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Some Secret Sauce on Solving Writer's Block and (Almost) Always Generating Content People Want

So you need to write a message, talk, blog post or even a weekly email to your team. But you’re stuck.

And you fear too many people are going to tune you out or simply hit delete when they see what you managed to generate.

How do you solve writer’s block and consistently write content people want to hear or read?

As this blog has grown, I get asked that question almost daily.

More specifically, it surfaces this way: how do you write several blog posts a week, every week and teach fresh content at your church? Where do your ideas come from?

For a long time, my answer was pathetic…I simply said “I don’t know. They just come.”

The question has persisted long enough that I finally tried to figure out where it comes from.

Some good news….

I think there’s a method almost anyone can use. And my guess is it can really help you.

 

This (Almost) Always Works

Please know that what I’m sharing usually works for me…but not always.

There are posts, talks and messages I write that I think are awesome that get no traction. All you hear are crickets and the voice in your head that says “maybe you should dig holes in your backyard for the rest of your life.” (You know that voice, right?)

Naturally, there are also posts, talks and messages that resonate in the way you hoped or expected they might.

But in my experience, if you use the method outlined below, there are a surprising number of posts, talks and messages that resonate more deeply than you think they would (or even should).

Using this method, for example, this blog has grown from a few thousand pages views a month in late 2012 to over 100,000 monthly page views today.

If the method helps you, that’s awesome. I hope it will.

 

5 Ways Solve Your Writer’s Block and Write Content That People Want to Read

Before leave a comment that says “what about praying, using scripture and making sure your approach is biblically sound???”, please know that I’m simply going to assume you have and that it is. If you’re going to preach, teach or lead any team as a Christian leader, you need to pray about what you’re communicating and ensure it is biblically based.

This post is about how to connect with the people you’re talking with. And about doing that more often than not.

Best still, I think this approach can help you beat writer’s block. It could even help you spice up your weekly team emails that you secretly fear people auto-delete.

Here are 5 practices that have helped me and others:

 

1. Identify the biggest problems/issues/fears people face

Most of us are more confused or even scared than we like to admit. Uncertainty is more common than certainty. If you can identify the issues that people struggle with most, you will connect with people far more deeply.

People give you clues to what they struggle with every day. All you need to do is listen. They’re afraid for their finances, for their kids, for their marriage, for their friendships, for their relationship with God. I try to ensure my sermons address real issues, problems and fears people struggle with every day.

I also talk to leaders a lot. As I get a sense of what leaders are struggling with, I write on it.

This post models this principle. People asked so many times, I wrote about it.

 

2. Address the issues you personally struggle with, but from the listener’s point of view

You’ve had more than a few struggles as an issue. Rather than trying to be an expert, why don’t you just be honest? People may admire your strengths, but they resonate with your weaknesses.

I don’t think I’ve written a single post or preached a single message about a subject I myself haven’t wrestled with. In many ways, this blog is a journal…it’s a way of even helping me fight out of the wet-paper-bag of leadership.

The way to turn your struggles into content that people want to read or hear is to not make it about you, but about them.

Notice the first two words in this post are “So you…”. Much more compelling to an audience than “I think….”

It’s a great idea to weave your personal struggles into a post or message. People are relieved to find out you also struggle with an issue, but take the main spotlight off you and put in on your readers or listeners (don’t miss Point 4 below on this subject).

 

3. Read widely, and figure out how what you’ve read helped you solve a problem

Solomon was right, there is nothing new under the sun. So the chances of you coming up with truly original ideas are pretty low.

A great source of ideas is to read widely and listen to other communicators and leaders. Then pay attention to how you interact with their content. You will have questions they don’t address. Or their content will make you think of things you can address.

The point is not to have completely unique ideas. Your approach to an idea is enough to make it unique. And your approach can help your audience.

I am far from the only person to ever write about writer’s block or creating content that connects with people. But today you read this far in the post, and hopefully it’s helping you. That’s the point, isn’t it?

 

4. Be helpful.

If there is a single filter through which I try to run everything I communicate, in writing or verbally, it’s this: Is it helpful?

Another way to ask the question is “If I got this email/was listening to this talk, would I be glad I did?” The question works because usually you value things that help you.

When it comes to content, helpful wins. 

If you consistently write material that is helpful, you will never run out of an audience.

People are far more interested in finding helpful material than they are in hearing your opinions. Too many writers and speakers seem stuck on telling people what they think. I always tell myself “No one cares what you think.” I believe that’s true to a large extent. They only begin to care what you think after you’ve started helping them.

Messages that are interesting are one thing; messages that are helpful are a whole other level.

You become helpful as a communicator when you address the application of a message. When people know what to do with a sermon, it helps them.

You become helpful as a writer when you become specific and practical. 

You become helpful as a team leader when you address felt needs, fears and issues.

By the way, next week, I’m going to send out several sample emails and blog posts that will give you concrete examples of this strategy in action. If you’re a subscriber to the blog, you’ll get it free in your inbox. Not a subscriber? Join now by filling out the form under my picture at the top right of this page.  

 

5. Keep a running list of possible subjects with you at all times

Ideas never come at convenient times. So I keep several files in my Evernote to capture them as they occur. I simply call one “blog ideas’ and the other ‘sermon ideas’.

Every time I have an idea I just grab my phone, tablet or whatever computer is nearest and add it to the file. It’s that simple.

Then when I’m stuck or planning out a season of preaching, I’ll go into the file and see what ideas still seem good. It’s amazing how many ideas I would lose if I didn’t write them down.

You don’t have to use Evernote (there are so many great apps and systems people have), but what I like about Evernote is that it let’s me dictate ideas, clip articles, dump photos and type into the same file. So I really never lose an idea or an inspiration whatever it’s native format. And frankly, sometimes I’m on the road so I don’t even have time to type on my phone so I just record an audio note into the file for future reference.

Sure, I still have writer’s block occasionally. And I don’t know how long my well of ideas on leadership or preaching will last, but I’ve been in ministry almost 2 decades and I feel like I have more ideas now than I ever have.

So I hope this helped in some small way. If you want more detail, I wrote about writing clickable content here and more on writing helpful content people actually want to read here.

What ideas help you generation fresh, helpful content?

Leave a comment!

8 Comments

  1. Michael Pratt on May 20, 2014 at 2:59 am

    Thank you Carey. In spite of my experience in missions, and a ton of resources. I feel like I’ve hit a brick wall. This is really practical and helpful. Glad you’re writing my friend, keep it up!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 20, 2014 at 5:28 am

      Michael, thanks for the encouragement. Keep going! You’re making a difference.

  2. Lily on May 10, 2014 at 3:56 am

    I’m glad I found this. I just posted something tonight, and I should have mentioned it was something I’ve personally dealt with…. instead of trying to be an “expert.” Thank you for this very helpful and insightful post!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 10, 2014 at 6:40 am

      So glad it helped Lily. —
      Sent from Mailbox

  3. jonathan manafo on May 9, 2014 at 3:37 pm

    Carey. How has Disqus worked for you? Anything I wouldn’t like? Does it mess up your site at all? Or interfere with your domain?

  4. […] Carey Nieuwhof So you need to write a message, talk, blog post or even a weekly email to your team. But […]

  5. Brent Dumler on May 9, 2014 at 11:21 am

    Thanks for posting this, Carey. You’ve given me substance to chew on with my own blog. And regarding your #5, I think another key is simply always having our antenna out…being aware of content possibilities every day, all day. Good stuff!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 9, 2014 at 2:31 pm

      Thanks Brent. You’re right. We encoders ideas and subjects every day. — Sent from Mailbox

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