This Simple Writing Technique Will Help You Overcome the Inertia of Perfectionism
When you have to create fresh topics for your blog each week, sometimes you just feel stuck.
Or maybe you can’t nail down your unique selling proposition that sets your business apart from the competition.
Perhaps you’re still wrestling with ideas for your email autoresponder series.
All of these issues are completely normal for writers who continuously aim to serve their audiences.
Since finding a way into your readers’ hearts and minds is your goal, you can exhaust your brain trying to find that perfect connection. As a result, instead of producing the perfect piece of content, you accomplish very little or nothing at all.
Several years ago, I discovered a writing trick that helps me overcome these types of perfectionism problems.
It’s called free writing.
What is free writing?
Free writing is the rapid, nonjudgmental capturing of ideas on paper (or in your word processor) as they rise to the top of your mind.
It’s a technique that fiction and nonfiction writers use when they want to generate ideas, overcome writer’s block, or become more creative.
Mark Levy, author of Accidental Genius: Using Writing to Generate Your Best Ideas, Insight, and Content, has a spot-on description of free writing.
He defines free writing as:
A fast method of thinking onto paper that enables you to reach a level of thinking that’s often difficult to attain during the course of a normal business day.
As a writer, I’ve used free writing in one form or another for years to make significant progress on my work.
How to free write
Much like brainstorming, there’s no one “correct” way to free write. But here are some helpful tips.
Don’t give your brain a moment to pause or evaluate your thoughts.
It doesn’t matter if you make typos or spelling mistakes while free writing — just keep getting the words out of your head and onto the blank page before the critical part of your brain has time to catch up.
Work against a limit
I love limits because they give a writer confines within which to work. You can use a word count (the higher the better), a deadline, or a timer.
I free write with the Pomodoro Technique. To do this, I set a timer on my computer for 25 minutes, disconnect from the Internet, and write without interruption. When the timer sounds, I take a four-minute break.
After four of these sessions, I take a longer break. Then, and only then, do I evaluate and fact-check my writing.
Write the way you think
I’ve read many business books, mission statements, and articles, and I’m always struck by how certain authors hide behind jargon, acronyms, and business terms.
It’s as if business writers are often afraid of revealing themselves to the reader. But great writers succeed because they can communicate in everyday language.
When you free write, keep it conversational. Get the raw yolk onto the page.
And if your natural thoughts are in business jargon, eliminate this kind of language from your work when you write your second or third draft.
Write your thoughts
Free writing isn’t the time for editing, so jot down random ideas, swear words, and off-topic points.
If you get interrupted while free writing, write down that you were interrupted. If you hear a dog barking on the street and you remember that you need to feed your dog, write that down too.
And if you think of an idea that has nothing to do with your current project, follow your train of thought. These tangents are often the key to original, innovative work.
Express the same idea in multiple ways
In his book, Levy describes this approach as “trying easy.”
If you want to “try easy,” go back to your last idea and write it in a different way or from a different angle.
Expressing your idea multiple times can help you clarify it — and it’s more productive than sitting around waiting for inspiration.
Now that we’ve covered the basics of free writing, it’s time to put it into practice.
Here are five ways you can use free writing to meet your content marketing goals.
1. Free write your unique selling proposition
Every smart business has a unique selling proposition (USP). Once you communicate the factors that make you different from your competitors, it’s easier to market and sell your products and service.
But a USP can be tough to identify.
Free writing can help you determine what sets your business apart because it allows you to combine various unrelated ideas into one master document without judgment.
When you have an abundance of raw material to work with, you can refine the text until a cohesive USP emerges.
Or if you’re a solopreneur and want to showcase your personality, you can free write about your values to create a persona-driven USP.
2. Free write as you learn
The next time you read a book that you like, underline and annotate the text.
Jot notes in the margins or record observations in a separate notebook. Active reading is a great way to consume information outside of your area of expertise.
When you’re finished reading the book, record five or ten of the most valuable ideas from the book on index cards. Take each index card and free write about each idea for ten minutes.
Ask questions like:
How can I apply this idea to my life, business, or writing?
Why do I agree or disagree with the author?
How does this idea compare to other ideas I’ve read and the principles I believe?
Your job is to become a vampire and suck the life out of each book. Then, when you’ve consumed this information, your new knowledge can help you create your piece of irresistible content.
3. Free write your piece of irresistible content
Copyblogger readers should already know how important it is to have a piece of irresistible content that attracts readers to your email list and turns them into loyal customers.
You may want to transform several blog posts into an ebook, but what if your blog posts are outdated or you’ve changed your mind about your arguments?
Instead of letting your existing content go to waste, free write 1,000 to 2,000 words about these blog posts. When you’re finished, review your new notes and combine usable portions with your old posts to update your articles.
This way, you can create an irresistible piece of content that’s original and up-to-date.
4. Free write your email autoresponder series
Who doesn’t love a good email autoresponder series?
They’re the lazy person’s way to keep working 365 days a year.
But creating an engaging email autoresponder series takes time and creativity.
If you’ve been postponing writing an email autoresponder series, block off time one afternoon, disconnect from the Internet, pour a cup of coffee, and spend two hours free writing your emails.
Write them one after the other in quick succession.
The first couple of emails will feel difficult and, yes, you may struggle for ideas.
However, once your brain gets warmed up, it will start to make connections that you previously hadn’t thought of, and by the time you get to email five or six, your autoresponder emails will become more original and easy to write.
When you finish your free writing session, you can use your strongest emails and discard the weaker ones. That’s the beauty of free writing — it gives you many different options.
5. Free write your next 20 blog posts
Yes, 20 blog posts.
Although you may think I’m crazy, bear with me.
When you have a plan for writing quality blog posts, you won’t have to be the person who stares at the blank screen before a deadline wondering what to write about.
Free writing your next 20 blog posts in one mammoth writing session will save you hours of pain.
And here’s the secret: You don’t have to finish each of the blog posts.
All you have to do is write down an idea and expand it into a brief post outline. Trust me, writing rough outlines for 20 blog posts is easier than writing a detailed outline for one blog post.
When you aim to write 20 outlines, your brain will stop looking for perfection because it knows it has to generate many ideas.
If you want to solve a problem, don’t look for the perfect solution — think of all the possible solutions.
If you want to educate your readers, don’t try to figure out the most important lesson they need to learn — write about a variety of lessons they need to learn.
The purpose of this free writing session isn’t to discover the best possible blog post idea; it’s to think about all of the possible blog post topics you can write about.
By the time you get to post 20, your ideas will be more creative and original than if you had spent the morning banging your head on your writing table because your first idea was flawed or incomplete.
And if you don’t have time to write 20 blog posts in one session, lower the bar.
Write 10 post outlines today and write another 10 tomorrow. Adapt the practice to a routine that works for you.
Free write your way toward your content marketing goals
If you start free writing today and cultivate a daily habit of turning up in front of the blank page, you will grind your way towards a completed USP, ebook, or blog series.
Do you free write?
Has it helped you tackle a large project?
How do you incorporate free writing into your content marketing strategy?
Head over to Google+ and let us know …
Editor’s note: If you found this post useful, check out Demian Farnworth’s article 10 Rules for Writing First Drafts that includes a free poster and shareable graphic.