Remember that scene in 8 Mile when Eminem’s character chokes up before the rap battle? The anxiety wins.
It’s part of the gig.
Performing will always come with the anxiety – for people like rappers, journalists and professional bloggers.
Now, as a blogger, you have the upper hand. Nobody’s watching you write the first draft. There is no opponent to battle with.
It’s just you and the blank page.
And here’s the better news …
Writing isn’t talent alone. You don’t even have to be creative to murder the anxiety, beat the blank page, and write a post that works – a post that somebody will read twice. A post they won’t be able to resist sharing online.
You just have to know the tricks of the trade.
And because writing isn’t talent alone – there are tricks of the trade you can learn in an afternoon.
Or, in about one thousand words …
Blog Writing Tips in 3 Steps that Beat the Blank Page
How many writers have you met in your life who are ‘working on’ a novel?
I studied creative writing at university, graduated into sports journalism and have been copywriting professionally for over three years. I’ve met hundreds of writers on that journey.
Not one ever told me they just finished their novel.
The truth is, creative people often don’t get stuff done. And a lot of the time, it’s because they either wait for their muse (whatever that is) to kick in, or because they let their anxiety take over.
I love John Carlton’s take on this:
“Many would-be writers are terrified of writing something because they suspect it will rip away the illusion of ‘talent’ they’ve carefully nurtured.”
– The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Getting Your Shit Together
John’s a world-class copywriter.
In fact, he’s probably THE world-class copywriter.
And in that book he goes on to explain how if you want to avoid becoming one of those “never did it” people who bang on about what could have been, then you need to put in some stinking sweat, elbow grease and time, to beat the blank page.
That sounds like a lot of work, I know.
The shortcut? Don’t panic, it’s coming up…
You’re not looking to create world-class advertising here – you’re looking to create a blog post that sinks into the mind of your reader as easily as her favourite song.
So, the pressure’s off.
Time to get your fingers on the keyboard:
1. Imagine your perfect reader. Who they are exactly. Then use keyword research to find out what they’re looking for.
2. Create a precise headline that promises the answer to whatever it is your reader’s typing into Google.
3. Keep that promise as you write your first draft. Delete anything that deviates from the promise.
How to Write a Precise Headline that Makes an Irresistible Promise to Your Reader
I am terrible at playing guitar. Seriously, you can find me on YouTube failing my arse off.
My dad on the other hand, is pretty awesome.
He’s one of those people who can hear a riff in the morning, twist his strings into tune and know how to play it by lunch.
To keep up (and I have got a point here about headlines, don’t worry), I do whatever anybody else without that natural guitar player’s ear would do – I use guides, tabs and how-to videos to learn how to play a certain tune.
Then I stare at the laptop as I walk my fingers through the song.
Note by note.
Chord by chord.
I do this over and over again – until I’ve established enough muscle-memory to play without the guides … and even then I hit some bum notes.
When it comes to writing titles, I still don’t have the muscle-memory part locked down.
But I do have my headline guides.
And because nobody is ever watching me when I write a first draft, I have no problem (or shame) ‘cheating’ with the guides at my elbow.
Now, I’ve built these guides up over two years of reading online and offline copywriting advice (not always blogging advice, which is Matt’s specialty).
If you’re interested in grabbing the formulas I use for my job, let me know in a comment and I’ll point you in the right direction.
But first, let’s get our heads around what makes a great post title:
Use clear benefits in the headline.
Tell the reader what they’re going to get by reading your content – what’s in it for her?
She’s not going to read your post if she could be using that time to check her emails, order those concert tickets she’s had her eye on or take another sip of that chocolaty coffee … unless you promise her something even more irresistible in the headline.
And you do that by including benefits.
Be smart … not clever.
Don’t use any cryptic language, jargon-specific words or any jokey stuff that requires some level of conscious thought for the reader to understand. Be simple.
Think about when you scroll through your own Twitter feed and how fast you scan every snippet. If you’re forced to pause in order to understand a particular Tweet, then zip – forget it, you’re onto the next one.
Your reader treats blog headlines in this way too.
Remember that we all end up in the dirt.
If you can attach a clock to your post, then the click becomes even more tempting to your reader – because not one of us on this planet has five minutes to spare.
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— Note: I’ve slipped in some more attention-grabbing headline techniques into those above. And I haven’t just made these techniques up (I’m not talented enough). Most of my headline-writing guidance comes from Copyblogger.com.
It’s a simple, but ADVANCED copywriting education.
If you want to zoom in on writing irresistible headlines, then forget me (I’m just the student here) and head straight to the masters for a free podcast lesson
Or join their brand new Headlines that Work community on Google+ —
3 Blog Writing Tips from the Laziest Blogger You’ll Find
On average, I write 2,000 words a day for clients. And when I was a n00b copywriter, I motored through even more content than that.
I’m not bragging – in fact, I’m probably the slowest writer in my agency.
But my point is that I write all day. Every day.
So, I’m often burning out when it comes to blogging for my own projects … and I become the laziest writer you’ll find.
That’s why I use a bag of tricks to get through these personal blog posts in about two hours (that’s title writing, research, redrafting and publishing).
I’m breaking every copywriting rule in the book by vomiting out my content in this way. But, again, we’re not writing world-class advertising here – we’re writing easy on the eye stuff that the reader’s going to love.
Here are three of my favorite tricks:
1. Write how you talk. Even better, write how your reader talks.
2. Delete your first paragraph. You’ll thank me later.
3. Use sensory language at every opportunity. Sight, sound, touch, taste and smell bring your post alive – your reader will love that without even realizing.
Time to Beat Your Next Blank Page to a Pulp
Let’s go back to my horrendous guitar skills …
I keep up with my dad by following straightforward ‘cheat sheet’ tabs.
So, I thought I’d compile this post into a cheat sheet too.
It’s free for you to download, so you can print it off and keep it on your desk (the printable version is loaded with a couple more tricks, by the way).
— To get it, just click the link (or the thumbnail below) and hit the save or print icon when the PDF opens up. —
Dig it out the next time you sit down to write and you’ll beat the blank page in three hours.
Soon, you’ll have the muscle-memory to write without the guide and beat the page in under two. And if you’re anything like the other writers in my team, you’ll be even faster than that.
Thanks for reading.
If any of this has struck a chord with you or if you’ve got your own blog-writing trick to add to the list, please get involved with a comment below – I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.
Photo Credit: The Fizzies by Fred Rockwood
Rob Philbin is an agency-side copywriter from the UK. You can grab more (free) tips from him over at Philbin Media. Connect on Google+.