’ve been there. And it’s not fun.

There are times in your professional (and personal) life when things seem completely hopeless.

– You hate your job, yet you can’t see a way out. You need the security.

– The phone isn’t ringing and you’re seeing your bank account dwindle to almost nothing.

– You’re facing a midlife crisis with your business and the things that used to be fun aren’t fun anymore.

– Life isn’t quite clicking for you and you don’t know why.

Things don’t start out feeling stuck. At first, it’s almost a fun challenge. You may say, “Hey, I have to figure out new ways to generate income. How bad can that be?” Or “I’m sure I can launch my own business. I just need to make it happen.”

Days drag into weeks (and sometimes, into months.) That sharp stress ball in your gut gets bigger. That stuck feeling gets larger. You dig your heels in, work longer hours and do what you can to fix your situation.

(And deep down, you find yourself obsessing over your “problem” and wondering what’s wrong with you.)

There is nothing wrong with you. Really. This is all part of the process.

I’m a “dig in” kind of person. Being the control freak I am, I like to think that I can change a situation through working harder. Sometimes, it works. When it comes to longer-term “life issue” stuff – it backfires. I get more stressed, more tired and feel even more stuck.

Maybe you’ve felt the same way.

Recently, I was going through my own stuck situation. In retrospect, it doesn’t seem like a big deal now – more like a mini midlife crisis. Maybe it was because it was near a big birthday. Or maybe because other background things were going on. I may not have talked about it much, but it was there … just beneath the surface.

So I’d obsess. And work. And obsess some more. Not fun.

In a moment of clarity (thank you, floatation tanks,) I had a vision. I thought of my favorite place – the ocean – and how I like watching the tide gliding in and out.

(For more information about the benefits of “floating,” check out this interview I did with The Nation.)

I realized that life was just like that. Sometimes, the tide is in and everything is clicking. Things are easy and effortless.

But then the tide goes out again. Just because the water is “gone,” doesn’t mean it’s not coming back. It’s just taking a pause and gathering energy. That energy and force rushes in again. It always does. I just have to be patient.

Did my breakthrough change my situation? No. But it did change my perception of the situation. I felt lighter and in more control. I was able to focus on other things outside of my current stress. I stopped working so hard and worked smarter instead. I focused more on gratitude and abundance rather than fear and lack.

And you know what? I can feel the tide slowly gathering force and coming in again. I can’t quite tell what the final result looks like yet, other than it feels good and happy.

Happy is good. What’s more, I feel centered enough to notice the switch and be grateful for it.

So, if you’re feeling stuck, know that your situation can change. It may not change today or on your preferred timeline. Your tide may still be out.

But it will come back, stronger than ever. And you’ll be stronger than ever. Trust me.

What’s the Dirtiest Word in the Language for Freelance Copywriters?

When’s the last time you broke free from your comfort level and forced yourself to grow?

When I originally wrote this post (wow, way back in 2008,) I was thinking about how people tend to settle into their copywriting careers and get (too) comfortable. They stay in a job they don’t really like, but they enjoy the pay and the hours. They work with clients that aren’t quite right – yet they’re scared to death to branch off into a new, more profitable niche.

Last year, I had an experience that made me think, “Well, I got the blog post half right.”

I spent 16 days in May 2012 rafting the Grand Canyon. To say that the trip was “out of my comfort level” was putting it mildly. I hadn’t been camping in over 23 years – and even that was easy camping for just one night. I had never been on a raft. I had never been on a self-supporting trip with no easy access to medical care.

My biggest issue? I had never spent more than 48 hours away from my business. Taking a full month off tweaked every comfort level hot button I had. A colleague literally had to talk me into going – I was that worried.

Was it worth it? Yes. Did it transform me? Yes – in many amazing ways.

So as you read this post, don’t just think about breaking out of your career comfort level. Consider ways you can shake up your personal life as well. Ask yourself, “What would be incredibly scary for me to do?” Then make plans to do it. Don’t just say, “Yeah, this could be fun…but.” Actually do it.

You may be amazed at how an initially scary experience can be potentially life-changing…

Enjoy the post!

Probably the dirtiest word in the language to me is “comfortable.” It’s so bad that I call it the “C-word” (really!). Where some people take comfort in stability, status quo and knowing what’s around every corner, I like to shake it up a bit. It’s how I roll.

Freelance copywriters – even good, highly-paid, experienced copywriters – get into their own comfort zone. They stop growing. They stop learning. Instead, they burrow into a complacency bubble and insist that they know it all and there’s nothing more to learn.

Guess what? No matter how good you are – no matter how many years you’ve honed your craft – you can do better. Write better. Describe better. You are not all that and a bag of chips all the time. And you owe it to your clients (and to yourself) to keep learning.

We, as copywriters, are required to stretch ourselves if we want to be great – No more settling for just being good, competent, or – heaven help you – “comfortable.” The only way to true excellence is through initial incompetence. True greatness is fighting that feeling of being totally and completely stupid while we try new things. It’s getting over our fear of “not knowing something” and seeing what we can really do.

As we start gaining mastery, we stretch. We grow – and our writing bursts out of its hibernation and buds with newfound brilliance.

You want to know why “old style” print copywriters complain about what used to be called New Media? It’s because they were comfortable with print. They knew the nuances. They knew how to make it work without having to work hard.

Suddenly, online writers became a dominant force. Us new-fangled writers took old-school writing concepts and made them work for a new medium. We weren’t better writers. Heck, back in the day, we were typically green and inexperienced.

The difference is – we weren’t complacent. We weren’t comfortable. We took what we knew and broke out of our comfort zone. And we launched a new industry.

Challenge yourself this month. If you’ve worked primarily with B2B, write a fiction short story (just for yourself) that forces you to create characters and have fun with your writing. Time yourself and see how many words of good copy you can write in a speedy 15 minutes. Consider launching a new product or service.

Why not bust out of your copywriting comfort zone at least once this month? You’ll be amazed at how “breaking loose” can actually improve your writing…your opportunities…your life…

Try it.

How to Turn Your Creativity up to 11

I’m often asked, “Heather, how do you write so much content without burning out?”

Um, good question. I could talk about how I’ve spent almost half of my life studying copywriting (ack, that’s scary to type.) Or how I force myself to write online copy, even when I don’t feel like writing. Or how I’m just plain stubborn.

But what’s the real secret of my success?

I force myself to take breaks – long, soul-renewing breaks – and let my creative juices do their thing.

I wasn’t always like this. Up until a year ago, I was working, working, working all the time. My day would start at 7 a.m. and end at 9 p.m. I’d finish one task and immediately move to the next one. I wasn’t taking vacations or many breaks during the day. Or if I was “taking a break,” I was playing on my phone or surfing on my iPad. Which, yeah, isn’t really a break.

I was intense.

During this time, I wasn’t really digging what I was writing. Sure, it was OK – but I wasn’t having those brilliant flashes of creativity that makes a writer’s life worthwhile. I wasn’t looking at my sentence structure thinking, “Damn, that’s goooood.” Was I feeling burnt out? Hell yeah. But I pushed through (sound familiar?).

In short, I wasn’t writing in the flow anymore – and that bugged me.

Then one day, I had to write a blog post after an acupuncture appointment. I thought I was “too relaxed” to write, but I sat down and did it anyway – part of that stubborn streak I have. What flowed (and yes, it flowed) was my “SEO copywriting tips in Haiku” post – and it remains as one of my most popular posts.

Aha! I made the connection. A more relaxed Heather means better writing.  When I’m feeling good, I can turn my creativity up to a Spinal Tap 11. Got it.

Turns out other folks are making the same connection. Scott Adams of Dilbert fame wrote an article about the benefits of soul-crushing boredom (props to @acteeple for the great link). The Huffington Post had a post today that discussed how “cyberloafing” at work can actually boost productivity. There’s even a National Relaxation Day on August 15th (Did you miss it and work instead? Yeah, me too.)

Plus, many writers report having their best ideas when they’re doing something else – taking a bath, enjoying a walk, or even just spacing out. Think about this in your own life. After all, have you ever had a brilliant flash of insight after working a 12-hour day?

Nope, didn’t think so.

Taking breaks actually encourages (and protects) your creativity. If you’re a freelance copywriter, Web designer, or do anything that’s more creative in nature, you NEED to chill out. You NEED to protect your creativity like a surgeon protects her hands.

Without our creativity, we’re lost.

If you’re feeling scrunched from all sides, building in some downtime could be just the ticket.  You may not be able to plan a 2-week cruise right now – but you can at least take steps to regain some work/life balance. For instance:

  • If you finish a task, take a 15 minute break away from the computer before moving to the next one.
  • Rather than fiddling with your phone when you’re bored, put it away and enjoy the moment. Even if it’s a boring moment.
  • Take time to do something “nonproductive” like walking, cooking or just staring off into space.
  • Spend at least one day a week away from your computer, iPad, iPod – you know, all those technological toys that we “can’t live without.” Guess what? You’ll be able to live without them.
  • Try something completely new. I love climbing into sensory deprivation float tanks and enjoying total darkness for 90 minutes. It sounds weird and scary – but damn, it’s been transformative.

This blog post lists other ways to step away from the screen give yourself a break.

Taking a chill pill doesn’t mean that you’re being lazy (I can hear my father’s voice telling me to “Get up and do something” every time I take a break!). Nor does it mean that you’re stupid or you’re not working “hard enough” (whatever that means.)

It means that you’re taking care of your creativity.

And you’ll find that your creativity has been cranked way, way up to  11. Who can beat that?

Next year, I’ll be taking over 2 weeks off to raft the Grand Canyon. There will be no phone. There will be no laptop or television. It’s freakin’ scary to know that I’ll be that unplugged, but I’m also looking forward to the experiment. Who knows where my creativity will take me – or how life-changing unplugging will be. I may go nuts the first couple days, but I know the experience will be well worth it.

Now isn’t it time to step away from the computer and take a break?  But before you go, post a comment on your fave ways to “chill out” and rejuvenate yourself. You may spark an idea for someone else.

Are You Writing Afraid?

Ask yourself: Are you so afraid of the worst possible outcome happening that you’re holding yourself (and your SEO writing) back?

I started thinking about this after reading a Fast Company article about LeBron James and the Miami Heat. After a grueling loss to the Dallas Mavericks, the Heat teammates held a players-only meeting. Brian Windhorst, who covers the team for ESPN, was quoted as saying, “Guys were telling each other to stop playing afraid.”

Wow. That’s powerful stuff.

It made me think of all the ways that we, as freelance or in-house SEO copywriters, “write afraid.” We’re scared to death of being criticized, so we don’t write what we really feel. We don’t expand our businesses or career the way we could. Our fear causes us to “miss” some content opportunities (like repurposing content,) because we’re just too stressed out to notice them. Plus, we’re exhausted at the end of the day – heck, all of that fear takes a lot of energy.

If this sounds like you, here are some thing to try:

  • Take more breaks. A friend suggested this and I thought she was out of her mind (um, sorry Doti.) Turns out, research supports her theory – a recent study says that “the key to great success is working harder in short bursts of time.” I’ve used the Pomodoro Technique for this and it’s transformed how and when I write. Less stress. More focus. Awesome.
  • Take stuff off your to-do list. It’s really hard to focus when you’re thinking, “I’ve got way too much to do today. How can I get it all done?” Guess what? YOU are the master of your workday (even if it feels like your boss, clients and coworkers take precedence.) Start deleting some tasks and see how many better you feel.
  • Take a day off from writing and focus on the big picture. Did the thought of taking a day off from writing make you feel a little nervous? Good. That means you definitely need some time away! If we’re in creative mode all the time, it’s hard to focus on big picture “what do I want to accomplish this quarter” thoughts. You’re stuck on the fear hamster wheel of create, create, create – without time to figure out what it’s all for. This may be harder to implement if you’re working in-house, but see what you can negotiate. I’ve just started this myself, and noticed a really interesting side effect – my body and mind doesn’t feel trashed out by Friday. Cool!
  • If you’re feeling really messed up, get away from it all. The recession had an interesting effect on people’s psyches. Two years ago, people were scared to death. Today, people seem like they’re making up for lost time – so they’re working crazy hours. If you’re feeling chained to the computer because “an email may come in” or “you just have to finish this one thing,” you’re not working in the flow – you’re working afraid. A long weekend far, far away from your computer can help put life back into perspective. Which brings up…
  • Talk to someone if you need it. If you find yourself constantly writing afraid, it could be that you have to untangle some thoughts that are keeping you from moving ahead. The recession scared a lot of people, and getting yourself out of “the sky is falling” mentality can be hard to do by yourself. You can talk to a counselor, a coach, or a trusted friend or mentor. The key is having someone in your life who can act as a sounding board.
  • Get out of your comfort zone at least once a day. Post something edgy (c’mon – you know you want to!). Answer a question on Quora or LinkedIn. Consider running local seminars. The best way to kick fear’s butt is by showing it that you’re not afraid.  Flooding yourself with new experiences will give you a greater sense of mastery that will flow into your writing – and move you from “writing afraid” to “writing in the flow.”

What about you? What techniques do you use to move away from fear and into the flow?

Update:  For another great take, check out Seth Godin’s latest post, “Who is making you uncomfortable?” (Thanks to @ljcrest for bringing it to my attention!)

8 Ways to Keep Writing When You’re Running on Creative Fumes

It started last Thursday.

I woke up and immediately noticed that I felt “off.” I spent a good half of the weekend on the couch, remote control in hand. And working out today was no fun.

No, I’m not sick. I’m running on creative fumes. I’ve been writing so fast and furious that I can feel my body screaming, “Uh, can we have a little break here?”

Can you relate? There are times when all deadlines seem to converge – no matter how organized you are, or how judiciously you plan your time. Instead of going from one project to another in a relaxed flow, everything is urgent, high priority and due right now.

This situation is something any Web copy writer – from freelance SEO copywriter to in-house content marketer – deals with from time to time. At first, working such a fast pace is exciting. You’re balancing multiple projects and never feeling bored.

Then, about halfway through the projects, you start to lose momentum. You look at your copy and wonder, “Is this any good? Or does it sound exactly like what I just wrote yesterday.” You go home feeling exhausted. Television or a good book is about all you can handle. Talking….not so much.

Good news: Your writing quality probably isn’t suffering at this point (yet). But your psyche is. You’re writing too much in too short a time – and it’s taking a toll.

Exhausting, isn’t it? Looking back at the last two weeks, I’m not surprised I went for some quality couch-time last weekend. But that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped writing (obviously – I’m writing this post!). I’ve just learned how to manage my energy better. Here’s how you can, too.

  • Admit where you are. Some folks have it in their heads that writers should “always” be able to write, no matter what. The reality is, there are good days – and there are bad days. Saying, “I’m a little frazzled right now,” is OK. You don’t have to be 100 percent “on” all the time. No one is.
  • Be picky about what you put into your body. I used to manage these “running on creative fumes” times with a two-pronged approach: Starbucks double-shot latte (which would make it the sixth espresso shot of the day) and a cupcake. I can almost feel the sugar high just by typing this! Then one day, I felt my blood sugar spike and crash within a very short period of time. It was uncomfortable, made it impossible to write and was more than a little bit scary. Now, I focus on protein during high-stress times and always have food like almonds nearby.
  • Recognize your energy flows. Even during my creatively frazzled times, there are still some hours where the writing is easy and effortless. I’ve learned to embrace that time and write when I’m feeling “on.” If I’m checking email every five minutes and blankly staring at my computer screen, I’m not working (or being productive.) I’m wasting time.  At the same time, even if I’m in an “up” energy flow, I’ve learned to…
  • Slice production expectations during busy times. I can write super-fast when the Muse is with me, and I tend to pack my to-do list accordingly. When multiple deadlines are crashing down and I can feel myself starting to burn out, I start slicing items off my to-do list. Ask yourself what’s priority to do right now, versus what can wait until tomorrow. Do you really need to write that Web page now, or can it wait? The more you can conserve energy, the easier it will be to get through your deadlines.
  • Obsessively plan your writing. Sure, if you weren’t as busy, you may be able to sit down and write perfect Web copy without much prep work. But when you’ve been writing way too much in too short of time, your brain just can’t perform on a dime like that. Your best bet is to take time to outline every Web page before you start writing, and have your keyphrase research easily accessible. Spending a little “prep time” now can help prevent you from blankly staring at the screen later.
  • Take time to relax every day. It’s important to spend even 30 minutes away from the computer and doing something relaxing. Maybe that means reading a book. Maybe that means staring at the window and watching the people go by. It seems counter-intuitive that you need to stop work in order to work more efficiently – but it’s true. Try it and see.
  • Enjoy yourself. I know it’s easy to gripe and moan about “deadlines” and “burnout.” I’ve done it too. At the same time – you can also look at this time as a fun creative challenge. Think about it: If you weren’t so darn good, you wouldn’t have this problem. Enjoy the moment.
  • Rest when the crunch time is over. Congratulations! You made it through. Take a few writing days off and focus on doing other things. By the time you sit back down at your computer, you’ll be seeing your work with fresh eyes – and your writing will flow without flagging.

Photo thanks: © Steganos77 | Dreamstime.com