It isn't writer's block. It's content evolution.
by brittany taylor | March 23, 2017
Every week, my motivation suits up and battles my biggest blogging struggle: evolution. It’s not procrastination or laziness that gets me, though I both procrastinate and am lazy more frequently than I’d like. It’s the change that does me in.
Sometimes I win the battle. Lately, I’ve been losing. But every week, I suit up and I fight because I know these two things are true: first, when it comes to blogging, consistency is crucial, and second, what I have to say needs to be said.
So what’s the problem?
The problem is that I haven’t quite figured out exactly what I want to say and how I want to say it. My brain is still parsing ideas and concepts, and in the meantime, I need to blog about something—thus, the struggle.
It's not writer's block. I want to be clear about that.
Writer’s block is not being able to find the words to express your ideas. I’ve got lots of words, y’all. It’s the ideas that are jumbled. And the best blog posts are, in my experience as a blog-reading fool, are the ones that are driven by sharp, neatly expressed ideas.
Right now, my ideas are half-sorted. I get about half-way through an ace blog post, and then my brain takes a pause and turns in a different direction. Well, wait just a second, love. Do you really mean to phrase it quite like that? Is that truly representative of what you’re thinking? And then I stare blankly at my screen, think it through, and realize that what I thought was a fully-baked idea isn’t ready to come out of the oven yet.
(That cloaked figure you saw sauntering off the screen was my motivation, by the way. Call him back over here, please. We’re not done with this post just yet.)
It’s damnably frustrating, but it’s also incredibly exciting. That’s why I’m not pissed. I can see what’s coming the way a seer can see shapes in a crystal ball. I know it’s going to be cool and inspiring, but I’m not there yet.
I also have no idea if I’m the only one working through this not-writers’-block problem—that’s why I’m writing about it.
Because, you know, if you’re reading this and my experience sounds sort of like yours, maybe it will help you figure out why you suck at blogging right now and convince you that you’re not as doomed/terrible as you might think you are.
We weirdos have to stick together.
All content producers get to a point where their content begins to change. It’s inevitable. It happens to television shows and magazines, websites, blogs, social media outlets, YouTube channels. It happens to artists and makers and crafters.
So, it’s only natural that the content you post on your blog (and everywhere else) should evolve, too.
Content evolution—much like evolution in the natural world—starts with something random and affects things at random.
Maybe you’re feeling angry, and you send a snarky tweet. It’s only one tweet, at first, but then you send another one, and that snark starts to feel like it’s channeling something in your spirit. Soon, your old style feels off and your new one, your snark, feels right.
Maybe you’re a cynic. You’re glass-half-empty and everything you produce comes from that POV. Then, you start taking yoga classes. Or you start dating a really great girl who you think might be a descendant of Pollyanna. Somewhere between learning asanas and your fifth date, the way you view the world brightens, and that’s reflected in the way you communicate.
Maybe you’re a Vine expert and Vine dies. (RIP Vine.) Maybe you’re an insurance expert and you begin specializing in risk. Maybe you’re a technophile and you decide to cut the cord for shits and giggles. Maybe you’ve exhausted everything in the realm of makeup tutorials, or maybe you just discovered fanfiction and you’re obsessed.
There are so many variables, and everything we’re exposed to every single day could potentially spark an evolution.
Embrace it. Lean into it. And, when blogging becomes a struggle, hold on to your moments of zen and keep on suiting up your motivation, just in case today is the day you nail it.
How to go with the flow while your content evolves without letting your business wither and die
You’re evolving, not freewheeling your entire content strategy. Here are a few ground rules to keep you as on track as you can possibly be when you’re not exactly sure where you’re headed next:
Too often I find that bloggers write off these sorts of blogging struggles as procrastination, laziness, or actual writer’s block, when it’s content evolution that’s really tripping them up.
Assuming it’s something else—and trying to problem solve whatever that assumption is—will not propel you forward. It’ll keep you flailing. You’ll be convinced you’re just a terrible business owner who isn’t cut out for this life rather than a business owner who is working through a period of change.
To avoid that experience, hold meetings with yourself to check in on how you're doing.
I know it sounds weird and woo-woo, but consider this: You’re the boss, right? Bosses check-in with the people they manage. Even if you’re a party of one, it’s your duty to manage yourself effectively, and to do that, you need to be honest about how you’re doing—and if you’re not doing so hot, you need to figure out why.
Build time into your schedule to be honest about where you stand with your content production goals.
Do it every week for five minutes. Take the time to review what you created and published the week before and ask yourself these questions:
Checking in every week will help you catch problems early. Remember, you can’t handle a problem you aren’t aware of.
When your fingers are hovering over the keyboard but you can’t bring yourself to commit to a sentence—or you’re looking at what you just wrote and are scrunching your nose at it—put the laptop away and feel yourself out.
Ask yourself what it is, precisely, that is preventing you from writing with conviction and confidence. What are you hung up on?
Is it a thought? A word you can’t put your finger on? An idea you don’t know enough about to explain? Is this blog post taking you too far afield from your expertise? Is it too similar to something you saw another writer post? Is it potentially controversial? Is it lame or uninteresting? Do you not really care about the subject? Is this not the best way to present the information or ideas at hand? Do you want more time to think about it before you take a stance?
When you can pinpoint the source of your frozen fingers or scrunchy nose, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of where you need to focus your mental energy and what you need to consider further in order to push past this blogging struggle.
I'm going to make a crazy guess: Most of us content creators are either producing content we wish existed now, but doesn’t, or are producing content we wish existed for an earlier version of ourselves, but didn’t.
Here's another one: Most of us content creators consume a lot of other content in varying forms. We might be bloggers who spend hours on Vimeo, but content is content.
This is quite meta, but I find that as I read blog posts and articles, I absorb not just the information and ideas but also how they’re presented. I’m wearing two hats: consumer and critic. And by wearing both hats at the same time, I slowly build a mental vision board of what I want my own content to resemble once it’s fully baked and ready for proverbial prime time.
I’ve got a mental reject pile, too. It’s a retention pond chock full of things that might work for some people but will never grace my website—at least not this upcoming iteration. Sometimes, knowing what’s a “don’t” is just as helpful as identifying a “do.”
I love planning content strategies. I love brainstorming. It’s my preferred mode of productive procrastination, and in this case, it’s useful for a few reasons:
One, it gives me a short-term roadmap. Even if I’m only using it for a few weeks, some sort of plan allows me to be a productive and consistent blogger, even when I’m in the middle of a content evolution.
Two, it calms my anxiety. If I don’t have a plan, I freak out. I worry over what’s going to go on my blog and what I’m going to put on Instagram and what I’m going to tweet about. Worry causes stress. Stress makes me break out. Stress is bad.
Three, it gives me perspective. I like that I can say, This is where I started. This is how it’s changed from September to January. This is what I’m feeling really good about, and this is where I think it’s going today. It shows progress, and I think that’s helpful.
Sometimes, I feel like a shitty blogger because I know that what I’m creating today isn’t the type of post I’ll be publishing six months from now. That’s when it’s necessary to give yourself a bit of a smack and say, Look. This is what you’ve got right now, and this thing that isn’t perfect is better than nothing.
It’s OK to be not quite there yet and still be putting content out into the world. It’s the smart thing to do. It’s like they say about SNL: They don’t go on because they’re ready. They go one because it’s 11:30.