In an earlier article, I covered the mechanics of how to discipline yourself to write enough items for you to be able to generate a blog post every day for a year or more, weekends and holidays included. There are particular tricks to setting up a routine, choosing a range of topics and so forth, that will help you to do this. And it can be done: at this writing, I have put out a post every day for two years.
There’s one thing missing in that earlier advice, though: what about that actual moment of sitting in front of a screen, when you have to churn out another item or article, and you just don’t know what to write?
The Challenge of the Blank Page
For many years I was an English teacher. I’ve also tutored private students of many different backgrounds, ages and capabilities in both England and Australia. In almost every scenario over these years, a major part of my task was to get students to write something when they a) didn’t have any idea what to write and b) weren’t ‘in the mood’ to write anything. From the ways in which students responded to conventional instructions regarding writing, and from years of experience in listening to students and trying to get better written work out of them, I have found that the orthodox way - going on and on about 'introductions' and 'conclusions' and so forth - is not only considered boring by them, it is also ineffective. It doesn’t really teach potential writers much about writing or what it is supposed to do, nor does it actually help anyone to get started and overcome his or her fear of writing or at least reluctance to write.
So I came up with a method which not only helps students to write something on almost any subject from scratch, boosting grades and raising confidence and morale, it also can help you write a post for your blog. And it can be done in minutes. I wrote this at first as a free guide on how to write essays, which is available from my website, but it is easily adaptable for bloggers and in fact any form of creative writing.
The Single Biggest Problem You Face When You Come to Write an Item
You’ve probably been taught that an article has to have an Introduction, followed by the Body, and then concluded with... well, a conclusion.
You’ve probably been told that your writing is supposed to be ‘logical’, something that guides the reader on from one point to the next. Most of the writers I have spoken to about this find it all unutterably boring and decidedly unhelpful. What is meant by ‘logical’? How are ideas supposed to be linked together? What’s the difference between the introduction and the conclusion?
Maybe you’re the same.
But these concerns are not even the worst issue.
The most difficult thing when it comes to writing an item is how to actually start.
Confronted by a blank computer screen, it is so easy to drift off and find something else to do, isn’t it? You are simply not sure of how to begin. If you have followed earlier advice, you will have chosen a set of topics for your blog which should present an array of things to write about. You should be passionate enough to write about them, ore wouldn’t be trying to write a blog at all. But now you are sat in front of a blank screen with a keyboard in front of you. What should you do first?
What People Usually Do About It
Writers usually do several things at that point:
1. They go off and do something else.
Overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task, it is a simple matter to contact a friend through the same computer they are sitting at, and engage in a conversation with them on social media. It’s not a lack of willingness or failure to understand the subject in most cases - it’s simply the steep gradient of what to put down first on the paper or screen. They get confused.
2. They start writing from notes, item by item.
Some writers ignore any idea of an introduction and just launch into a mish-mash of facts, perfectly accurate in themselves but following no real pattern or structure.
3. They write a very boring introduction along the lines of 'In this article I am going to be discussing how to iron shirts...'
They know it’s dull; it reads as dull. But at least it’s something, and it gets them started. When it gets finished, it might be acceptable, but it will lack shape and
A Workable Method
Truthfully there are many ways of writing a good blog item, but whichever way is chosen, from your point of view - under pressure to produce that daily article - the best way is the way that works.
What to Deal With First
The first thing to tackle is the awful sense of blankness or confusion which a writer often faces when looking at the empty screen or page right at the start.
I call my method for overcoming this the 'ABC' method, for ease of remembering.
A. Find A Key Word or Phrase for Your Headline.
There’s a lot written elsewhere about how to out together a good headline, and this isn’t exactly about that. What you need is to find the key word or phrase which sums up what you are going to write about.
In the subject of making model aircraft, for example, you might want a headline which contains words like ‘The Ultimate Guide to Gluing’ or ‘How to Hang Your Model So That It Always Looks Good’. The key words are ‘ultimate’, or ‘always looks good’. That gives you the concept around which you’re going to structure the whole thing.
Then, with Step B, you get an instruction which perhaps no one else on the internet will ever give you.
B. Write a Boring introduction to the item. Really Boring with a capital ‘B’.
Write the dullest and most tedious introduction that anyone has ever read.
Don’t even remotely try to make it interesting.
For the example above, something like this would suffice:
'This article will discuss the things you can do to make gluing your model easy and quick. I will look at each part of the process of gluing and explain what to do to make it simpler. There are things that people do when they are gluing a model which make it more difficult and I will show you how to avoid these.'
You could probably think of something even duller, it doesn’t matter.
The real point is that your page or screen is no longer blank.
You now have something to work with. Which brings us to Step C.
C. Change it.
The raw material of your super-boring introduction can now be easily transformed into something more dynamic and interesting. Two little mini-steps usually do it:
i) Add in five adjectives or adverbs.
Modify your work by adding in some appropriate descriptive words - for example:
This short article will discuss the simple things you can do to make gluing your model much easier and quicker. I will look at each part of the process of gluing and swiftly explain what to do to make it much simpler. There are things that people do when they are gluing a model which make it more difficult and I will show you how to avoid these.'
Why only five adjectives or adverbs? It’s only an arbitrary number, but any fewer than that will have little effect, while more than that will probably overload what you have written. Plus five is an easy number to remember.
Already you can notice a marked difference in the passage above. You have actually already probably moved it up a notch by demonstrating a slightly
better command of the English language.
But there is more you can do with little effort.
ii) Change the order of the words around to make it more exciting. Try starting, for instance, with an exciting or large word, while avoiding beginning sentences with 'The'. Also try to boost your vocabulary a little.
‘Avoid the difficulties of gluing your models by quickly examining each part of the process with me to rapidly isolate some simple things you can do right away. Get the job done faster and without as many problems.'
You might think of other variations. You’ll tend to shorten the text, perhaps a little too much, but in the end you will have something much better than what you started with. The magic of it is that you have done it on a gradient. You now have something on the page or screen which makes sense and even sounds good.
This will boost your confidence to continue.
But what happens next? You still have the rest of the article ahead of you. What about logic and arguing a case and so on?
That’s where the next piece of magic comes in.
Stay tuned for Part 3.