AT NIGHT I USED TO STAY UP staring at a blank screen.
Writers block is a feeling of uselessness, helplessness, and frustration; it’s the feeling that every content creator dreads.
Starting Is the Hardest Part
I remember when I first started a blog. I would sit down at my computer at 8:30pm, a glass of water by my side, and suddenly every great idea I had seemed to vanish.
So I started to carry a notebook with me throughout the day. On it I would write down ideas that would come to me or jot down questions I was asked via email or from clients.
At night I sat there looking at my notepad, not knowing where to start – staring at that damn flashing cursor with my idea prominently written at the top of the page.
If you’re like me, you have those times when you stare at a blank screen for hours. After checking Facebook and Twitter 5 times each, you venture on to YouTube to complete the death spiral.
“Tomorrow will be different,” you think as you brush your teeth. But tomorrow won’t be different. Blog posts don’t write themselves. And if you want to create great content consistently, you need a system.
Steal My 5-Step Template
- Tell a story related to your topic.
- Identify the problem from your story.
- Re-state the problem in general terms that apply to your reader.
- Lay out the steps to solving.
First, buy a pen that you enjoy the feel of. In a notebook, write down your topic at the top of a page and the above 5 steps as headlines with space in between them (I usually leave about 10 lines for each one).
Next, fill in point form notes for each heading on the different aspects of your article. Write down all ideas and points that come to you. You can always delete later.
Finally it’s time to let your fingers dance on the keyboard while they fill in the blanks. Expand on the points you’ve already written down and let the article write itself.
Each Step Broken Down
Step 1: Tell a Story
The only purpose of the beginning of your post is to get the reader to commit to reading the rest. You must interest, entertain, and intrigue them. Stories are engaging — use one to paint a vivid picture of the scene. Details support the story, not the other way around.
At the beginning of this article I kept the details simple: a glass of water, a computer, a toothbrush. More detail would bore you and take attention away from my story.
Here’s an excerpt from a previous article of mine for my personal trainer blog:
It’s Wednesday at 3:27pm. You’re staring at the computer reading over the latest research on knee biomechanics (or looking at pictures on Facebook that the girl you like just posted from her beach vacation over the holidays).
As you take a sip of water, the metallic ball in your shaker cup hits your teeth for the 10,000th time; suddenly you become aware of the phone in your pocket: ‘Not again’ you think, ‘please God, not again’. A feeling of apprehension grips you as if it’s foreshadowing the inevitable.
The phone rings.
This is a story where the person is drinking water and his or her phone rings in her pocket. But, to make it more engaging for my audience, the detail of the metallic ball in the shaker cup allows my audience to connect to the scene.
Step 2: The Problem from the Story
Here’s the next paragraph from the same article above:
“Slowly you avert your gaze from Jessica and her friends frolicking on the beach and zap yourself back to reality. The caller ID says that it’s your 4pm client, right on time to cancel the session — again. Her son is sick and she hates to do it, but she can’t make it in. She’ll see you on Friday — hopefully.”
As your story nears its end, you should identify the problem that it showcases that you intend to solve in the post. It’s assumed that your reader will probably get your point but to help them to identify with it, you’ll restate it in step 3.
Step 3: Restate the Problem in General Terms that Apply to Your Reader
This section is blunt.
Write down an issue that people in your industry suffer from that your blog post aims to solve. Continuing the same article:
Personal training isn’t easy and day-to-day annoyances like the one above can contribute to a lot of frustration over time. These annoyances may eventually have you looking for another career.
Clients will cancel last minute, they will make up excuses, you will get upset that people still believe they can buy a quick “magic” fix, and you will force yourself to put on a smile when you’re hungry, exhausted, and in a bad mood. Accept that these things will happen. With any job there are annoyances. The difference is that you have control while many others in different professions do not.
Admittedly, the writing could be tightened up but the generalized statement is there.
Step 4: Steps to Solving
You can’t create a sentence without a noun and a verb and you can’t make a blog post without a problem and a solution. Within it there are variations but the basic building blocks never change.
Break down your solution into actionable steps. Lists and step-by-step systems are ideal. Make your solution manageable by breaking it down into its parts.
Take 5 minutes to think through what it is you do. The system is already in your head. Think about each step and write a brief section outlining it — similar to what I’ve done in this post. I often use brain-mapping software called mind-node to help me organize my thoughts as well.
Step 5: Conclusion
You can have 1,000 great experiences but the most recent will have the strongest effect on your mood. Even the best content in the World is ruined by a poor conclusion.
A conclusion is not a simple summary of your blog post – that’s a cop out. A conclusion can be one of the following 3 things:
- A thought-provoking quote or statement by you to leave the reader with some food for thought.
- A famous quote by somebody important that sums up the point of your article.
- Bring the story from step 1 full circle and leave with a surprise or quick joke to leave the reader with a smile.