How to Unblock Bloggers Block

Feast or famine.

Flood or drought.

Inspiration or desperation.

Do these sound familiar to you? As writers, do you find that it’s all or nothing when it comes to your writing?

People who have been reading my other blog Relentless over the years can see that I tend to write in spurts, and can either publish a number of posts in a relatively short period of time, or my blog comes to resemble the literary equivalent of an abandoned Old West town, with spinifex rolling across the screen.

I recently attended some workshops at the Perth Writer’s Festival and found just being in a room of writers was enough to get my writing mojo back. I have been thinking about what inspires me as a blogger so here are my top tips for unblocking bloggers block. If you’re a novelist, click here for my top tips for unblocking writers block.

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During times of feast, prepare for the famine

When things are going well and the ideas are coming thick and fast, write them down. Keep a single book with all your writing ideas, even if you write in different genres. When times are good you probably won’t have enough hours in the day to act on everything, so leave them (with sufficient details and notes) so that when you are blocked you can go back and look at previous ideas.

What worked before, might work again

Look through your stats and see what has been popular in the past. What have been your five most read posts? Try and figure out what was special about those pieces – what made them resonate with readers? Was it the content or the format? Was it funny or thought-provoking, controversial or sad. Find what your readers respond to and write more like that.

Sometimes the answers for future posts can be found in your readers’ comments. See what people have responded to, and find out if they have asked any questions about you or your post.

Similarly, why not write a follow-up post about one of your popular articles or a Part II, like this follow-up to The Brutal Truth About the Third Child which ended up winning a writing competition at Parent Express.

Change it up

If you have an idea for a post but for whatever reason it’s not working try changing perspective. Perhaps you always write from the first person, but this time it’s not flowing. Pretend to be your child, your dog or a stranger writing about the same thing.

If you can’t change perspective then play with the format – rather than a straight story from your own point of view, write a letter or make a list. ‘Top 10 reasons why…’ posts tend to be popular as well as any list article that claims to be the ‘best of’.

There is a degree is universalism in these types of posts, the title gives the impression that they are relevant to a wider community, and isn’t simply a story about you.  What would you rather read: ‘My horrible day at the shopping centre’ or ‘Ten reasons why taking your toddler to the shops is bound to end in tears?’

Figure out what brings readers to your blog

Most blogging platforms offer easy stats programs which will tell you what search terms people have used before ending up on your blog. For Relentless at the moment they tend to be terms like: ‘advice on having baby number 3’, ‘planning for baby number 3’, ‘should I have a third child’ and my favourite ‘how should I tell my husband we’re having baby number 3’ (while offering him a stiff drink, dear).

While it is interesting to find out what random terms brought people to your blog by mistake, it is also a great tool to see what your readership are actively searching for. Why not offer them what they are looking for.

Based on the search terms people use before they come across Relentless I could easily write a series of posts dedicated to specific questions about having three kids: “How to tell your husband you want three kids”, “What happens when you want three kids and he doesn’t” or “How to prepare for the third child”.

All really good ideas I don’t have time for right now, so I will write them in my ideas book (see point 1).

Be a thief in the night

There is no copyright on ideas, I was told once during a writing workshop. While I wouldn’t advocate merely pinching someone’s idea carte blanche (that’s boring), I certainly think that finding inspiration in other writers’ posts is fair game.

When you read something that makes you feel happy/sad/angry/motivated ask yourself WHY did this evoke such a reaction? Now figure out how you can take that reaction and write your own post. Have they left any part of this story untold? Is there another side of the story? Could you tell your own version?

Sometimes it might be the title of the post that strikes a chord: write it in your book, give it some times to marinate and then begin your own post. It might (and should) be an entirely different article than the one from which you got your inspiration, but now at least you’re over your bloggers block.

What other ideas do you have for overcoming bloggers block?

A Writer By Any Other Name

Sometimes all a writer has is their name. And sometimes they don’t even have that.

Words are intangible. When you speak them, they do not last. They can be misheard, or forgotten, or misquoted. They can be claimed by someone else.

When you write online as I do, it is easy for your words to be separated from your name.

Not long after I wrote The Brutal Truth About the Third Child, a post about the differences between my three different pregnancies, a friend sent me an email with the comment ‘here’s a really funny story about having three kids, I thought you might like it’.

I did like it. I wrote it.

She had been sent an email with the body of my post cut out of my blog, and she had simply forwarded it to me. I am sure that whoever did the initial cutting and pasting did not mean anything malicious by it, indeed, they must have enjoyed my writing enough to send it to friends. But they had removed my name from the piece, and therefore took the one thing that linked me to my words.

Watching the stats for that one post, as it went a bit viral and bounced around the net, I was stunned by the numbers of people who were clicking on my blog to read that post.

But I was equally stunned by the fact that the numbers were not changing significantly on the hundreds of other posts on my blog.

Didn’t they like me? Why weren’t they sticking around and following my blog?

It has taken me a while to realise that – with a few exceptions – readers don’t care about the writers. They care about words, they care about stories and how they make them feel, but they don’t really care about the person who put they words together.

I prove this to myself almost every day when someone sends me a link or shares a post, which I then click on and read, laugh or frown or weep, and then click away again. I might click ‘like’ or share the post, but rarely do I stay to poke around the blog. Why? My time is short, my attention span limited, and sometimes I can see that the post is not reflective of the rest of the blog.

For whatever reason, it seems it is the individual piece of writing that has life and is important, not the individual who wrote it. As someone who writes for a living, this has been a bitter pill to swallow. While there are beloved family and friends who will read whatever you write because you are you, they tend to be the exception, rather than the rule.

So this is why I feel that having your name attached to your writing is important. It might be an exercise in futility because of everything I just mentioned, but every now and then, someone will see your name and begin to associate your words with a person, and a relationship is forged.

So why is it then, that everyone keeps getting my name wrong?

The first time I was published in the newspaper, having won a short story competition, my name was written as Shannon Meyerkor.

Then, when I published an article about having a caesarean section in Offspring, a national parenting and lifestyle magazine, I was credited in the front of the magazine as Shannon Meyerkart.

Most recently, in a story in the Sunday Times where I was interviewed about my article about share food etiquette, the caption under the photo has me as Shannon Merykort.

I have to admit, I like Merykort the most so far. It makes me sound happy.

When I read stories to my children before bed, I make certain I always read out the name of the author and illustrator after I read the title. It is their link to the stories that make my children happy, and I want them to understand that a person somewhere, behind a computer, has put these words together: it is their livelihood, it is their talent, it is their gift.

Brown Eyes and Spaghetti (My Side of the Story)

The other day was Valentine’s Day.

The day before that was my 14th wedding anniversary.

And the day before that I spent an hour staring into the brown eyes of not one, but two lovely young men, neither of whom happened to be my husband.

I’ll explain.

In Perth, there are two main food critics. Rob Broadfield writes for the West Australian, while Gail Williams writes for the Sunday Times. I read both their work with interest, not only to find out about new places to visit (or avoid), but because I am interested in the craft of reviewing. That’s what I do.

In October last year Gail Williams finished a review lamenting the fact there needed to be an etiquette guide to sharing food. So I emailed her a link of my WeekendNotes article ‘Share Food Etiquette: Top Tips to Surviving the Share Plate Experience’.

Although she replied promptly, she indicated she was going away and she’d contact me when she returned. When I hadn’t heard from her a few weeks later, I sent a gentle reminder, asking her if she had enjoyed the article, but when nothing more was heard, I decided not to the be crazy stalker person, and let it go.

It felt like an opportunity had vanished, and I‘ll freely admit I was disappointed.

So three months later when the phone rang on a Tuesday morning, I was surprised when it was Gail asking to interview me about the share food experience, and to let me know she was going to use my etiquette rules for an article that would run in the Sunday Times. Was that ok, and by the way could I come in for a photo-shoot? Oh, and there would be food.

So this was how I came to be staring into the eyes of lovely young men, as four of us posed for a photograph to accompany the story. There was the ‘poor student’, the ‘big eater’, ‘the industry professional’, and me, ‘the expert food blogger’.

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We had met at Lallah Rookh in the city, a small bar and eating house I had heard of, but never visited before. At ten in the morning the staff were getting ready for the day, but when I walked in, the photographer was already there, table set, lights burning.

With a delicious spread in front of us, we were told to pose handing each other dishes, serving ourselves food, twirling forks in the pasta. I twirled my pasta so much, I couldn’t get it off the fork to eat. So much parmesan was served, it looked like a small beach, and all the while two lovely tall frosty glasses of beer stood untouched in front of us.

We were told to look each other in the eye and smile, something I normally don’t have an issue with. I like to look people in the eye, and I’m a bit of a smiler, but what I am not used to (I came to realise, while already hot and sweaty under the lights) is looking for an extended period of time directly into the eyes of men. I probably don’t look into my husband’s eyes for an extended period of time, unless we are trying to pass telepathic messages about the kids to each other. Maybe that’s something I need to work on.

I got a bit flustered looking at the owner of the bar that I ended up dropping the head of the prawn I was meant to be offering him, thus splattering smoked tomato salsa all over his hand. I’m hoping that won’t be the photo they end up using. Some expert.

*   *   *

The story was published today, and sure enough there is a picture of me staring through half-closed eyes at another man. I swear, it was the chicken pasta I was in love with.

It’s confronting seeing yourself in a picture someone else has taken. It’s even more confronting seeing what happens when someone else uses your words.

But as a writer I have done it myself. People offer you a story, usually full of pauses and gaps, backtracks and corrections, and as writers we smooth it over, alter it slightly to read better. But the words are no longer your own. You might have said it slightly differently, or focussed on something else. It is something I will need to remember for all future articles where I quote other people, to listen between the lines, and be sensitive to what they are trying to say. What I write might not be what they were trying to say.

I had hoped that a link to the original article I wrote would have been included in the article, but with a name like mine, I’m guessing people will find me if they really want to.

Just in case, here is a link to the original story I wrote.

And for the record, I really am in love with the roast chicken pasta we twirled.

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The Importance of A Letter (Doing Your Research Properly)

Sometimes a single letter can mean the difference between strippers and the US consular general.

One of the perks working for WeekendNotes is that writers are sometimes offered ‘invites’ (aka ‘freebies’). Just like anyone working in the media, you are given free tickets to an event or show and you are expected to write about it.

I accepted a free lunch once. I was less than amazed and although I tried to write fairly, I ended up upsetting the establishment by writing honestly about the experience. Since then, I have decided ‘no more freebies’. I would rather be able to write freely and honestly and not be beholden to anyone.

Until an invitation for the Xoticar International Women’s Day Luncheon appeared in my mailbox.

Mmm, I thought. Luncheon.

So I did what any self-respecting writing would do, and I googled Xoticar to find out what to expect. Except I didn’t read it properly, and googled Xotica instead.

Stunned, I sat there for a minute wondering how and why a strip club would celebrate International Women’s Day. Would there be topless waitresses serving the luncheon? Would there be a strip show? I couldn’t quite understand the rationale behind the sex industry promoting an International Women’s Day event, except for the obvious fact, that they – indeed – were women.

I was fascinated and as my finger hovered over the ‘register’ button, I wondered who I would take with my other VIP ticket. Did I really want to do this?

So I went back to the WeekendNotes page and looked again if there was any more information. It was then I noticed the ‘r’. Exoticar. I googled that instead and found a company which specialised in pre-owned high end luxury cars.

Ahhhh, that made a little more sense. Not much more sense, but a little more sense. Maybe the company wanted to promote itself to women, and show how women can enjoy fancy cars.

I know exactly enough about cars to understand where to put the petrol in, and that’s about it. But I had already decided to accept the invite and I knew who I would bring along. An old friend (male) who loved cars, and would not only enjoy a free feed but could translate any car-talk to me. Perfect. I registered my interest.

But something was still niggling. Fancy cars and International Women’s day still seemed incongruous. So I googled the full term: Xoticar International Women’s Day Luncheon, and it all became clear.

The luncheon was actually being run by one of Perth’s major charity groups, Momentum, with Xoticar being a major sponsor. Looking through the Momentum website, all thoughts of strippers and fancy cars drifted away to see that the guest speakers included the US Consular General, Dan Vulin, an inspirational burns victim and there would be a fashion parade by one of West Australia’s best designers. Images from previous luncheons showed glamorous women in pearls and silk, smiling elegantly at the camera. This was firmly women’s territory, and my male friend’s invite instantly vaporised without him ever knowing. I’d ask his wife instead.

I don’t think the US Consular General will ever know how close she came to being a stripper.