How To End Writer’s Block Forever
(And Make Readers Fall In Love With You)

typewriter

Think back to the last time you felt the crushing pressure of writer’s block.

When that locked-up feeling of helplessness transformed a blank page (or post) into a terrifying testament to your own private insecurities, what did you do? Did you curse your frozen creativity, try to wrestle an idea out of your head — or worse yet, retreat altogether from the keyboard to escape?

We all have our private ways of handling the freak-out moments that every writer (no matter how prolific) falls victim to. But wouldn’t it be better not to freak out at all? There is a way — and it’s easier than you think.

When writer’s block strikes, it’s often because you’re worried that people will say your writing Might Not Be Good Enough. And in a fast-moving world where we feel “only as good as our last post,” that can create a paralyzing fear.

But here’s the thing — this can only happen if you’re focused on your own idea of what’s “good enough.”

When all else fails, listen

If you put your focus on what your audience wants to read (rather than what you want to write), the whole game changes — and the shift is in your favor.

So how do you find out what your audience wants?

You ask. You listen. And then you let them guide you down their own personal path, where they reveal exactly what they want to be told in order to feel comfortable buying from you.

When you have that kind of information, the writing can just flow and flow.

3 simple ways to start listening to your audience

Becoming an authority is a key part of influencing your audience. Contrary to what many people think, you don’t create authority by constantly spouting your own opinions.

Instead, you look for every opportunity to connect and interact with your audience so that you can deliver the information they need right now (and become the hero they’ve been looking for).

  • Don’t neglect your comments. If your readers are taking the time to respond to your content, you need to do more than simply reply back. Take a look at what they write and imagine the logical progression of the conversation. Give your reply now, but tuck ideas away for follow-up posts so your well will never run dry.
  • Write provocative content. Flat, lifeless articles are a dime a dozen — and an incredibly outdated way of delivering content. When you sit down at the keyboard, write with the intent of stirring up emotions and provoking conversation. Take a stand — or at least talk about someone else who is — and call for your audience’s reactions. What they tell you will be fuel for future posts.
  • Flat out ask. The simplest solution can solve your writer’s block forever. All you need to do is send a survey to your list, or devote a post to a specific, relevant question where you promise to follow up on the answers you receive. Even a few responses can spark the creative fire you need to write quickly and effectively — and you’ll know that the content you’re creating is exactly what your audience wants to hear.

When you listen, you become the hero

It’s no secret that when you focus this intensely on the needs of your audience, they will become your committed, lifelong customers and fiercely loyal advocates for you.

It’s a core underpinning of the Third Tribe concept — if you earn loyalty, you’ll receive loyalty.

So now it’s time for me to put my method where my mouth is: What do you want to see from Copyblogger over the next few weeks? What would be the most useful content you could imagine? The sky’s the limit — and we’re all ears. :-)

About the Author: Dave Navarro is the product launch coach of choice for online marketers and has a special message for Copyblogger readers.

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Comments

  1. Thanks for these tips, Dave. Solid advice, as usual.

    To be honest, because I write for a living, I simply can’t afford to have writer’s block. Especially since I only have about 2 hours a day to write (I’m a Mom of 3).

    But, ok, there are times when the words aren’t flowing smoothly. Some other ways I find out what my readers want is by doing some sleuthing, such as:

    * making a Twitter search for the topic
    * looking at bestselling books on the topic in Amazon.com
    * going to the nearest Chapters and browsing related magazines (also a good excuse to sit and have coffee in Starbucks)

    Oh and to answer your question: I would love more posts about copywriting and Email marketing. I know, copyblogger.com is already full of them, but what can I say? I’m a copywriting junkie.

  2. Doug D’Anna once wrote, “I’m not a writer — I’m a salesman who types for a living.”

    Find out what people want, then it’s just a matter of typing out what they’ve already told you they will buy.

  3. You promised the world with your title, and I didn’t finish reading feeling dissappointed, good job David.

    As I read this post I couldn’t help but find similarities from your message to that of Steve Blank, or Paul Graham when it comes to entrepreneurship or even web programming (not as far from writing as we may think). In these cases they preach release early and often, allowing user feedback to guide your business or programs development cycle.

  4. “…but tuck ideas away for follow-up posts so your well will never run dry.”

    This little nugget is what I do. I actually keep an “Idea File”, which consists of lots of pieces of A4 paper with all these ideas.

    Whenever I get an idea for a blog post, out pops an A4 piece of paper, and the idea is jotted down. Sometimes I’ll add to an idea, and before long, I have the outline of a new blog post.

    As to your question… I want more on Grammar Rules. Umm, no… just kidding.

  5. Laughing, Paul. I think we can all stand about one of those a year. :)

  6. How can writing ever be from the soul if you’re just trying to pander for an audience? I think it’s this kind of thought process that diminishes writing as an art form.

  7. I’ve been seeing a lot of bloggers using the survey method. I now know why they do it: it was approved by Copyblogger!

    I do see that I enjoy the interaction I get when my voice is called up. I always check back to see if the blogger answered my question.

  8. I tend to disagree. I don’t like how you’re taking the ‘write what your readers want to see’ route. I think this could make writing stale and lifeless. The beauty of good writers is when they put their heart and sole in to it — they themselves need to want to write about it.

    I’m not saying somebody who has to write about something they don’t feel strongly about can’t do a sterling job. I am, however, saying a writer should write about something they feel passion for — there will always be somebody else sharing that passion.

    As soon as you start trying to please everybody you’re on a slippery path, leading away from your integrity, morals and uniqueness. There will always be people who disagree or dislike your writing, but hopefully there will be others who like it. Any other way would go against our human nature — and it’s only humans that write!

    As for writers block: If you can’t write about something, should you be?

  9. So worried about what other people will think of your writing that you can’t begin? Here’s copyblogger’s advice: worry more about what other people will think of your writing.

    Don’t follow this one, people. It will just make you crazier. If you have nothing to write about, do not substitute anyone else’s judgement for yours; instead, improve your judgement. Learn new things. Stop writing and breathe in the world for a while. Therein lies your answer, and there are no easy fixes.

  10. @Leonard and others, that’s certainly an enduring tension–between writing for ourselves and writing for our audience. It depends a great deal on your goals for the piece you’re working on.

    Copyblogger focuses primarily on copywriting (hence the title), which is to say persuasive commercial writing. And while putting our own heart into things is important, at the end of the day, persuasive commercial writing is about the reader, not the writer.

    If you’re purely writing for self expression, then as Leonard says, writer’s block may not be such a problem. If you don’t have anything to say, say nothing. Those of us who write for a living don’t have that luxury, however.

  11. Practical advice, but if it isn’t enough, I recommend taking a break to do something different. I always have lots of tasks, like paying bills or tidying the office, that I procrastinate on until I get blocked. Sometimes my head is just tired and empty and I need to recharge by going to the gym, walking the dog, reading great literature, chatting with an old friend or anything else that refills the well.

  12. Great blog Dave. I also keep a running notebook of ideas and transfer them regularly to a file on my desktop. I also use the RIP file idea and keep a list of transitions and phrases that I like to RIP from other people. Before I jot the idea I also tag it by grouping.

    The blank page fears me. Who wrote that originally? Anyone? Anyone?

    Thanks again!

  13. Sonia I get what you are saying, but divisions like ‘commercial’ vs. ‘artistic’ are not real human things, they are invented concepts, a cultural distinction, so they are really irrelevant when it comes to writer’s block, which is about what motivates a human being, and what motivates a human being is inspiration. If a ‘commercial’ writer has writer’s block, clearly exactly what they have lost is inspiration and your advice will likely lead them even further from an investigation of themselves which is where the whole thing is going to end up in the end anyway, so might as well point them there immediately.

  14. LOL, Leonard, good question: “If you can’t write about something, should you be?”

    I say, if you’re a writer, want to be a writer, or write for a living, then the answer is “Yes!” You have to write, and write every single day. Even when your brain seems to be filled with cotton and you can’t even compose a 160-word Tweet.

    If you’re a writer, you write, period.

  15. @Laroquod, I know hundreds of professional writers (not necessarily copywriters, but also novelists, poets, screenwriters, magazine writers, etc.), and in my experience, Lexi’s advice is more on the mark. Writers write.

    That’s not to invalidate your point, because I do think there’s a tension, it’s not either/or. You don’t write purely for yourself and you don’t write purely for your audience.

    But in my experience, the advice to quit thinking so hard about yourself and start thinking about your readers is, in fact, excellent and practical advice on getting unblocked.

    That’s been my experience, but you may see it differently.

  16. Since you asked – I would love to see more about writing for a B2B niche market. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

  17. There was nothing like the thrill of answering a “what are you struggling with” tweet when I first joined Twitter and seeing a blog custom-written by a respected expert about my situation as a result! You can’t touch that kind of response in traditional advertising. The result of course was a personal solution regarding my issue; but the greatest benefit was the ability to spread my story to help others in need! So many women chimed in with similar struggles.

    I think your article is right on the money and I gained a lot of insight from it as I prepare to launch a site that will help many frustrated families.

    Thank you!!

  18. Was this just a post to say you had writer’s block and you wanted to let us know how you worked your way through it?

    Good plan! It made for a very helpful and informative post. I’ve really been enjoying your articles about sharp editing and making writing more interesting. It never gets old to me.

    Blake Waddill

  19. Dave, this article was/is influential in any writers life.

    And as a comment to, Naps…

    When writing you have to think of an audience, especially if you’re a blogger, author, songwriter etc. and you can still write from the soul if your trying to convey emotion or teach something.

    Now if you simply want to write for your own well-being I suggest one keeps a journal for their eyes only. But to reiterate, once you decide to share this journal keep in mind that people want to read what they like, not what’s thrown at them.

  20. Unfortunately, I am innundated with surveys and tend to ignore them for lack of time.

  21. Nice Dave,

    While I lean into the sixty-knot winds of the writer’s block, it’s good to hear the voices of readers as stumble by clinging to the lampposts. I strap the laptop even more firmly to my knees, try to grab their hands, and hear their pleas for understanding.

    Someday, I’ll be a writer.

    Thank you, great post. Now I need a nap.

  22. PS – Don’t forget to edit. “they” fits between “as” and “stumble” above.

  23. Of course, writers write. You don’t even hear about those who don’t. The question is, how. Thanks for the exchange.

  24. Having a block were we, Dave? Just kidding. Thanks for the advice. I’m just getting started in this blogging craze. I’ve been told I’m a good writer by instructors and friends alike, but it doesn’t come naturally to me. The hardest part of writing for me is to think of an idea to write about. Since I haven’t figured out yet why everyone seems to think Oprah is an expert on everything, I can’t imagine why anyone would think I have something worth writing about.

  25. @Lexi –
    Ask and you shall receive. I’ll keep these topics in mind for future posts.

    @Naps –
    I disagree. There’s a tremendous difference between writing from the soul and copywriting. Certainly the two can mesh, but there’s a difference in intent. Copywriting is not the art of writing – it’s the art of getting people to take action.

    @Leonard -
    ‘Stale and lifeless’ only happens if you let it. Again, copywriting is the art of getting people to take action based on connecting their needs, desires and emotions with an offered solution.

    I don’t see a slippery path, either. There’s no threat to integrity or morals inherent in copywriting – simply persuasion. If I were tasked with writing copy for a life-saving cause I’d never heard of, and I wrote copy that caused people to take action (e.g., donations), there’s nothing morally ambiguous regarding the fact I wasn’t passionate about this particular cause.

    Writer’s block isn’t caused by a lack of passion – often it’s just a mental block stemming from anxiety over net being able to write as well as someone else we’re intimidated by. Or by life stress that has nothing to do with writing.

    I agree to disagree with your take, but I appreciate you taking the time to express your side.

    @Laroquod -
    I also disagree. This article doesn’t advise you to worry, but to dig deeper to discover value you can add to your audience when you’re feeling stuck. In fact, this article describes exactly how to improve your judgement and learn new things (as you wisely recommend) by listening to and flowing with your audience.

  26. @Dave perhaps you just had the cart and horse of the argument turned the other way around from the way I am used to employing them.

  27. One of the best things on writer’s block I’ve ever read comes from a screenwriter, John August (http://johnaugust.com/page/2):

    You know who gets writer’s block? Non-writers.

  28. Anything? How about your favorite chocolate chip cookie or brownie recipe?

    Seriously though, Dave, with the volumes of excellent guidance, advice, and POV’s shared in the Copyblogger forum, I can’t think of anything at the moment, but that has never stopped me from adding my own two cents :)

    I’ve been hesitant about plunging into writing a blog for exactly the reason that today’s blog addresses, because I’m: “… worried that people will say your writing Might Not Be Good Enough. And in a fast-moving world where we feel “only as good as our last post,” that can create a paralyzing fear.”

    And then you share the “A-ha” realization, “But here’s the thing — this can only happen if you’re focused on your own idea of what’s “good enough.” ”

    I’ve always found that asking/answering questions would break any writer’s block that I might be experiencing, and if need be, I’ll step away from the keyboard or put the pen down and take a walk-about sojourn to recharge my batteries.

    I also sincerely appreciated what you had to say today about becoming an authority, and that I can “… look for every opportunity to connect and interact with your audience so that you can deliver the information they need right now (and become the hero they’ve been looking for).”

    And in closing, may I add … when your writing resonates with your audience, you connect on deeper emotional levels, and this is true with ALL types of writing with its diversity of topics and voices.

    Thank you, Dave!

    Have a delightful day!

  29. I am reminded of a quote from Louis L’Amour (ok a loose paraphrase I couldn’t find the exact quote…lol): “Put your butt in the chair and write. Water won’t come from the tap unless you turn it on.” As I work on my career, I go back to this advice again and again. It is so easy to know a lot today, and it is so hard to distill it down to a strong essence that can be communicated to our readers.

  30. Writers write.

    I’ve written well over a million words in the last twelve months. For the first nine of those months I steadily made the mistake of confusing writing with copywriting. They may share a few moves, but they are different dances indeed.

    When I write for myself I place art before skill. When I write for clients I place skill before art. If ever the equation is flipped, someone’s getting cheated.

  31. I gotta spend some time with this “Third Tribe” stuff. Earning authority feels right – but is it a formulaic concept that can be precisely executed repeatedly or is it an “art” much like “picking up dates” at the bar. Don’t want to be crass – but I think this a great concept that I don’t want to see go the way of the “buzz word”

  32. Dave, Why do you write? Do you write for yourself? Do you write to unblock your own block and discover its source and why do you trust the authenticity of it?

  33. Dave, I usually like your advice, but this article didn’t seem as “inspired” as your others. But, from reading the comments it seems like everyone else differed from me opinion.

  34. @Stan, what a great question. My take is that earning authority is mostly an art, but there are some (like, using your analogy, the “pick-up artists”) who can turn it into a repeatable process.

    Me, I have more fun rolling my own. But that doesn’t mean I can’t benefit from advice.

  35. Dave –

    I agree with you to an extent – listening is paramount in connecting with your readers and writing content that they actually want to read. But, I think the ultimate cure for writers block is to just write. A passionate writer will never run out of things to write about. Notice I said ‘passionate’ and not ‘good’ – there is a big difference. If you aren’t passionate about what you’re writing, not only will your readers lose interest, you’ll lose interest yourself. I see bloggers everywhere ‘giving up’ because they think they have nothing to write about.

    Write because you love to write – and at the same, pay attention to what you’re readers want to read.

  36. I’m sitting here trying to think of an intelligent comment to write and I have writer’s block. LOL.

  37. What I would like to see Copyblogger tackle in the next couple of months are:
    * The best way to structure an article series
    * Tips for researching articles
    * Ways to write better leads

  38. I appreciate this article and realize writing under deadline can be g-d HARD. But how about the buzz of hitting a vein and seeing the light? Ecstasy.

    I write in all types of capacities: copywriter, Web writer, journalist to my own poetry — and coaching/consulting writers too.

    Here’s my take on writer’s block. I like to say It Doesn’t Exist. It’s just the Writer saying a Grand No:

    http://writenowconsulting.net/2009/06/is-writers-block-a-myth/

    Thanks for keeping the conversation alive. I liked the distinction between writing for yourself vs. writing for others. An argument can be made, even if it’s a poem, writing becomes Art when there is a place for writers to feel part of the writing. OTherwise, it’s just Dear Diary stuff. Cheers! Tatyana Mishel

  39. Great advice. I have been writing down what people ask me on twitter or what people say in general about blogging and have been planning writing content based on that information RATHER than writing about what *I* think would be good to write about.

    At the end of the day your readers are the ones who come to your blog and make it successful. So cater for them!

  40. The title of this post alone is enough to dub it awesome. Thank you for the great advice.

    Cheers!

    -Dena
    Evolution

  41. Another great article. I’ve become a big fan of Copyblogger over the last few months. It’s nice to be referred to other ‘Trustworthy’ people online. If Copyblogger post a guest article, i definitely check out what they have to offer.

    I would like to see more articles about how to market to an audience once you have them.

    How do you find products that would suit your audience?
    How would you present them?
    What’s the most effective method?
    How do I do it without sounding pushy?

    I’d really appreciate learning more on this area. Thanks

  42. Great Stuff! I was just about to start using ghost writers, but your article has got me thinking; “I can do this”.

    Thanks for you help.

    Aaron

  43. People don’t participate poll.
    When summer, I had pop up a poll in my site.
    Site unique visitor was 2k. Poll respondent was 100.
    I was sad :)

  44. Throughly enjoyed this post.

    Many people have writers block but writing from the heart can make an amazing difference as i often find when i am personally writing.

    I had a client a while back that wanted some car blog posts written and hated every moment of it and it took me a lot longer. But as soon as i wrote some posts on the make money online niche i was done in a flash.

    kind regards

    sam
    X

  45. The obvious advice to write about something that interests you and that you care about.

    To stimulate your writer’s juices, read something written by someone else, especially someone with whom you may disagree. Try listening to creative music, I am partial to jazz for that reason. Go to a museum and look at great works of art. In other words, allow the creative juices of other artists to flow into you. Creative osmosis has been proven by science and validated by experience.

  46. I don’t suffer from a lack of ideas for posts. I’ve always got new recipes that I’ve cooked up to share. My problem comes in how to write about the recipes in an interesting way every, single time. Taking a potentially mundane task, like putting dinner on the table, and making it interesting and fun can be hard.

  47. A good question to pose yourself: What would your readers read but then immediately tell a friend or colleague about?

    What would be so interesting they would go out of their way to share it?

  48. Again a typically copyblogged article, Great info for people who end up with content very early, I have got the answer for my question, also It would be great if you post about the usage of blogs hosted on blogger, typepad, wordpress.com as in to make them work.

  49. Here’s another idea.

    Keep a copy of any classic work of literature that is over 1000 pages in length, preferably something that you had to read in school, and really disliked, near your desk. For me it would be Thomas Mann – Magic Mountain (sorry to you T.M.)

    Every time you get writer’s block, say to yourself, “if I don’t break out of writer’s block in 5 minutes, I will have to read that rather dusty, incredibly long book that I had to read in school”.

    This is truly a magic motivator to cure writer’s block.

    lol

  50. Another thought. I can’t remember who said this, but:

    Kids playing on the beach do not get “sand castle block.”

  51. I love John L’s tactic about keeping a thick dusty scary book nearby.

    V. funny! And clever.

  52. Finally, a possible solution to writers block! I think you raise some really good points. I think it is important to connect with what’s current in the news that others may be discussing. This is a sure fire way to get readers interested in what you write as well as giving you a break when it come to putting together fresh content.

  53. A solution to writer’s block is always welcome. Nothing devastating as not not know what to write and you need to write to eat! :)

  54. Great Tip Dave.

    We really should listen to our audience, since those people are what makes our blogs and newsletter successful.

    Igor

  55. lol nice one @Shane arthur Doug D’Anna once wrote, “I’m not a writer — I’m a salesman who types for a living.”

  56. What is this? Someone who says that they will listen to other people? Way to go! It’s refreshing!

  57. Dave,

    Thanks for posting these ideas, sometimes it’s difficult to think of what to write but listening to your readers and their comments and writing what they want to read!

  58. Listen to your readers,best advice ever,Thanks.