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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!)

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

Sometimes, you need to write a blog post like that ::snapping fingers::

In general, I’m not a big fan of super-fast writing. I’ll spend hours tweaking my copy, making sure that it meets my specific definition of perfection. Yeah, that may be overly obsessive. That’s just how I roll.

However, there are times when even I write the quick and dirty blog post. Maybe it’s because I’m blogging from the plane, and I have a half hour before the captain gives her “power down” warning. Or maybe it’s because I’m timing myself, seeing what kind of efficiencies I can build into my writing.

Or maybe because I want to watch the hockey game on live TV for once – and I really need to finish work before I can play.

If you know you have 30 minutes or less to write a blog post, you can make it happen. It won’t be perfect, but it will be “good enough.” Here’s how you do it:

Before you begin:

  • Gather your materials. There is no bigger time suck than looking for your background notes while you’re trying to write. Before you start your writing project, have everything you need easily accessible. That means, you have your keyphrase research in front of you, you have any applicable sites loaded and ready to surf and you have your notes front and center. If you have to bounce between checking email, looking for your keyphrase list and writing, you’ll never finish on time.
  • Plan your topic carefully. Opinion pieces make great quick and dirty blog posts. Quick how-to pieces are also good. Long, in-depth posts won’t work unless you are a very fast writer.
  • Figure out how much time you’ll have to plan, write and proof your work. As a bare-minimum guide, I would give yourself at least five minutes to plan and outline your post, 20 minutes to write it and five minutes to proof and tweak.  And yes – the planning phase is crucial. When we’re under time pressure, a blank page can instill the worse kind of writer’s block. Having a quickie outline will help jump start your efforts.
  • Do something to cover up your computer clock. Ever have a sleepless night where your clock becomes your worst enemy? You roll over and think, “It’s 2:30. If I sleep now, I’ll have at least four hours.” Then, “Crap, I only have two more hours before I have to get up!” It’s the same thing when you’re forced to write fast. If you stay overly-conscious of the time, your focus will tick away with the seconds.

After you start writing:

  • Do not multitask. At all. It’s uncomfortable to sit and focus for 20+ minutes at a time. I get it. Do it anyway. Every second counts.
  • Don’t let yourself get stuck. Did you lose your train of thought halfway into a sentence? Start another sentence. Begin writing the third bullet point first if that’s what gets your creative juices jiving. It’s all about what keeps you in the flow and moving along.
  • Keep your inner editor at bay. You may be tempted to go back and tweak a sentence. That’s great if you have time – but if not, make the sentence “good enough” and keep moving. That’s why you built in additional proofing/tweaking time at the end.

When you finish:

  • Always proof your work. Always. It may be tempting to spend an additional five minutes squeezing out a few additional words. The downside is, you’ll probably miss a couple big typos that will make your blog post look like it was hastily written. OK, yeah, it was hastily written. But it doesn’t have to look like it!
  • If you see an opportunity to improve your copy, go for it. I’ll often see a place where I could change the verbiage and make the writing a tad more dynamic. If you can easily make a value-added tweak – do it. If your minor tweak turns into a major blog post reconstruction, let it go.
  • If you have the freedom to let it sit before you post – keep your post as a draft. Once you come back to your writing, you may notice some places where a few edits can completely transform your writing. Whenever possible, I like to “sleep” on a post and review it the next morning. It’s amazing how many value-added edits I make when I’ve taken a break and reviewed the post with fresh eyes.

As a caveat, I wouldn’t try this “fast blog post writing” technique on a sales page. Your conversion flow is too crucial, and hastily-written sales pages don’t leverage every online writing opportunity. If you’re feeling too time-crunched to write a sales page, consider outsourcing it. Yes, it will cost you money – but it’s better than writing a so-so sales page.

What about you? What are your favorite fast-writing tips?

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.

Do You Suffer From This Dirty Little Copywriting Secret?

Copywriters don’t like to talk about it. Heck, they don’t even want to admit it to themselves. But, they’re often stuck in their own content marketing hell, suffering in silence.

The affliction?  “Copywriter’s burnout”- and it can decimate your SEO and social media strategy.

Back in the day (say, 1998 or so,) there weren’t as many online content marketing avenues. You wrote copy for your website. Maybe you wrote a monthly article, kicked out a press release and participated in a forum or two.

But now, companies are being told to blog five times a week. And Tweet. And write articles. And comment on other people’s blogs. And write new site copy. And repurpose existing content.

The copywriter who was used to writing one or two things a day is now responsible for writing multiple pieces of copy, tracking comments, devising Tweets and updating the site. Every single day.

The list seems almost endless. And for a sole proprietor, in-house marketer or copywriter, it can be totally overwhelming.

The sad thing is, burnout sets in long before the person notices. The burnout process starts with the writer feeling “bored.” “I’m writing about the same damn things over and over, ” one writer told me. “My heart’s not in it anymore.”

Slowly, the work quality suffers. What were once brilliant turns-of-phrases transform into “formula” copy.

Then, the writer stops writing as much as she used to. Five blog posts turn into four. Then three. Then before you know it the blog is dusty from underuse…and the last post was sometime during Q3 of 2009.

Sound familiar?

Writers don’t talk about burnout for obvious reasons. But it’s there. And it exists. And it can be scary. Here’s what to do:

  1. Admit the burnout to yourself. If you’ve been writing about health and fitness for over 10 years, it’s no wonder that you’re a little bored.  It’s OK to say, “If I have to write about kettleballs one more time, I’ll go insane.” It’s OK to want to delete your Twitter account and move to an island without phones or broadband. Admitting the burnout is the first step in overcoming it.
  2. Talk to another writer about your burnout. The wonderful thing about admitting “copywriter’s burnout” is that you’ll find that you’re not the only one. Hearing another writer affirm how they’re feeling is sometimes all it takes to turn things around.
  3. Try writing something just for fun. I asked a talented writer yesterday if she ever wrote for fun anymore. There was a long pause before she admitted, “No, no I don’t.” Think about it this way: Writing is like exercise. If you’re writing the same thing over and over (or exercising the same muscle group,) you’ll stop seeing benefits – and sometimes, set yourself up for injury. But if you can cross-train and write different things that you want to write, you exercise new muscles…and often, remind yourself why you loved writing in the first place!
  4. Take a break. Copywriters with in-house gigs are often responsible for pages and pages of copy every single day.  That can be…challenging…under the best of circumstances. If you have the freedom to do so, take a vacation away from writing and do something else. Even just a week can provide you the rest you need to keep on keeping on.
  5. Get help. As writers and marketers, getting outside writing help can feel defeating. After all, you figure “I know how to do this. Why should I pay someone when I can do it for free.” Well guess what? If you’re not writing because you’re burned out – or what you’re writing is utter drivel – all you’re doing is setting yourself up for failure. Besides, outside writers can look at your stuff with fresh eyes, take some of the pressure off of you and let you focus on other things. I’ve seen burned-out clients get three months of copywriting help – and then they were rarin’ to go after that. They just needed someone to take over some of the writing tasks so they could take a psychological break.

“Copywriter’s burnout” is insidious, frustrating and can wreck havoc on your self esteem (as well as your SEO content marketing strategy!). The good news is, ever writer I’ve known has eventually been able to pull out of it. Maybe a short break is all it took. Or perhaps getting outside help did the trick. The important thing to know is that it happens, it’s common, and it has an end point. And once you’ve come through on the other side, you’re writing is even better than before. Really.

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!

 

 

 

 

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!).

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.