How to Beat Writer’s Block When Writing is Your Job

If you’ve ever had to put your thoughts into written words, you’ve probably suffered from writer’s block at some point. Even the best writers face an occasional lull in inspiration, but this can be especially tricky when you write for a living.

Although I’m no longer working as a full-time journalist, I still do a lot of writing every week for my freelance clients, and sometimes I feel like I’ve hit a wall. It’s like not being able to fall asleep when you know you have to wake up early the next day: You watch the time tick by, knowing that each minute you’re not sleeping (or, in this case, writing) is a minute wasted, and there’s going to be hell to pay in the morning.

As I’ve grown as a writer and as a professional, I’ve found a few helpful tricks to overcome the dread of a blank white screen. Here are four things you can do to power through your writer’s block:

1. Create an outline. 

If you have a mess of notes and research links that you can’t figure out how to turn into an article or post, create a rough outline with bullet points and sentence fragments. If you can at least organize the notes you have, you may be able to start envisioning it as a fully-formed piece.

One of my clients has me create an outline like this for every article I pitch, and I found it so helpful that I now do it for all my writing assignments. Having the “bones” of the article in place saves me a lot of time and energy when I revisit it later to begin writing.

2. Write out of order. 

A lot of writers tend to get stuck on their opening line or paragraph. Instead of wasting time thinking about how to start your piece, begin with something from the middle. Use a placeholder (like ‘X’ or ‘…’) for your intro and move onto the next paragraph. Sometimes having the core of your article in place can get the ball rolling and help you figure out what to say in the beginning. I’ll usually highlight my placeholder in the document so I don’t forget to come back to it before submitting the piece.

3. Work on other productive tasks. 

If you’re still struggling, put your writing aside and do something else on your to-do list. Tackle another short but productive task that you’ve been meaning to get to. Checking other things off your to-do list will take some of the pressure off when you revisit your writing. Be sure to set a time limit for these other tasks, too, if deadlines are a concern.

4. Write anything

If all else fails and you just need to get your piece written, get something – anything –down on the page. It doesn’t matter if it’s bad, or grammatically incorrect, or full of typos. Spit out a sentence and work backwards. I sometimes find that it’s easier to edit and rework a bad paragraph than craft a really good one on the first try.

A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Image credit: publicdomainphotographs | Dreamstime Stock Photos (CC0)

How to Be a Great Twitter Chat Participant

If you’re an active Twitter user, you’ve likely come across — or maybe even participated in — a Twitter chat. These public, hashtagged conversations are usually hosted by a brand or industry expert, and invite followers and strangers alike to participate in a Q&A session around a specific topic. There’s chats about just about everything, from pop culture to media to finance ( maintains a thorough list of active weekly Twitter chats here, if you’re looking for one to join).

There are plenty of reasons to host and/or participate in a Twitter chat. For brands, it establishes them as an authority in their field. By asking fellow experts with large followings to co-host or join in, a company can encourage those individuals to reply or retweet relevant responses with its branded hashtag and expose it to a much wider audience. For individual participants with knowledge of or interest in the topic, a chat can connect them with other like-minded Twitter users.

I’ve participated in a handful of Twitter chats during my career, and it can be tricky to navigate what can sometimes be a confusing and chaotic stream of conversation. If you or your company are thinking about joining a chat, here are a few tips for making yourself stand out as an engaged, helpful participant.

1. Introduce yourself when you join. 

The main host will usually ask the co-hosts and participants to introduce themselves at the beginning of the chat. This helps users to follow along and understand where a person is coming from when they ask or respond to a question. Take this opportunity to share your interest in the conversation, and give a little shout-out to your brand.

2. Always add the hashtag and answer number. 

The whole point of a Twitter chat is to keep the conversation organized with the chat’s hashtag. If you forget to include it, your tweet will likely get lost and not make it to the appropriate audience. I love using, which essentially turns a specific hashtag into a standalone chatroom. While you can follow an individual hashtag on Twitter’s website or third party programs like TweetDeck and HootSuite, TweetChat automatically includes the hashtag on the end of every tweet you send from the platform, and accounts for that when it displays your remaining characters.

Most Twitter chats are formatted Q1, Q2, Q3, etc. as the host asks the questions. To ensure your responses are properly tracked and seen, you should mark your tweets with the corresponding answer number when a question is asked (i.e., start your tweet with A1 when responding to Q1).

3. Add something unique to the conversation.

If you see a great question that you have a great answer for, it can be tempting to just spit it out immediately. But depending on the number of participants and the speed of their responses, you might just be adding to the noise with your answer.

Before you tweet, see what else has been said in response to that question. If someone else touched on something you wanted to say, reference that person and add your own contribution, for instance, “I agree with @SoAndSo, and also think that (…).” Make use of retweets and quote tweets if someone else’s response reflects your thoughts well enough.

4. Use self-promotional links sparingly.

It’s fine to include a link to your own website or article that perfectly answers one of the questions. It can shed more light on a subject than you can do in 280 characters, and as an added bonus, it will drive some traffic to your site. But if every tweet you contribute is another content link, people will start tuning you out for spamming the chat. Try to limit your use of links and instead try to formulate genuinely useful responses.

5. Thank the host(s) at the end.

At the end of the scheduled chat time, the host will usually send out a wrap-up tweet to close out the conversation. This is a signal for all participants to send in their final thoughts. When the host says it’s time to go, share a “thank you” tweet, tagging any relevant users you engaged with during the conversation. With any luck, you’ll have gained some knowledge and maybe a few new followers.

A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Image credit: publicdomainphotograph | Dreamstime Stock Photos (CC0)

Meeting a Professional Contact for Coffee? How to Make the Most of Your Time

I often receive invitations from fellow media professionals asking to meet for coffee or drinks. This is a common networking tactic in many industries: Snag 30 minutes of face time with a professional in a similar line of work, and you’re guaranteed to come out of it with at least a few ideas about how to work together.

While I can’t always spare the time, I do try to set up at least one “networking coffee” a month. They’re a more efficient, personable method of discussing possible ways to collaborate than a lengthy email thread or a rushed phone call. It also gets the person a solid “in” with me: I’m far more likely to remember someone with whom I’ve had a face-to-face conversation over someone whose name is buried in my never-ending inbox.

When you’ve only got 30 minutes or less of someone’s already-limited time, you want to make the most of that half hour. Here are a few tips to ensure a successful and productive one-on-one meeting with a professional contact.

Know who you’re looking for — and make sure they can find you.

When you’re meeting someone for the first time, you might waste five or 10 minutes looking around for each other, only to discover they’ve been standing near you the whole time. Hopefully you and your contact will have looked each other up on social media to get a picture for reference, but to expedite the process, you should let them know how to find you before they arrive at the meeting location — for example, “I’m at a table near the back window,” or, “I’m wearing a blue shirt.”

Ease into “business” talk.

Making plans to meet with a professional contact isn’t the same as introducing yourself at a networking event. You don’t need to cram a sales pitch about your agency or clients into a few brief minutes. There’s a little more time for pleasantries and small talk, and you should take advantage of that to build up a rapport with the person. Ask how their day is going, where they live, or what they like about their work before diving into business. Taking a genuine interest in the person as a human being, rather than a means to a business partnership, sets the foundation for a great professional relationship.

Pay attention to information about the person’s job.

You likely already know this person’s job title, but ask them about their work anyway — and then really listen when they answer. You might learn something you didn’t know about working with people at that company. Armed with this knowledge, you can make informed, calculated decisions that help both of you.

Follow up.

Common networking wisdom dictates that following up with the people you’ve met will keep you fresh in their minds and remind them to keep the wheels moving on any opportunities you discussed. Make sure you send the person a quick note thanking them for their time and recapping the conversation you had. It will pay off when the person responds with a potential opportunity to work together.

A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack.

Image credit: creativecommonsstockphotos | Dreamstime Stock Photos (CC0)