Getting back to writing? Try these Rs

In writing, habit seems to be the much stronger force than either willpower or inspiration. 

– John Steinbeck

Last month I didn’t write anything, not even a single blog post here or on my personal site. Partly because I was very busy on the work front and partly because I slipped off my daily writing routine. I write first thing in the morning before my family wakes up. Of late, lots of late-night work calls and general randomness in life during this whole work-from-home and school-from-home phase have been making it difficult to wake up early. 

But if I look closely, the key reason to not write would be – not sticking to my schedule.

Following a writing-schedule requires self-discipline and that too a lot of it.

I am a creature of habit, I generally follow a routine, at times to the extent of being labeled a boring personality. But then, that’s how I like it :). As a habit, I write every day, and I have been doing it for more than three decades now. Not everything gets shared here, some are for my personal journal and some for my blogs. 

Though despite being a creature of habit, at times slip-offs happen and that’s ok. The important thing is to ponder and figure out how to get back. Every time that I have gone into a writing slumber, I realize the path to get back has more or less been the same. 

• Realization

• Recharge

• Reading

• Routine

• Restart

Background – Unsplash. Design – Kanupriya Sindhu

Realization: Different people have different triggers for realization for their creative pursuits. For me, if I don’t write or paint for a few days, I get restless, with a feeling of something amiss. Creating anything always gives me a high and this realization helps me get back to my routine even amidst a hundred other things.

Recharge: With time, I have also understood that at times a brief pause from any habit is actually good. It gives us the chance to look around, observe, breathe, and recharge. Be it writing or any other habit, recharging our mental energy helps us in ways more than we can imagine. What recharges us depends upon person to person. For me, a long peaceful walk or cooking does the magic, for some, it could be a holiday, yoga, movie, or anything else. 

Reading: Reading is fundamental for me. I grew up in an era where books were the only source of information and entertainment for me. And I am so glad for that, as reading shaped up my personality in many ways. If I think of my interest in writing too, perhaps the root of it goes back to my reading habit. The more I read, the more I felt like writing. Till today, reading acts as a magic pill to recover any writing block for me. Sometimes it gives me ideas on what to write and sometimes it expands my horizon on how to express. As someone rightly said, you learn to write better by reading, you learn to read better by writing.

Routine: Routine helps in writing, always. Be it following a set path or overcoming an unexpected pause, creating a routine has always helped me. Speaking of writing, I have a pre-defined slot in my daily calendar to write and I try to stick to it. I block this slot like office meetings and set reminders, even though not all writing is necessarily for work. To get back to writing after a break, all we need to do is create that routine first.

Restart. Yes, that’s what we need to do. Start from where we left or start afresh, just restart. Day 1 of our schedule is waiting for us, time to get going, like this post after a break of a few weeks :).

These 5 Rs help me get back to my writing habit whenever I have gone off my schedule. And why writing, these have helped me form completely new habits too like meditation that I only started practicing a couple of years ago. More on that later. For now, would love to know what helps you to overcome your creative block? How do you stick to a habit? 

Whatever happened to writing for humans

Of late I have been interviewing people for content writer positions in my current organization. I had some content strategy in my mind and the goal as product owner was clear to me – create content for user engagement and offer content that the user is looking for. Yes, the operative word was “user”, loud and clear. But as baffling as it may sound, not even a single candidate whom I interviewed in last few weeks mentioned to me the word “user” in his/her opening pitch. It all started with writing content for search engines and ended with content quality being SEO friendly. To add to that, the kind of content that I am looking to create is sort of new initiative for my target audience, so it’s important for the candidate to have basic understanding of the category.  When asked about industry experience, understanding of target audience, pat came the reply – you can let us know which words work for you and we will figure out the content that’s doing well for those words in search engines and create content for you accordingly, the written piece will have all those words with right density and frequency.

Density? Frequency? Engines?  Errrr, what happened to writing content for humans? Last I knew was search engines were meant for discoverability but consumption of content was still done by humans. Isn’t it? And search gods like Google have anyways changed their algorithm to focus on quality of content rather than quantity of keywords inserted in it.

Then, why this focus on promotion so much more than production?

I understand the importance of marketing the content esp. in this age of too-many-of-any type of content but being a hard core marketer I can only say one thing – you try to market whatever, be it product or service or content, if the foundation of it is not in place, then your marketing can only help you just as much and not that much.

I know there are many golden rules that exist for creating engaging content, marketing the content etc but based on all my practical experiences in product & marketing, especially in digital, here is my quick list for new age content creation process:

User first – As basic as it may sound, but this is really important – put your users first above everything. Write for target audience and not for target channels. Content to me especially when I am looking for user engagement is exactly like a product. If you put your users in the heart of your content creation process, half of your battle is won. Speaking of user first, I actually love this quote by Jamie Turner:

Content Marketing

As a simple practice when I write or approve any piece of content for my products, I generally check it on 3 quick parameters – is it offering value to my readers, is the language easy to understand for my readers and is it engaging, inspiring or thought-provoking for my readers?  Yes, “readers” it is, in all three parameters.

Quality can never be outdated – Whatever changes may happen in our content search or content consumption behavior but one thing that can never be changed is the importance of “quality” of content especially in today’s age where there is a content jungle out there. You may adapt many tricks to  get discovered but once the user has landed on your page and if sufficient substance is not there in your content then she will lose interest and is bound to navigate away immediately. To add to that, average attention span of readers has further reduced by more than 30% in last 3 years. While there are many methods to get your content promoted, and content marketing seems to be one of the most fashionable jargons these days but there is no substitute to the quality of content that you produce if you want your marketing to really work for your content.

Engage with readers – Again a term that we have heard quite often but it’s one of the most ignored parameters when it comes to content. Like any product or service, user engagement in your content is a must.  Connect, interact, converse and accept the feedback or criticism graciously. The more the user is engaged, the easier it is for them to act or decide.

To sum it up, if the content is unique, offers value to its readers and is interesting enough to hold reader’s attention, then there is no reason why the reader won’t share and spread the word around it. “Share”, isn’t it the reason as to why content has suddenly become one of the most important marketing channels in the digital world?