March 9, 2012

How to get over social media writer’s block

Chris AbrahamWe’ve all had it. Writer’s block. You need to write something and there’s nothing there. No idea. Nothing seems like the right approach.

Why does it happen? There are six reasons why you’ll have chronic writer’s block when it comes to producing content to feed your social media dragons: blog, Twitter and Facebook. Once you recognize some of these reasons within yourself, you can break out of writer’s block and let the world know what you have to say.

It needs to be perfect

1No it doesn’t! Who told you that? It never needs to be perfect. In fact, if you’re being perfect you’re probably not only alienating your audience but you might actually earn yourself a wedgie for being too much of a nerd.

Besides, it’s not like your words will be etched in stone. Unlike traditional dead tree publishing, our social media output generally never makes it to paper. So don’t worry. When I wrote for the AdAge Digital Next blog, they used to publish my articles first and then do any detailed editing after it was already live.

I routinely do my best when it comes to organizing and editing my own work; however, I always go back and read my posts out loud after they’re live. It’s amazing how much better I am as an editor when I know that folks can already read my post.

The same thing goes with tweets and Facebook Page posts: Go ahead and bring stuff down if you have second thoughts. I am not saying that you should be careless. Social media is not a live press conference where you have to field hostile questions in real time. In social media, always breathe before you respond or hit the submit button.

That said, even if you regret a tweet or the quality of a post, there’s no rule against deleting or editing, there’s only a rule against denying that you deleted or edited. And don’t forget to use strike when you change your mind.

I have just too many ideas to harness!

2The best thing about this problem is that you’re not lacking in passion, enthusiasm, or creativity. The best advice I can give you is to write down, as quick as you can, all of the ideas clogging your head into a list, count them, and then be glad that you have X number of blog, Twitter, and Facebook posts queued up well in advance.

The most successful social media content feels less like writing and more like spoken word.

Then, choose just one, and just start writing. No form, no objective. Just write on the topic. Try writing exactly the way you would talk about it. The most successful social media content feels less like writing and more like spoken word. If you have the time and inclination, you can chop up what you’ve written and then organize it later. My only suggestion is that you don’t bury the lead. I mean, let’s be honest. You’ll be lucky if your readers get past the first paragraph, the first sentence, or — well, just be sure you get the titles right.

On that note, try to keep your post focused. That’s why it is essential to break all those ideas into little pieces and just write enough to clearly and accurately reflect what you know about the subject. And, since you have so many ideas on your list, if you find that you’re just not into what you’re writing right now, then stop, put that copy away for later into your file drawer and start on another one.

You’re not wasting time, you’re just finding today’s groove. Keep all of your work, even the abandoned pieces — they’ll come in handy later. There’s no such thing as waste in social media.

What if I get myself fired?

3This sort of fear generally stems from a very threatening social media policy document or a general lack of experience or a lack of confidence in representing the particular brand, company, product, or service. Generally, the only thing you can do is over-communicate. Nobody can read minds — at least as far as I know — and nobody should have to. Management needs to be very clear as to what is practically appropriate in terms of disclosure, transparency, content, tone, language, and general saltiness.

The best way to work on your confidence is by role playing or message modeling. Message modeling will allow you to write an assortment of blog posts, tweets, and Facebook Page “treatments” for you to run by your managers as a way of vetting what they’re comfortable with. It will have added benefits as well.

First, submitting proposed content and topics to them to review, moderate, and edit will bring them into the loop, include them, and then after a pretty short amount of time, they’ll probably eventually let you know when they feel comfortable with you tweeting, blogging, and Facebooking all on your lonesome.

You, too, will eventually lock into where the boundaries are, the sort of tone they expect, deep in your muscles, and you’ll have the added confidence to have explored your limits in a safe environment and you’ll have naturally integrated the tone and voice most appropriate for your job. No worries.

I hate writing

4You really should not be on social media. Social media is all about communicating, mostly in text. This requires writing. If you have writer’s block because you hate writing, you should go up to your boss and let them know that. If you’re in communications and hate writing, you should probably become an accountant.

Or, suck it up, fake it with complete conviction, and hope to become a quick Senior VP and hire someone else to do all your writing for you. Or, find someone else in your office who gets all wiggly whenever anyone mentions Twitter, hashtag, share, tweet, or blog and delegate, punt, or turf the task to her. Or, you can hire me. I personally don’t think someone who believes social media is beneath them can ever succeed in social media.

Can’t happen in the kind of sustainable way required to win the ultra marathon known as social.

I don’t know how to write well enough

5If you’re passionate enough to want to, that’s good enough for me; but please don’t do it live on behalf of your brand, your clients, your boss, or your company until you do because there’s nothing that folks in our space judge more harshly than poor grammar. “Really?” you ask, “I see terrible grammar left, right, and center, why don’t those people get called out?”

Well, there’s a difference between someone who knows the rules and breaks them and someone who doesn’t. Know the rules and then decide (dude, don’t break them — but that’s just me).

I am so done with this

6It’s time to take a break from social media. All the best of us have taken a break. Honestly, you’re just burnt out. Even the most passionate and wiggly of us all can feel a deep sense of meaninglessness and regret: I think about the 52,515 tweets that make up my very own @chrisabraham Twitter experience and I fantasize about all the spy novels, the experimental odes to Thomas Pynchon, and the small books of acclaimed poetry I have squandered in service to @chrisabraham and this blog. And then I say, in my head so far, “I am so done with this.”

Don’t worry about it. Take some time off and see if your social media heart heals. If it does, welcome back! if it doesn’t, start telling everyone “I hate writing” and see if you can get that promotion to Senior VP and get some other sucker to write pithy corporate marketing copy in the form of editorial content.

Good luck, and I wish you luck and many column inches, 140 characters at a time.Chris Abraham is a partner in Contact Chris via email, follow him on Twitter and Google Plus or leave a comment below.

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3 thoughts on “How to get over social media writer’s block

  1. Good tips, Chris. And we writers all too often forget that the lessons we've learned over time can be readily adopted by bloggers who haven't been churning out copy for years. For me, I rarely get writer's block (although there were certainly days when I was writing my thriller in the '90s), but I do struggle to find the time to write even short blog posts these days. You should see my to-do story list!

  2. Excellent article Chris! I think your first point is especially important for all to keep in mind. It's very easy to over think your social media entries after awhile. Indeed, it doesn't have to be perfect.