23rd July 2017
Above my desk I have an original hand-painted Amish hex sign, a form of Pennsylvania Dutch folk art that decorates barns throughout the central and southeastern counties of the state. Although the origin and purpose of these signs is debated, the motifs used in various hex designs seem to have universal meanings. My particular hex sign was named ‘Inspiration’ by the artist, with raindrops and the rays of the sun flowing from a central core, thus representing the surge of creativity.
Yet, I’ve been feeling completely uninspired lately. It doesn’t matter that I have a number of B2B marketing topics and issues that I want to discuss; I just don’t feel compelled to write about any them. Whatever the reason, I’m lacking focus and I find that I’m doing just about everything these days except sitting down at my desk to write.
I’ve hit a wall. The words have dried up. I have nothing to say.
I have Blogger’s Block.
And the closer I’ve been getting to my self-imposed deadline for publishing my blog post, the more anxious I’ve become, even though this isn’t the first time I’ve experienced writer’s block.
In fact, I would wager that most writers experience such unproductive periods on and off throughout their lives. And academics have been doing research on the subject ever since a psychiatrist named Edmund Bergler coined the term in the 1940s. Maria Konnikova wrote an extremely interesting article in The New Yorker last year that explored some of the findings from Bergler’s 2 decades of research as well as other research since then into writer’s block from a psychological perspective. The main message from the research and the article seems to be that some sort of mental escape and letting go of the self-judgements we make is useful for beating writer’s block.
However, while insight into the psychology behind writer’s block was interesting to me, I didn’t really find it very helpful in the here and now.
But, it did start me thinking about inspiration. And, all of a sudden, that wall in front of me came crashing down.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines inspiration as: the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative. The Cambridge Dictionary defines it more simply as: someone or something that gives you ideas for doing something.
Whichever definition you prefer, I’ve given emphasis to 2 key points within each. Because we tend to think of inspiration as something that happens by accident. Yet as these definitions indicate, inspiration can be considered as a process for ideas. Furthermore, we can control that process, instead of simply hoping and waiting for inspiration to strike.
That’s the good news. This process for coming up with ideas is what has the power to break through writer’s block. Unfortunately, there is no formula, the process is different for everyone.
7 ways that help me find inspiration:
- Re-visit your purpose. Blogging for me is fundamentally about exploring the ideas and issues that really matter to me, discovering and sharing the things that inspire me and that I feel passionate about, and resolving the challenges I (and the people I work with) face on a daily basis. This just happens to be primarily in the context of B2B marketing. One of my biggest bugbears is that we’ve got to stop doing things just for the sake of doing them. The explosion of blogging as a business tool has highlighted just how much bland and undifferentiated content continues to exist in B2B and beyond. If we’re going to blog – either as part of our B2B marketing activity or on a personal basis – we need to be absolutely clear about why we’re doing it and remain true to that purpose.
- Update an old blog. You were inspired by the topic before and you might be again. What’s changed? Because surely something has changed, whether it’s you or the market or both. This blog is actually a revised version of one I wrote more than 3 years ago, when I had just started blogging and was having trouble coming up with new topics. Revisiting that blog not only reminded me of what had inspired me in the past, it gave me an opportunity to further reflect on what I’ve learned in the years since.
- Exercise. Go cycling, go for a walk or a run, take a yoga class, lift some weights, anything that takes your focus out of your head. For me, running is magic. I originally started running to get in better physical shape and to balance my indoor-based work life with some fresh air and open spaces. But now I run more the mental benefits than I do for the physical. I find it gives me a chance to completely empty my mind and just revel in the physical sensations and senses. I don’t actually think about anything when I’m running. Yet I often come back from a run with a new idea or the resolution to a problem.
- Read something, anything, everything. ‘Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body’. Online or offline, whether it’s blogs, news, politics, fiction, biographies, industry magazines…reading opens us to new perspectives, new ways of looking at our world, our work, our lives, and other people, giving us the opportunity to learn or at least consider new approaches. I’m often inspired to write a blog as a response to something I’ve read or to further explore a topic in another article that’s piqued my interest. And I am absolutely certain that reading has made me a better writer.
- Take a class. It doesn’t matter if it’s work-related or not, gaining a new skill has benefits far beyond learning the new skill itself. When you learn a new skill, your perceptions change and your confidence increases; this, in turn, changes how you relate to the skills you already have and can provide a different inspirational platform. I’ve just recently taken a photography course; for someone who spends a lot of time with words, studying visual language was eye-opening for me.
- Attend a conference, workshop or roundtable. And be sure to take a lot of notes. I’ve listened to and met so many inspiring speakers at various marketing-related conferences and been involved in lively discussions at roundtables, which has led me to think about many things in new and different ways. This thinking has inevitably led to a blog.
- Ask someone what they’d like you to write about. Ask a friend, a colleague and/or people in your networks what challenges they’re facing right now, what issues they’d like to explore with other professionals. These are, after all, the people you want to engage with through your blog, so you need to be writing about the things that are important to them. And the best way to find out is ask.
Even focusing on just one of these 7 things invariably provides me with that glimmer of inspiration necessary to re-open my writing floodgates.
Do you have ways to overcome Blogger’s Block? I’d love to hear about them, I can use all the help I can get!
Heidi Taylor is an award-winning senior marketing strategist with 25 years' experience of helping organisations engage with their customers, creating impact and differentiation. She is a sought-after speaker at marketing conferences in the UK and internationally, and regularly contributes articles to marketing journals in print and online. You can follow her on Twitter @TaylorMadeInKew.