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Welcome Back Joanna

Want to learn how to write with confidence?

Well my friend and fellow blogger, Joanna Young, is back! Where’d she go? Well, first she moved her blog from TypePad to WordPress – a move that I fully support and applaud her for. Then, she took a week off from writing to move into her new home. Can you imagine….not blogging for a whole week? I recently did it a couple of times and it wasn’t that bad – though I did miss writing.

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How to Create Information Products With Your Blog

People want what you know!

They want your stories, your perspectives, your perceptions and your ideas. And in some cases they want your help or they want to learn how to do what you know. Either way, they appreciate the value your blog adds to their life or their business. The value, after all, is why they’re spending their valuable time reading you in the first place.

I was ruminating on this while reading Liz Strauss’ new informational product – an ebook, The Secret to Writing a Successful and Outstanding Blog. In her book, Liz walks you through how to use your blog to create conversation and grow a community. You get insights and suggestions from someone who has close to 70,000 comments on her own blog. I absolutely highly recommend it. And just to be transparent, I did help her a bit on the development and distribution, though I do not receive any royalties from it.

One interesting thing about Liz’s book is that it was created from content she had published on her blog over the past two years. When she came up with the idea to create her informational product, she went back through old posts to use the ones that would fit as content. In all, the core of her ebook is the content from her blog.

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"I’d Like To Blog, But I Just Can’t Write"

You wouldn’t believe how often I hear statements like this. And from intelligent, engaging and interesting people. People who are professional and well-spoken.

Without a doubt we fear writing. But why? I’ve thought about this questions a bunch over the years. But seldom have I considered writing about it until the lovely April Groves left a comment on my post 3 Easy Steps to Creating a Web-based Business yesterday.

In 3 Easy Steps, I (and Matt Cutts) suggested that the second step to creating a successful online business is to start a blog. Why? Because it helps you engage directly with your target audience. It’s also the easiest way to begin driving traffic to your site and, hence, have the opportunity to grow your business. Here’s what April said:

I completely agree ‘but, I’ll tell you’ When I present the blogging idea to people I know, the writing aspect scares most of them to death. I hear ‘But I can’t write’ more times than I can count. My best counsel is for them to try writing the way they talk. It goes right to the heart of authentic. But, if you have other coaching suggestions to this block, I’d be all ears.

So why do we fear writing so much?

What I find most interesting is how the belief that we ‘can’t write’ is completely and utterly made up. At best, it’s something we took away from our junior high or high school education. Really, the idea we can’t write is thrust upon us because it just happens to be the opinion of our teachers. It’s not ours – unless we believe it.
But are they right? And can it change?

No, they’re not right. And yes, it can change.

I was one of those students who couldn’t write – so said my teachers. While I excelled at science and math, I could never write. Or at least that’s what I was told. And when I look back, they may have been right – at the time. But it certainly didn’t help to be told I couldn’t write each time I got a paper back.

And yet I sit here today with hundreds of blog posts – the great majority of which are written well enough that hundreds of people like you have wanted to engage me in conversation. Each of those posts has brought some value to people’s lives, their blogging and their business. And I don’t care whether I follow traditional writing methods. I care about communicating with you. So as long as I can do that, I know, without a doubt, that I can write.

So what’s the difference between what I’m writing today and what I was doing in school – other than a few decades of life experience, focus and a bit more maturity?

I think it’s relaxing and letting go of how I was taught to write. Forget the 5 paragraph model. Forget sentence structure and grammar (for the most part) and just write. Just get the words out from your mind. Let them move through your arms and dance you fingers on the keyboard just like they move up from your throat to create symphony between the tongue, larynx and lips when you speak (okay, so I went a little overboard). The point is – let go, and just write.

And for God’s sake, forget that you were ever told you can’t write. Because you can! With the blog – if you can speak, if you can communicate thoughts and ideas, you can write. And you can certainly blog.

I agree with April – write like you speak. Think about writing as a conversation and write that way. All of us can speak at least well enough to be understood in a conversation. So treat blogging like it’s a conversation. And remember that you, the blogger, get to start each conversation, you get to choose the topic and the way of looking at the topic. Then, invite the world to respond.

People care much more about what you want to communicate, what you want to share and how valuable it is to them then they do having beautiful, flowing prose. If you can write like that (communicatrix, I’m thinking of you), great. But if not, just ‘talk’ with people through your keyboard. They’ll learn far more about who you are, how you see things and how you can help them with their problems.

And that’s what leads to sales.

So what do you think…can you write (you should know the answer by now)? What was the biggest thing that you feel hurt your confidence in your writing? And how did you overcome it? I’d love to hear…and so would the people April talks with.

Business Owners…Try Making It A Conversation

People want to do business with people – not businesses.

conversation.jpgA few business owners seem to get this. But don’t seem to get it, though. It makes me wonder how business owners see themselves relating to their target audience.

Perhaps that’s the first mistake…target audience. What image do you create when you hear the term target audience? For me, I’m looking off the deck of a boat at an expansive sea whose swells ebb and flow. What I don’t see are the individual drops of water that make up the sea. In other words, I don’t see the individual people in the term target audience. I can’t imagine I’m alone.

Most marketing copy I read today does one of two things: It either tells me all about what ‘you can do for me;’ or it tries to make me identify the problems I face. Both work to some degree. The former by being straight forward in what we offer. The latter perhaps more so by getting me to feel that you understand me and my problems and, thus, can help me solve them. Yet I think they both miss the boat.

Why? Well, neither are really about having a conversation. When you just tell me about your business, there’s no room for me because it’s all about you. And when you make it about me and the problems I face, it’s still from your perspective. You’re not there, in it, with me. And if you were once where I am, it’s difficult to recapture the difficulties I face when you’re no longer in them.

I think that’s what Colleen Wainwright, the Communicatrix (gosh, I can’t help by love that name), was getting too when she wrote this comment on a recent blog post of mine around having the conversation with your niche.

Most of the time, people are thinking about what they want to say, rather than the people they're going to say it to. You can't possibly have a conversation with your customers (or anyone else, for that matter) over the sound of the projector running, if you catch my drift.

And that seems to be the crux of most marketing content I see today. Not all, but most. Business owners seem to spend more time being concerned about what they want to get across to people than they do considering what people want to hear. Yet giving them what they want and need is the key to being successful.

So how do you do that? Make it a conversation. Instead of being so concerned with getting all the right content so gingerly placed so perfectly on the page, engage in a conversation. When you write copy, think about it like you’re sitting down with someone referred to you from a friend. First, listen to them. Figure out what they need. Then speak (or write). But do so as you would in a verbal conversation by adding to it, not trying to turn it into something you want.

You may be the expert on your topic and the referral may be coming to you. But they want to feel honored, cared for and listened too. They want their opinions to matter. And they want to know that what they know has value and merit.

Just remember, your target audience is made up of individuals. Engage them as such and you’ll be doing business with people instead of a trying to reach a marketing buzzword.

What do you do to engage individuals in your business? How does your blog serve the conversation and how has it helped build relationships?

P.S. …I just found out that today is Colleen’s Birthday. Stop by and shoot her a b-day wish.

How Does Your Brain See Color?

Want to experience an interesting experiment in how our brains work?

On a recent blog post, 20 Surefire Ways to Beat Writer’s Block, we were discussing methods for working through write’s block. Mark Tillman Tillison of Tillman Tillison Consulting (sorry for the typos Mark) offered the very interesting idea that:

…writing (or typing) using colour can also be very effective (in overcoming writer’s block).

This works because creative and technical processes are handled by the two different hemispheres of the brain. Using colour helps the two hemispheres to work together.

Funny, I’d never thought about it using different colors to help stimulate different parts of the brain when I write. I’d love to know more about it. Have you had any experience with this?

What I found even more interesting was a link to The ColorText Brain Teaser that LaurenMarie of Creative Curio added during the conversation.

The ColorText Brain Teaser was put together by Phillip Miller Eberz who say something similar posted on a middle school wall in Texas.

The basic idea is to see how easy it is to trick the brain through association. You have to try it…

Below is an example of The ColorText Brain Teaser. You do it by saying the color of each word. Be careful not to say the color named by the word. Example: if you see Blue you would say “red” because the color of the word blue is red. It’s harder than it looks. Give it a try…

colortext.jpg

Now, I have warn you, it’s very easy to trick yourself. Try saying the colors out loud. Or better yet, say them in front of someone else so they can check your accuracy. Then, tell what you think.

I didn’t get six words in without making a mistake. And I’ve done this a dozen times and haven’t made it through once without making a mistake.

I’d love to hear how you do. How far did you get before making a mistake? Tell me about your experience.

20 Surefire Ways To Beat Writer's Block

Daphne Gray-Grant knows writing. As a Publications Coach she works with corporate writers who want to do their work faster and better. So we know she’s faced writer’s block.

If you’re a blogger, a business owner, or a writer of any type, I don’t have to explain to you what writer’s block is. You’ve almost certainly had it. I know I have. And Daphne’s suggestions have helped me work through the blocks when they come.

Daphne’s not blogging yet and so she’s graciously allowed me to reprint her article, Twenty Best Ways To Beat Writer’s Block, which went out on her newsletter the past couple of weeks. Both of us hope you gain from it. Enjoy

Twenty Best Ways To Beat Writer’s Block

  1. Write something else. Most of us who write professionally have a hierarchy of horribleness. That is, we know which projects are going to be a little bit awful and which ones will be tremendously awful. My advice? Start with a less awful one. Procrastination, yes, but it’s productive procrastination. (You’ll be happier to face the Project of Doom once you have a bit of good writing under your belt.).
  2. Ask a series of questions. Stuck? Instead of writing your article or report in the “normal” way, brainstorm a list of questions your readers are most likely to wonder about. Then answer them. This may take only minor editing to turn into the “real” report or article.
  3. Write an email. This is a variant on the old trick of pretending to write to a friend. But verisimilitude is important. To maintain the “this isn’t really work” illusion, you must write your piece in the body of an email. (Just use “move block” to copy it into a word processing document when you’re done.)
  4. Change your setting. We all get bored and stuck in ruts. You may be dreading writing because you’re dreading your office. So move to another room. Try the kitchen table or the cafeteria. Or decamp to a coffee shop. It worked for J.K. Rowling.
  5. Go for a walk or run. There’s lots of evidence that we think better when we’re moving, so take your writing on the road. Just be sure you have a way of capturing your thoughts. A small digital recorder does the trick very nicely.
  6. Do a brain dump. Sometimes you just need to get all the information out of your head and onto paper. Mindmapping, which I’ve written about many times before, can be very useful for this. Take a blank piece of paper, turn it sideways and write your topic in the middle. Draw a circle around it. now draw some lines radiating out of the circle (like spokes on a wheel) and write down all the other words that come into your head. Draw circles around them, too, and join them to the spokes. Keep going until your head is empty or until you feel, “aha! Now I know what I want to say.”
  7. Write the headline or title. A headline or title is a bit like a poem. It must distill your big idea into a very few words. It must also be catchy. When you write the headline first, the entire direction of your piece is likely to become more clear. This will make writing substantially easier.
  8. Find your best time for writing. We all have our own biorhythms. I used to be a night owl. It was my best, most productive time for writing. In recent years, I’ve turned into a morning lark. Now I do my best writing at 6 am or earlier. But I’m a disaster by 11:30 am because my blood sugar is crashing and I’m starving. As Socrates said: Know thyself. Identify your predictably “good” times and use them. Don’t try to write during your bad ones.
  9. Tell yourself you have to write for only five minutes. This is the trick they teach to runners. Okay, so you don’t feel like exercising today. Well, pull on your sneakers and tell yourself you have to run for only five minutes and then you can quit. Many times you’ll discover that the simple act of starting will give you enough momentum to continue. It works for writing, too.
  10. Stretch. Even if you’re not blocked, you should do this. Stand up. Reach your hands to the ceiling. Now, clasp your hands behind your back. Straighten your shoulders pushing back against your shoulder blades almost as if you were trying to get them to touch each other. Those of us who work at computers all day tend to spend a lot of time hunched forward. This kind of stretch is not only good for your back, it’s also invigorating. Breathe deeply a few times, too. Oxygen stimulates the brain.
  11. Give yourself permission to write badly — really badly. Many times we’re blocked as writers because we’ve raised the stakes too high. “This report will make or break my career,” we tell ourselves. “My income depends on this sales letter,” we fret. Those thoughts may be true, but set them aside while you’re writing. If you simply must beat yourself up, do it when you’re editing.
  12. Ask yourself, “have I done enough research?” People often worry about over-researching as a form of procrastination. This does happen, but, interestingly, I find the problem is more typically the reverse. People often try to write before they have the raw materials to do the job properly. This inevitably leads to much staring at a blank computer screen. Before you begin to write ask yourself: “If a friend, partner or colleague grilled me on this topic, could I answer most of their questions easily and in plain English?” If not, continue your research without feeling guilty. (Hint: Make sure your research includes more than facts and figures. You need stories, anecdotes and colour. These are what will make your writing come alive.)
  13. “Speak” your writing. Most of us have no difficulty talking. So go with the flow and dictate your words into a tape or digital recorder or even your voicemail. If all else fails, ask a friend to interview you.
  14. Prevent interruptions. Okay, I don’t need to tell you this, but turn off your email and shut down your browser. No pings. No “control + m.” No peeking. Email, blogs, checking online forums and surfing the web will keep you busy — and unproductive. Instead, use these interruptions to “reward” yourself when you’ve finished your writing. To avoid non-digital disturbances, I also like popping on a pair of noise-cancelling headphones (these are also excellent for keeping children at bay if you work from home.)
  15. Break your writing job into a number of smaller tasks. This is the oldest time-management trick in the book — use it because it works. Do many small jobs rather than one big job and the work will feel less onerous. Here’s how you can divvy up your writing work: print out research from Google; go through your research with a highlighter or sticky notes; interview people; make a mind-map; write a rough draft; rewrite an early draft; copy edit.
  16. Reward yourself. If you’ve worked hard on a piece of writing, give yourself a prize. I don’t recommend double fudge brownies for obvious reasons, but there are lots of other options. Allow yourself 15 minutes reading blogs. Call a friend. Play some music. Buy a Moleskin notebook. Get a cappuccino.
  17. Turn off your screen so you can’t see what you’ve just written. This tip does depend on your ability to touch type, but if you have that skill, it’s the single best way to stop yourself from endlessly editing your work when you ought to be writing.
  18. Limit your writing time. Work expands to fill available time (Parkinson’s Law.) Writing thrives under constraint. (Daphne’s Law.) I know this sounds counterintuitive but we often give ourselves too much time to write. Don’t set aside a day for that report. Tell yourself you have to do it in two hours. Remember how productive you can be just before going on holiday? Create the feeling artificially by limiting your writing time.
  19. Pretend you’ve phoned a friend and said, “Guess what?” Then continue the conversation by explaining the key elements of the topic you’re writing about. What makes this technique so effective is that it follows a natural progression. Because you’re telling a story, you’ll start with the most interesting material, give detail where it belongs and end by reinforcing the point you want to make.
  20. Read a short but good piece of writing that’s similar to the kind of piece you need to complete. Get yourself a folder for essays and brief magazine pieces you can dip into for inspiration. If you write sales letters, you probably already have a “swipe file.” That works too. For extra reinforcement, you can even re-read some of your own writing. This is often a welcome reminder that while writing can be awful, having written is the most wonderful feeling in the world.

I’ve used a number of these myself. And many, such as 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 13, 14 & 18 are part of my blogging routine – especially when I’m stuck.

Pretty good tips, huh? And practical. That’s what I love so much about Daphne’s newsletter.

If these tips were helpful, subscribe to her newsletter, Power Writing, where weekly she publishes practical tips for improving your writing – and the speed of which you do it. It’s one of the few newsletters I still subscribe too myself.

So how do you deal with writer’s block? I know you get it… Have you had success with any of Daphne’s suggestions?

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