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?

The Brutal Truth About Making Money as a Writer?

Most people are too polite to ask, but it’s pretty clear after I mention to people I am a writer the second question they want to ask is “how much money do you make?” The first is usually ‘have I read anything you have written?’ which is difficult to answer because they are a complete stranger and I am not a mind-reader.

The money question is interesting and one that I wish I could ask of every writer I meet. Except I am too polite.

Because my earnings thus far are less than stellar (I’ll get to that later) I often find myself giving excuses like: ‘I just had a baby’ or ‘I only just started.’ Those reasons may have been valid for 2012, but now they are just excuses. The simple truth is that I have not written much that people are willing to pay for. It doesn’t mean I cannot write and it doesn’t mean I haven’t been published. It just means that the majority of work I have done thus far, has been unpaid.

It turns out I am not alone, and in fact, I am in stellar company.

If you are a parent, and even if you’re not, you may have heard of Amber Dusik.

No? Try Parenting: Illustrated with Crappy Pictures. This is one of the funniest blogs about being a parent that exists. It’s funny even if you don’t have kids. It is probably the best parenting blog. Even better than mine.

When Amber Dusik posts a story it immediately goes stratospheric.

Each post will received hundreds of comments. She has over 77,000 likers on Facebook. Every single post Amber puts on Facebook will be shared across the globe.

So it was with deep concern that I read a postscript to a post she wrote in early April imploring readers to buy her new book. I wasn’t concerned that she was asking people to buy her book, I have a copy and it’s awesome. What concerned me was this:

I’ve started getting a lot of emails, congratulating me about having “made it” and people assuming I’m making truckloads of money. … Contrary to popular belief I still haven’t gotten rich from it. … after paying my hosting costs, I managed to pull a profit in 2012. I made $131. For an entire year’s worth of work.

One of the world’s most well-known and successful bloggers only made a profit of $131 last year.

Then I attended a booked-out seminar by the Australian writer Steve Biddulph, author of Raising Boys. He told his audience that in the early days after his best-selling book was released in 1997 – (before they realised it was going to be a best-seller) – he told his sons that every time a book was sold, a twenty cent piece would roll toward the house.

Twenty cents for a book that took a year to write.

Talented Perth author Natasha Lester mentioned at the recent Perth Writer’s Festival that she receives about $3 per copy sold of her latest novel. This is an improvement on twenty cents, but still*.

What chance do the rest of us mere (writing) mortals have?

Writers write because they need to. No one walks out of school and says ‘I am going to be a writer and spend my life in abject poverty to pursue my craft’. Writing is a tough gig, and for 99% of us we can expect an income that resembles a postcode from New South Wales.

According to The Australian:

The average annual income of Australian writers has declined in the past decade from $23,000 to a character-building $11,000.

Personally, I would be thrilled with an income of $11,000 from my writing.

In the spirit of complete openness I can divulge that my total income since ‘becoming a writer’ in the three years since 2011 is around $3,000, and every cent of this has come from my articles and reviews written for WeekendNotes.

My blogs have not earned me a cent.

Writing articles for various online websites have not earned me a cent.

Even my articles published in national glossy magazines have not earned me a cent.

I came close though. When my ‘Dads and Miscarriage’ article was accepted by My Child Magazine I was told that their rate of pay was 50 cents per word, which for a brand-new freelancer, was a very substantial price. I had originally submitted 2,600 words to them and I could already hear the cha-ching of a decent pay-packet.

However, it was decided that they could only afford space for 800-900 words, and in return for their editors working on the article to bring it down to the necessary word-count I would not receive a writers fee.

Perhaps if I was an established writer with a bigger CV I would have been in a position to argue with this decision. But the simple truth was that I needed them more than they needed me. I needed this run on the board, and if it was going to cost me $400 then so be it. I got to see my name in print but I did not get paid for it.

Bloggers can put advertising on their websites, and earn anywhere from a few dollars to a few thousand dollars per month. Sponsorship and paid reviews is another way to earn money, but again, it is personal choice of the blog owner and some – like myself – don’t do it.

I write this not for pity, just candour. Like most writers, I write because I love it. I don’t plan on staying below the breadline with my craft forever. I just think it is an interesting issue, and explains why so many of our top writers (and actors and artists and playwrights) have ‘day jobs’ to support themselves while they pursue the craft they love in their ‘spare time’.

What is your true love and what do you do to earn a living while you pursue it?

 

2019 Update: good things come to those who wait. For example Natasha Lester is now a New York Times Bestselling Author and I am making a four-figure income on my writing every year between prize money, sponsorship/advertising, royalties and other writing income. Not quite there yet, but at least I’m headed in the right direction.