So you already know how essential Content Marketing is in promoting your brand and establishing an online presence. You've installed a blog, identified your KPIs, studied your niche, listed down topics, and created an Editorial Calendar.
But now it's time to write.
Often the bottleneck in implementing a Content Marketing strategy is the actual creation of content. If you've been doing this for a long time, you know how challenging it is to create content and to strictly follow an editorial calendar week in and week out.
And you know how hard it is to battle with writer's block, which is another ferocious lion in the den.
I've been professionally writing for years and yet somehow, writing is still the hardest thing I ever have to do! Inspiration doesn't come by when you need it, distractions are everywhere, and there's no stopping time from moving forward.
Sometimes you find yourself staring at a blank screen, typing and backspacing texts, unable to put your thoughts into cohesive sentences, realizing after an hour that you only managed to write one paragraph. Other times, you try to "research" your topic and end up getting sidetracked by some cat video or whatever's trending on Facebook or Twitter.
Reality check! Writing is a discipline, we need help, and we need tools.
And no, you're not going to find Buzzsumo or Buffer or Keyword Planner in this list. We definitely use these tools on a daily basis around here—in fact we listed down these Content Marketing tools before. Instead, this list includes practical tips and corresponding tools that will help you focus, eliminate distractions, and add a little time pressure into your writing process so that you can keep your content creation wheel spinning.
1. Have a note taking device ready all the time.
Inspiration often strikes when you're taking a walk, while in transit, taking a shower, or in bed just before you fall asleep. In short, they usually happen when you're away from your computer—which, come to think of it, is exactly the reason why you should step away from your computer when inspiration is running dry. That said, you should be ready to take down notes anytime inspiration strikes.
If you're someone who likes taking notes by way of paper and pen, by all means, bring a pocket notebook with you wherever you go! I suggest you read this article about various forms of analog note taking.
In most cases, however, like when you're inside a train, in the shower (unless you have this cool water proof note pad!), or in the darkness of your bedroom, writing on paper may be impossible. In this case, a note-taking app in your mobile phone or tablet spells wonders. Not only are you able to type down notes wherever you are, it's also easy to transfer your notes digitally.
Here are some recommended note-taking apps:
- Whatever built-in note app you have on your phone or tablet. IOS has one, and it's the one I normally use. It's very basic, uncomplicated, and connects to the cloud (although I rarely use this option). Most times, when I'm done typing notes, I just copy-paste my text and email it to myself. Tada!
- Evernote. Many people would swear by Evernote as it brings to the table more than you can ask for from a simple note-taking app. It has the ability to clip articles, save photos, collaborate and create presentations, among others. What can I say, Evernote is not the best note-taking app for nothing.
- Simplenote. This one is available for ios and android and syncs to a web-based platform. I love everything simple, and this app took out a lot of the unnecessary stuff from its screen. If you like all of your digital scratch papers in one place, Simplenote is a good option to consider.
2. Plug in some white noise.
Plugging in your ear phones while you write is good for two things: (1) It helps eliminate the noise around you and lets you to get "in the zone"; (2) It implicitly sends a "Do Not Disturb" message to others. (Hint: I sometimes wear earphones while working, even if I'm not listening to anything, for this very reason—to shoo people away!)
The thing is, listening to songs while writing can be really distracting. Song lyrics will most likely interfere with your line of thought and would delay your content creation process more than help you.
White noise and creativity
On the other hand, I have found that listening to white noise (or lyric-less music!) not only blocks out outside noises as well as people from disturbing you, it also increases creativity and productivity. One study proves that the right amount of ambient noise positively affects creative cognition. This is most likely the reason why we feel more productive inside coffee shops or school libraries instead of being locked inside a quiet room. And this is probably the reason why we feel creative when rain is pouring down (I do!).
My most favorite ambient sound, in fact, is the sound of rain.
- Rainymood. This one is web-based, therefore no need to download to your gadget or computer. You only need to open the web page in one of your browser tabs and the sound of rain will instantly play in the background. I've been using Rainymood for years, way back when there still wasn't a myriad of ambient sound apps available around. Oh, and try Rainymood with this! You're welcome.
- Noisli. This app lets you mix your own ambient noise. I.e., Combine the sound of chatter inside a coffee shop with the sound of rain. Or the sound of the ocean waves with the wind and the cracking woods around the bonfire. The options are endless. If you're a writer, you seriously need this app in your life.
- Coffivity. If hanging out in coffee shops to get some work done is your thing, you'll love Coffivity. It offers a selection of ambient noise not just of coffee shops, but also bistros, university cafeterias, and tea houses. Something about the sound of people chatting in the background and the tinker of coffee cups enhances creativity, yeah? Now if only someone can create an app that exudes the smell of coffee..
3. Remove the clutter.
First, literally remove the clutter from your desk. No, seriously. For me, this works wonders! Sure, we can get used to the clutter on our desk that we're able to get in the zone even when chaos surrounds us. ;) But most times, physical clutter adds unnecessary mental clutter too.
So help yourself and clean up your desk for a minute.
And then, remove the clutter from your screen. Sometimes it only takes a clutter-free screen for one to write more effectively.
Wordpress has a "Distraction-free writing mode" where it hides all the other sections from the page, leaving only the area where you type your content. However, Wordpress being web-based, your browser tabs are still one click away! So if you're struggling with the itch to ctrl-tab your way to distraction, move your content writing to a distraction-free writing environment such as this:
Write Plus for Windows
- Focus Writer. I've used this app for years and it has helped me immensely in my writing. It gives you the option to change the background of the interface too while keeping the text area clean.
- Write Plus. I was using Focus Writer until I discovered Write Plus. I love the endless white space! For Windows users, this one is highly recommended.
4. Block unnecessary sites.
How many times have you experienced researching a topic on Google, which lead you to a Facebook page, where you got tempted to click on your notifications and had you scrolling non-stop, which then lead you to Youtube, where you watched one video after another, all of which were not relevant to your topic anyway? How many times have you wistfully browsed through Pinterest, making it an excuse to "get inspired", only to realize you've been aimlessly pinning for over an hour already?
More often than not, we just can't rely on self-control. We need to discipline ourselves by blocking websites that are not going to help in the writing process. Start with blocking Facebook and Youtube. Maybe even Pinterest.
- StayFocused. Works on Google Chrome, this one allows you to block websites for a period of time. StayFocus limits your time on distracting websites so that you can focus on your writing.
- Strict Workflow. Also a Google Chrome app, this works almost the same as Stay Focused. It blocks websites for, say, 30 minutes, after which you're allowed to take a break where these sites become available again for 5 minutes. (30 minutes and 5 minutes of course are customizable. It's up to you how much time you will allow yourself to work and take breaks).
Do yourself a favor and download any of these two apps. For your own good. :)
5. Use an egg timer.
The kitchen is not the only place where an egg timer is an essential tool. You need it on your work desk too! There's so much to be done in a day and you need to be strict with managing your time, or else you could be spending an entire day completing just one task without noticing the time.
An egg timer boosts your productivity in various ways. First, as I mentioned, it divides your schedule into smaller chunks, which allows you to manage your time better. Second, it pressures you to complete the task within the time frame that you've set, and maybe even remind you to take a break in between.
For example. You can set the egg timer to alarm after the first hour of your day, a time which you dedicate to reading other blogs. We all know how time consuming and distracting reading other blogs is. While reading is good pre-content creation, excessive reading can become overwhelming, and can sometimes make you feel inferior to other bloggers in comparison.
So be strict with yourself. Time your reading, and once the timer stops ticking, whether or not you're done with reading, move on to the next task in your list.
Egg timer and free writing
For me, I set my egg timer while I do some free-writing. Free writing is a technique where the writer continuously writes for a period of time without regard to spelling or grammar or the flow of thought. This is particularly helpful when you're writing blog content, where you just let your thoughts flow, producing raw material that you can just edit and improve later on.
The sound of a ticking clock may be distracting at first, but when you get used to it, you'll find that it gives you rhythm and serves as some form of a white noise too.
- A real egg timer. I say, if you're not sharing your work space or your office with anyone, buy yourself a real egg timer. Get a cute one!
- Egg Timer by Filibaba (IOS). I use this on my iPhone and I love how simple and straightforward it is. It sounds just like a real egg timer too. Other egg timer apps are designed for use in, well, cooking eggs, and therefore include egg recipes and other kitchen-specific functionalities. This Filibaba Egg Timer is as simple as it can get, with a few options to customize the look of your egg timer, nothing more. It works just right for this specific purpose (of adding pressure to your writing process!).
- E.ggtimer. If you don't like the ticking sound of an egg timer, E.ggtimer is a web-based timer that beeps only when your time is up.
These are just some of my writing essentials, and a different approach may work for you. The point is, whatever our approach is, writing requires a lot of discipline, time management, and consistency in order for it to become a habit. It's up to you to find your own sweet spot.
So. How about you? What are your favorite tools and rituals when writing?