Although content is an essential aspect of just about any modern marketing endeavor, truly valuable content doesn’t just add more dreck to the digital pile. Good content is about quality ideas—ideas that are helpful, humorous, interesting, or illuminating. Whether you’re writing something as short as a Facebook post or as involved as a white paper, the good ideas underlying what you write are what make it worthwhile.
But what if you don’t have any good ideas? Perhaps nothing is coming to you. Perhaps you feel as if you don’t have anything to say. Or maybe you have the shadow of an idea in your head, but as you try to get it out of your brain into a usable form, things are just not working right.
Even professional writers like myself face this obstacle from time to time. Actually, it happens more often than you might think. The words just aren’t coming, or the ideas that do come out seem substandard. I think one issue with me in particular is I focus on the end result so much that I’m looking to take shortcuts. I’m ignoring that there’s a process to writing. The solution to this problem, at least for me, is to slow down and sit for one or more sessions of freewriting.
How Freewriting Works
So let me introduce you to, or maybe re-introduce you, to the concept of freewriting. You may have first learned about this writing tool when you were a student, but even if you have, it’s time to rediscover it.
The way freewriting works is:
- Sit down with a pen and paper.
- Start with a question. If you’re trying to write a blog post, your questions might be:
- “What would my clients and customers like to know about?”
- “What do I know about my job that others don’t that could help them?”
- “What do I think about a particular event or trend in my industry?”
- Define a fixed time for yourself, say 15 minutes, and set a timer.
- When you start the time, start writing, and--IMPORTANT--don’t ever take your pen tip off the page except to move on to the next word. Keep that pen moving forward.
- Write down whatever comes into your head. If you don’t know what say, just write, “I don’t know what to write,” or some nonsense until something fresh comes to you.
In my view at least, it’s important to use actual pen and paper. Don’t try to do freewriting on a keyboard. It’s just not the same. Something about the computer keyboard doesn’t create that same flow, and distractions are always a click away. The analog, tactile nature of pen and paper and the pleasure of watching the words unfurl in a scrawl of ink makes this process work better.
Freewriting works because it gets everything out of your head and into an outside space where you can evaluate it. A lot of your ideas will be bad or incomprehensible. Your handwriting may be barely legible, but from somewhere within that mess a nugget of an idea will emerge
Freewriting works because you may have many conflicting ideas in your head, a tangle of contradictions. But by getting these ideas on paper, you can begin to unloosen these knots. And because your writing is natural and for yourself, you won’t find yourself leaning back on the jargon your industry might favor. These ideas will be expressed in a way that’s authentic.
That doesn’t mean the ideas you generate from freewriting are presentable as is. You’ll still have to organize them and write them up in a way that others can understand. But at least now you will have them at the ready.
Remember again that sometimes it can take more than one session. Your ideas may be too jumbled to untangle all at once, or good ideas may be too deeply buried in your brain. When that happens, take a break and try it again. Eventually, you'll break through, because freewriting works.