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.

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.

What I Have Learned from Writing for an Online Website

Recently I published my 250th article on WeekendNotes*. It’s quite a milestone for me, so today I thought I would write about what I have learned and achieved from writing for an online review website.

Some statistics:

–          WeekendNotes has articles published for 48 different countries with the majority of articles and writers in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States

–          It’s difficult to tell how many writers there are but most of the major cities have at least fifty current writers. Only thirteen other WeekendNotes writers have published over 250 articles.

–          There are over 1 million Australian readers every month

–          Writers are paid a proportion of the money earned from advertising, which is around 1 cent per click. They also have the opportunity to win various ‘medals’ which range from $5 to $20 based on the editorial quality of the story.

–          All articles are vetted and scored by a small team of editors. Only articles with a certain score will be sent to subscribers in the newsletters

–          The most popular WeekendNotes article of all time was How to Meet and Greet One Direction with (currently) over 92,000 readers

–          Of the top ten articles (worldwide) for Weekend Notes, the word ‘nude’ appears three times

–          I am currently ranked Number Two in Perth (Australia) and Number 23 worldwide with just shy of 200,000 readers

What have I learned:

1. It’s all about the title.

An intriguing title makes people want to know more. Maybe it’s ambiguous. Maybe it’s funny. Maybe it’s controversial. Because of the restrictions placed on us with regard to the main titles (to fit in with SEO conventions) we have had to be quite clever with our article titles.

My most popular article is Perth Charities That Don’t Need Your Money.  People were intrigued: what sort of charity doesn’t need money? Is it a scam? What do they need? I was then compelled to write three more articles, each focussing on a major Australian city, and it turned out people across Australia were interested to know what sort of charities don’t ask for money.

People also like to be told that something is the ‘best’ or ‘the coolest’ or the ‘top ten’. We are time poor these days, so if a reader thinks they will be able to digest a lot of information from a single article, they tend to be more popular. Some examples from my most successful articles:

The A-Z of Breakfasts in Perth

The Coolest Places to Volunteer in Perth

Top Places to be a Big Kid in Perth

2. It’s not about the money

If I sat down and calculated my hourly rate from my work at WeekendNotes I would be mortified, my husband would be disgusted, my accountant would laugh, and other writers would shake their head in sympathy. When I answered the advert calling for writers WeekendNotes claimed you could earn upwards of $20 an hour. But what they didn’t say was that you would only earn that $20 after an undisclosed period of time. In my opinion, you also would have to be a very quick typist with little regard for research.

I probably spend between one and two hours on a normal review article, and around two to three (or more) hours on one of my Secret List or other more comprehensive stories.

At roughly one cent per click, I need 1,000 readers before I earn $10. My most successful article has so far earned me about $65 plus a $20 Gold medal. For what was probably three or four hours work. That computes to be the $20 an hour I was offered. It is quite sobering, and I won’t pretend for a minute that my less successful articles are earning anywhere near that.

That being said, time will tell. Articles that I published two years ago are still earning me money today, because people are still reading them. I will continue to earn money from the majority of my articles potentially forever. I will update this blog in about twenty years to let you know whether I ever ended up impressing my accountant.

3. It’s about the exposure

Just like the popular WN articles about nude beaches, what is most important for me about writing for WeekendNotes is the exposure. Every time I publish an article my name goes out attached to it. Google ‘share food etiquette’ or ‘Perth Zoo carousel’ and one of my articles will be somewhere near the top. Combined with two blogs, a google+ profile and a number of stories in print, I am working towards getting my name out there.

4. People love to hide behind the anonymity of the web

I put my name to everything I write. I have to because my name is now my brand, and there is little point using a pseudonym if I want potential employers to say ‘I want Shannon Meyerkort to write for us’. Not everyone agrees with this. I have found, both through my blogs and my articles on WeekendNotes that people are happy to make unfair, racist, and judgemental comments and then hide behind the relative anonymity of the web.

This year I wrote a tongue in cheek article about things to do instead of watching the Melbourne Cup. Let’s face it, not everyone likes to watch horses run in a big circle so I offered a number of fun alternatives. The subtitle I used was ‘It’s ok to be un-Australian.’ It was clearly a joke, yet one of the comments I received was ‘go back where you came from’ which I found hilarious as I am a born and bred Aussie.

There isn’t much I can do to prevent trolls making nasty comments, but it has made me think twice about what I write, and what I am putting my name to, because…

6. When you use your own name, people can find you

I wrote a review this year about a local pub and the service was pretty appalling, and I said as much in the review. A couple of days later I received an email from the service manager saying she had read the review and would I mind providing more information.

I had to applaud this restaurant for two reasons: firstly they obviously take their business seriously and keep an eye out for reviews and articles which mention them, and secondly, they approached me politely and with intent to improve their services.

As I wrote to her: I do not make comments about receiving sub-standard service lightly. We all have off days (I certainly do) and I usually give people benefit of the doubt. In most instances where I am not sure, I just don’t mention it.

Because all six of us at the dinner had the same unpleasant experience I felt it fair to mention.’ I also had a quick glance at reviews on Urbanspoon, because as I mentioned in #4, people hide behind anonymity and reviewers on that site are happy to say pretty much anything. There were dozens of unhappy customers who all thought the service had been a major let down. It wasn’t just me, and it obviously wasn’t an isolated occurrence.

Yet because I put my name to my writing I was sought out. In this case it wasn’t a problem, but I have been verbally attacked in the past by someone who was not happy with what I wrote (funnily enough, I had written they were aggressive and rude) and their response merely confirmed that.

It has made me think carefully about what I write. The internet is forever, words are powerful and reputations (including mine) are at stake.

7. Photographs are almost as important as words

One of the skills I have fine-tuned over the past couple of years, along with my writing is my photography, especially of food. In the early days I would sneak my old digital camera out of my bag to surreptitiously take rushed photos of my food. These days I take the time to artfully arrange the table and have learned about appealing angles.

Luckily, most people I regularly eat out with have accepted this rather annoying habit of mine. ‘I’m working,’ I tell them, and they know not to dig into their food the minute it arrives. They know I will want to photograph it, and many already know to turn the plate around to face me, and wait patiently while I take my images.

8. The art of self-editing

When I first started writing for WeekendNotes I would type my article and hit the ‘submit’ button with little thought, all the while congratulating myself on how fast I was. It is something that writing and journalism students probably learn in their first class, but

I have had to teach myself the essential and subtle art of self-editing.

When I write a review my first draft is usually full of personal anecdotes and too much background. Then I remind myself I am not writing a blog and no one actually cares whether or not I was late for dinner because I couldn’t find a car park.

Admittedly, it’s been said that part of the charm of my articles are the personal anecdotes and background stories** it is certainly part of my style, but I have learned to keep a slightly tighter reign on it. And when I can’t keep it under control, I use bold type to highlight the important bits for people.

*Skip forward to 2019 and now I have over 650 articles and that One Direction article has over 104,000 readers…

**I have absolutely no data to back this statement up