3 Sure-Fire Steps for Beating the Boring Content Blues

My content is boring

Have you ever reached a plateau with your content? You come to a point where you have a predictable amount of traffic, that traffic creates a predictable level of response (comments, clickthroughs for your product, number of back links, whatever), but your response doesn’t seem to budge past that point.

It’s fun climbing to that spot, but less fun to get stuck there for weeks or months on end. I’m going to share a painful secret with you. It isn’t your layout or your banner. It isn’t your SEO. It isn’t your lack of the perfect WordPress plugin.

It’s your content.

Specifically, your content has become flat and routine. You’ve found a modest audience that likes you, but your ideas and your writing aren’t sharp enough to pull in, energize and keep new readers.

Over 20 years as a professional writer, I’ve developed a method to take my writing to a stronger, deeper level. I originally got this technique from my dad, who’s a disciplined and talented jazz musician. I’ve tweaked it to apply to writing, and more recently, to apply to online content.

This isn’t something you do just once. I’ve done this exercise dozens of times — three times with my blog alone — and it never fails. It’s not “quick and easy,” but it is a virtually guaranteed way to become a stronger writer in 30 days.

I’ll start with something that might sound a little wacky. Good writing (or music or painting or computer programming) is strongly influenced by your “right brain,” or what is sometimes called your unconscious mind. Your linear, logical left brain is great for structure and grammar (and it’s in charge of language), but it’s lousy at coming up with fresh, striking ideas. It’s also painfully slow compared with your right brain, and it has no feeling for the rhythms and deep structure of good writing.

Stephen King calls this mysterious part of his brain “the boys in the basement.” This is a technique to boot the boys in the basement in the hindquarters and get them busy working on good stuff for you. There are just three daily steps, and none of them takes much time.

Step 1: Write every day

Every means every. You don’t get to skip Christmas or Earth Day or National Administrative Assistants Day.

Relax, I’m not insisting you write every day for the rest of your life (although that would help you get much, much better). But you’re going to make a commitment to write one blog post — or whatever kind of writing you do — every day for the next 30 days.

If you’re a Dosh Dosh-style writer and your posts tend to run pretty long, feel free to rework this commitment to writing one section of a post every day. But each piece of daily writing needs to be something that is complete in itself. A scene for a novelist, a sonnet for a poet, a post for a blogger.

This time around, I’m using the Seinfeld productivity technique, which I like a lot. Get a big wall calendar and a marker in some color that makes you happy. Mark a giant, satisfying X for every day you write. After a couple of days, you’ll find that you don’t want to break that beautiful string of Xs.

If you get to 29 days and then you contract Ebola or the plague and have to skip a day or two, you start over. Write every day for 30 days. No excuses, no exceptions.

In every kind of creative work, practicing every day will create breakthrough improvement — if you do it enough days in a row. It will give your work a depth it didn’t have before, a maturity and a new clarity.

You don’t have to write for three or four hours a day — 20 minutes is fine. And you don’t have to post everything you write. In fact, you shouldn’t.

When you write every day, you’ll find yourself sometimes writing utter junk because you have to get the day’s words out. Congratulations, you’re on your way to becoming a pro.

There will be many days when you can’t sit down to work at all unless you give yourself permission to write complete crap. Sit down and write a crappy post that day. Crap is just fine. Skipping a day is not.

Step 2: Post every two or three days

Depending on your blog, your readers’ expectations and your topic, you might actually publish two, three, or four posts a week. One really strong post a week may be plenty, if you can fill in with a few short link posts that don’t take much brain power.

Polish every piece before you publish it. The editing and polishing will probably take as much time (or more) as it did to write the post in the first place. Only publish good work. Good work doesn’t (often) come from first drafts.

If you don’t actually have someplace to publish your writing right now, polish up a few pieces a week anyway. Post them for yourself on a Tumblog no one knows about. Rewriting is probably the most critical part of writing.

I know writers who can crank out volumes of first draft but get completely stuck when they have to rewrite. Serious writers don’t have that luxury. Polish your work every week.

If you write seven posts a week and publish all seven, you’re going to post writing that isn’t very good. Don’t do that. The boys in the basement have to know that you won’t betray them by sharing work that isn’t ready. And your readers have to know the same.

Step 3: Capture two ideas every day

Every day, write down two ideas for blog posts. Keep these somewhere you can always access them. I use the 37 Signals program Backpack because it’s cheap and easy, and because I keep everything there. You could use Google Notebook or a text file on your laptop or a bunch of 3×5 cards held together with a rubber band. It doesn’t matter at all.

They don’t have to be two good ideas. Many of them will be terrible. But if you don’t make the commitment to capture two new ideas a day, you’ll run dry after a week or two. (You actually have hundreds of ideas every day that could make good blog posts. You just have to catch two of them before they fade into the mist. If you want to catch a few more, that’s ok too, but only commit to two.)

If you get completely stuck on ideas for the day, think of two different angles on the post you just wrote. Or riffs on two current events. Or load up magazines.com and capture a couple of Cosmo headlines.

Why it works

That’s it, that’s the whole program. It’s both very simple and very difficult.

It works for a couple of reasons. First, you can’t write well unless you can learn to ignore the part of your brain that wants things to be perfect. The boys in the basement hate perfect. Perfect is actually the enemy of damned good. Writing every day gets you out of the illusion of perfection and into the daily practice of damned good.

Second, you’re learning a habit not only of writing daily but of original thinking daily. After about a week, the boys will get the message that you’re serious. That’s when it gets fun and they start sending you increasingly good ideas.

The boys also occasionally send you entire paragraphs or pages, and you’ll feel like you’re just taking dictation. This is when professional writers say stupid things like “I can’t believe they pay me to do this.” 95% of the time you don’t get to take dictation, but it’s pretty fun when you do.

Be careful — if you don’t show up to accept what the boys in the basement send your way, they’ll get stingy again. Yes, this sounds like some kind of new age baloney. It doesn’t matter how logical or analytical you are, this is still how it works. Some of the most hard-boiled, no-nonsense writers you will ever meet have found this to be true.

Third, you’ll learn what every serious writer knows — there is no such thing as inspiration. There is work and there is a commitment to show up, and then there is the alchemy that lets you create better writing than you thought you could write. These things are a result of daily commitment and practice, not positive thinking or feel-good visualizations.

Finally, you’ll have a whole bunch of posts you can keep in reserve for when you’re having a Bad Brain Week. This sense of bounty will keep the boys in the basement happy enough to keep sending you a steady stream of good material. Don’t ask me why they would rather send you stuff when you don’t really need it. The boys in the basement are nothing if not perverse.

What happens after 30 days?

You may want to continue this practice forever. Plenty of people do.

But if you want to take a breather after 30 days, that’s fine, too. Many writers find it’s useful to take short breaks and let the well refill. Whatever you do, you’ll have a healthy reserve of blog posts and post ideas. (Never throw ideas away. I get some of my best posts out of ideas I thought were dopey when I came up with them.)

Much better than your reserve, you’ll find that your writing is smarter, sharper, more cohesive, and takes less effort. The improvement is permanent — every time you do this, you’ll get a little bit better.

Successful, compelling content depends on damned good writing. Make a commitment to doing the work and getting the boys in the basement on your side.

Your “pretty good” content will break through to “damned good,” and you’ll be on your way.

About the Author: Sonia Simone is co-founder and CMO of Copyblogger Media. Share your content blues with Sonia on twitter.

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Reader Comments (119)

  1. says

    What a great kick in the pants first thing this morning! And to think, I was trolling blogs because I was avoiding working on the next scene in my novel. The gauntlet has been thrown! I’m going to give this method a go for the next 30 days. I’ve been writing long enough to know that it’ll work, but sometimes it’s nice to get an outside push. Thanks for that.

  2. says

    Thanks, Sonia, this was the perfect post for me this morning. (I have perfectionism issues.) I use a twist on the Seinfeld production method. I have to put a big black X on the days that I don’t write. Somehow it’s more motivational for me to keep my calendar clean. That probably says something about my psychology that I don’t want to explore too closely.

  3. says

    I love these tips – it’s definitely training yourself to write – I was writing everyday and then took a break (does working out gone bad come to mind) – no I’m struggling to get back in the groove – definitely gonna give your 3 steps a go.

  4. says

    Sonia, quite a refreshing post with great info. I especially liked the idea of looking in unusual or offbeat places for ideas when you’re really stuck. I suppose you could do the same by going to Google headlines or Amazon.com and seeing what others are writing about your area of interest.

  5. says

    This is excellent! I have some unpublished posts knocking about, and I went back and rewrote, then hit the ‘publish’ button, after reading this post today. I’m finally accepting that it’s OK for me to write rubbish now and again, as long as I write and get better every day. At least then, I’ll be writing less rubbish!

    29 days and counting…

  6. says

    Sonia, thank you so much. I am reading Writing Down the Bones and your advice is the perfect companion. I printed this post so that I will remember to follow this process. I can’t thank you enough for writing this at a time when I really needed this advice.


  7. says

    Good advice on writing every day. For me this is how it usually happens: The first 13 days of writing I feel like Superman, “damn I AM invincible”. The next 7 days I start feeling the effects of the keyboard kryptonite “a bit painful, but I WILL persevere!” And the last 10 days I come to the harsh reality that I am in fact Clark Kent “Mmmmmm, perhaps today I will write about my new shoe laces”. While the shoelace article may not possess the wit and literary sharpness of “A Woman of No Importance”, at least I am still writing!

  8. says

    @WDOC, hey, Nicholson Baker got a pretty good novel out of buying shoelaces!

    @William and others, so good to hear it! I have really found this one beneficial, and I hope you do that same.

  9. says

    Thanks. I’ve been writing, journaling, for years. I’ve published a few things. Now I blog several times a week. But with the blogging I’ve been content to let the first draft fly, ready or not. A few take wing, most flail and fall.

    If my good intentions turn into a decision I’ll be taking our advice.

  10. says

    Incredible post…thank you Sonia.

    I heard Seth Godin say something on one of his podcast interviews with Accidental Creative – I thought it rang true with exactly what you were saying.

    I have this taped to my computer monitor –

    “Writer’s block is fear of writing something that isn’t perfect – perfect is teh enemy of good…if you can be good frequently then on a regular basis you will be amazing.”

    Thanks for your post

  11. says

    Ummm, I had almost given up reading blog posts about writing…most are just sort of cheerleading kinds of things. But this I love! A method, an action, a way to stop thinking about why I’m not writing and to just write. Thanks!

  12. says

    Excellent post! This will cut down my writing time and help me become more consitent with my writing, it doesn’t have to be perfect, I will remember that.



  13. says

    Me an’ mah boys in the basement… we get along just fine. I bribe them with liquor. They cheer. They toss stuff my way. Snatch, grab, jot notes. I toss them some chips, they cheer some more.

    Then in the mornings when it’s time to write, I say, “Listen, boys, let’s make a deal.”


  14. says

    Amen on the tumblelogging idea. I’ve been doing that since January and it helped a lot.

    Since this week is easter, maybe get into the spirit of things by blogging everyday for 40 days instead of 30. :-)

  15. Barbara says


    I have to tell you I didn’t really identify with the ‘boys in the basement’, but it did make me laugh. There is that something that does come up with the ideas, does compel one to write, does bring clarity (finally!).

    Thanks for all those things, the reminder of all those things, the magic putting them all into words.

  16. says

    Whoa, major kudos Simone! Damn Good writing…doing a happy dance for you… and wonderful practical writers’ studio skills to hone. Feed those bad boys baby if this is what they give you in return! Excellent post.
    All best, Jan

  17. says

    Sonia Simone kicks ass. Although not letting me skip National Administrative Assistants Day is a bit harsh, don’t you think? I mean, Christmas? Fine, I’ll work it. But NAAD? Slavedriver!

  18. says

    @ Chris Marshall – I have it on good authority that Sonia has both, as well as a mighty handsome hubby who needs some attention every now and again. :-)

  19. says

    Great post. Wonderful way to keep writing in a blog and not get burned out. Good suggestions on how to keep your writing intersting and build a following for a successful blog.

  20. says

    I love blog posts that give me some homework to better myself. Thanks for the great advice. I will try this as I know a lot about “business stuff” but am not a polished copywriter.

    I learned a long time ago that mere repetition isn’t always conducive of “getting better.” If it were, you’d think we’d just get better at writing the way that we do.

    Do you add any time in there during these 30 days to learning new techniques or is that a given?


  21. says

    @Chris Marshall, yep, Naomi is right, I have a day job that can be fairly writing-intensive (director of comms) as well as a family consisting of a 2 1/2 year old and a very excellent husband. And I’m working on getting two side businesses off the ground, as well as helping a friend market his Internet product. Keeps me out of trouble, mostly.

    @John, I’m always interested in learning new stuff. I read sites like copyblogger & ittybiz, I subscribe to a couple of paid newsletters and a whole bunch of free ones, and I’m a junkie for the classic advertising “how-tos.” All of that is useful, but it has to come second after writing and rewriting. It can be very seductive to spend all your time reading *about* writing and no time writing.

  22. says

    Wow, Sonia! I stumbled onto your blog looking for a link to support a post I’d written about applying improv techniques to writing. After linking that post to one of yours, I poked around and found this TERRIFIC post! Just what I needed to be told.

    I’ve worked with Julia Cameron’s morning pages, but I like this idea of your dad’s better because it asks me to make something more publishable–even though not perfect.

    Like all REALLY good ideas, it scares me a little. Looks like it has the potential to change ME, not just my blog.

    Thanks for your generous offer.

  23. says

    Oh, good stuff! Not only for bloggers. My writers’ group is about to get an email directing them here. They already know about Writing Down the Bones and Julia Cameron and also Dorothea Brande. This is a great update, with contemporary additions such as Cosmo headlines and Backpack! I feel rejuvenated!

  24. says

    @Sonia – I’d have to agree with that. Sometimes I find I’ll spend so much time reading content to “learn” but then when all is done I realize I haven’t really accomplished much.

    It doesn’t help much too that I’m not a speed reader!

  25. says

    The real trick to do this routine and follow it up by working out for 1 hour. Not only are you a killer writer but have abs of steel!

  26. Curt Eiworth says

    Sonia – your writing swings (echoes of namesake Nina?) and you speak the truth. You just forced this retired journalist to start writing again. Thanks.

  27. says

    Love it! I needed this kick in the pants. I’m off to bookmark this right now so that I can re-read it when I need that motivation to stop staring off into cyberspace…

  28. says

    I like it!

    @Rosemary & Jamie, those teachers–Julia Cameron, Natalie Goldberg, Dorothea Brande–mean a lot to me as well. I wonder if bloggers know ’em?

  29. says

    I chuck all my ideas into a text doc or a Google Doc or onto a 3×5 card I always carry in my pocket. “Write it down” is such a huge key to polishing and spreading ideas. Thanks Sonia!

  30. says

    “Someone’s boring me. I think it’s me” Dylan Thomas

    Boredom’s the writer’s alarm clock, signalling it’s time to wake up and find the spark again. (Hey, that sounds like a quote, too.)

  31. says

    “Polish every piece before you publish it. The editing and polishing will probably take as much time (or more) than it did to write it the post in the first place.”

    That’s certainly true for me…I can usually put down my core post fairly easily and quickly…I spend a great deal of time editing and proofing, making sure I’ve only included what’s relevant and ensuring that all links work and quotation marks are correct, etc.

  32. says

    Truly wonderful. I just popped over to your blog and there’s much more that’s wonderful there. I’m reaching for my notebook as we speak to get today’s minimum-of-20-minutes’-writing underway. Thanks so very much.

  33. says

    WHAT??? There’s no such thing as inspiration??!??

    And here I have been hanging around looking at a blank screen… fingers poised on keyboard just waiting for inspiration to come into my brain! Hmmmmmmm.

    Great suggestions! And it’s what I need to hear today! Thanks


  34. says

    With my web host down for 12 hours of maintenance, this is just what the doctor ordered. I found out that my Windows Live Writer software will allow me to save multiple draft posts, so it is real easy to keep writing!

    Thanks for the inspiration!


  35. Simone says

    I need some help please!
    Where do you guys post your work, on what sites an is it possible to make money from writing?
    Please help, I have so much writing ideas and don’t know where i can promote them

  36. says

    It is so true that people should be posting at least once a day. Many people have a lot of trouble finding inspiration but it is very important you do at least once a day. All of the best blogs have at least 2-3 posts a day.

  37. says


    A colleague who is a master of Digital Art produced one piece of art every day for 30 days last year (see compasswebworks.com). Her work got better and better as a result. I was so impressed with her output and technique, that I applied it to writing “Ideas du Jour” every day since January 1 this year.

    Thanks for adding writer-friendly tips! Got the message.

    Note to self: the draft ain’t good enough. The boys in the basement are much too quiet, and the gals in the attic need to play more.

    – Maggie

  38. says

    I agree 110% when you say: “Finally, you’ll have a whole bunch of posts you can keep in reserve for when you’re having a Bad Brain Week. This sense of bounty will keep the boys in the basement happy enough to keep sending you a steady stream of good material.”

    That makes my basement boys much happier as you’re not writing “stressed out” posts that “need to get something up” verbiage will throw off your content… good post.

  39. says

    Wow! Just when I thought I was on it writing three blogs per week or more – and now you suggest 7.
    It’s funny that I really had a tremendous amount of fear when I wrote my first few blogs. I didn’t think I could do this at all and I just kept doing it because my son (I don’t keep him in the attic) makes me write. He’s the one responsible for the look and graphics and sense behind it all. He’s a pusher and he’s wonderful.
    After almost a year, I feel torn at moments. Not out of fear so much but when does it get easier?
    I used to get up every day and write and now I am writing more on one or two days, but two or three blogs. You might have the right idea. I’m sort of burned out right now as a matter of fact.
    I’d love anyone to comment on my site to let me know if I’m sounding a bit redundant??
    It’s been a long road for me to do this and I’m enjoying it but I’m certainly hoping that what information I’m donating, it is worth something. I’ve had a few respond positively but no huge hits.
    Thanks for sharing. I love what you do to help all of us out.

  40. says

    Absolutely love it!!!
    Great tips, gotta get my boys to start sending stuff up. I’ve been avoiding pen and paper (or keys and screen) lately, waiting for that mythical inspiration to strike.. Love this post, gave me a kick up the rear.

  41. says

    @michele, if you’re getting burned out, you may find this technique helps you find a sense of play again. Much of what you write will just be for you. Any kind of creative work needs a little self-indulgence (that you keep just for yourself) to keep your well from running dry.

    @Shane, many have kicked me in the rear in the past, I am glad to pass it along. :)

  42. says

    Thanks for all the help everyone! I’m getting a late start today – bill paying was on the agenda today —aaargh!
    But, my husband wanted me to transform something he needed for a very important meeting yesterday and I count that as writing. I wrote about anti-fatigue mats. I can talk about them because I actually have two in my kitchen. One in front of the sink and the other in front of the stove. Boy, do I love those mats. My write was much more specific to the quality and the product information but I figured I was writing. I’ll have to share some of that in a blog somewhere. I think I know exactly the perfect spot. Flooring and back strain. Ha!
    Ok – there’s my big idea for the day. Thanks again!!!
    Love, love!

  43. says

    Interesting and useful post.

    I think writing everyday is really important. It’s amazing how one day you can think of absolutely nothing to say, and then suddenly lots of ideas emerge. I was going through something like this the last few days, and now I suddenly have – what I think – are some great ideas to get me through the next 20 or so posts.

  44. says

    Thank you for such an amazing post. So simple, yet so effective. I participated in NaNoWriMo last November and I wrote over 50,000 words in 30 days. It felt great! Mr writing was really flowing and I could have kept going and going. Sure there were days where my writing seemed dull and I wanted to skip sometimes, but I think it was a great exercise.

    I am going to give this a try in April. :)

  45. says

    Ok, I’m getting it. After reading this post about writing everyday – at first, I went aaargh.
    What happened to me, your permission for me to write anything made it so much easier all of a sudden. So, off I went and wrote late in to the night. One very personal blog about my own frustrations as an artist leaving myself last and then I worked on blogs I had started and not finished. Great thing is that my words came out so much easier and I felt a bit more creative with what I was writing.
    Thanks again!
    I hope that I can make it to the next seminar in Chicago next year. I have a condo there that we rent out. I’ll try and save it for that event if I know well in advance. Keep me posted if there is going to be anything there again soon or here in So. Cal.


  46. says

    A wonderful post.
    I have a voice that tells me, ‘you can do it later’ and that ‘later’ thing keeps going further away everyday. I am going to try this method for the next 30 days with my new blogs.

    Thank you Sonia

  47. says

    I certainly feel like I fall in that category lately. I’m on a mission to obtain some guest writers to break up my own monotony.
    It helps to write in different locations of the home. I’ll move outside if I have to. I’ll go to the local coffee shop. I’ll sit in bed with a cup of coffee. Truth, I think we need to see what other great sites are doing and create mentors.
    I need one right now!

  48. says

    >>Third, you’ll learn what every serious writer knows–there is no such thing as inspiration. There is work and there is a commitment to show up, and then there is the alchemy that lets you create better writing than you thought you could write. These things are a result of daily commitment and practice, not positive thinking or feel-good visualizations.

    That’s some of the best advice I think I have ever seen. I am going to print it and put it up on my wall lol.

  49. Prakash says

    Thanks Sonia

    That was a Great Post. I have taken a print out and posted it on the Wall. And well the crosses yes the chart is ready.Just starting to string them.


  50. says


    I love it. Anything you can do for thirty days will become a habit. Once that sets in you will naturally write everyday.

    For me I write almost everyday but it isn’t just for me it’s for my clients as well so that keeps me polished.

    My tip for keeping inspired is to read other inspiring blogs like this one or books and then I get tons of ideas and I am ready to rock!

  51. says

    Good stuff! I’m a newbie when it comes to blogging… I can’t write everyday because I don’t have enough time. But your right, if your blog often has a new content, many will be interesting.

    “Perfect is actually the enemy of damned good. Writing every day gets you out of the illusion of perfection and into the daily practice of damned good.”

    I like this one… this is true…

  52. says

    Hmm, eye-opening for sure. Don’t know how I missed this post when it was first published.

    I surely do know about the “boys in the basement” becoming stingy. Back in high school I easily wrote 2-3 short stories a week (I won’t talk about the topics, that’s embarrassing). Then I got caught up in the social aspect of school, and the writing went out the window! Here I sit, 8 years later, and I feel as though I can’t write a short story worth a damn.

    Thanks for the post…it’s the kick in the ass I need to start churning out content on a regular basis. Even if that content is never seen by the public eye!

  53. says

    Damn it… no secret? Surely not!?! Thanks for curing me of the search for the secret and to get on with the work of writing. Steven King says that a writer is a “producer of words”. If you produce 2000 per day, you have a book in 3 months… 1000 per day a book in 6 months and 500 a day, a book in a year… some today, none tomorrow = never a book and you better remove the title “writer” from your email signature 😉

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