Blast it. I can’t write. I’ve been sat at my desk all morning pontificating. Trying to get something down on paper and it’s just not happening.

In the age of content marketing, writer’s block is a big problem. And frankly it’s not the first time I’ve had this problem. So how do I keep those web impressions a-rolling?

Turns out the answers fairly straightforward: I take a leaf out of the Coen Brothers book, and I write a post about not being able to write a post...

Before we start, a note on writing, and content creation in general (and my writing in particular).

Writing doesn’t always flow. I have at least three half-written novels at home. It tends to come in bursts, as does my interest in a lot of things. For part of the year I can’t get enough music, then I’ll be going to the cinema six times a day for a month, then I’ll be learning how to code.

Writing tends to be one of those cyclical interests for me, and while I’m not subject to the deadlines and targets of many journalists (or our own writers and analysts), sometimes it’s just damn hard to put something coherent together, and I know that I'm far from alone in this.

Marketers are judged on their ability to consistently create interesting, nay, enthralling content. It’s not always easy, but it is possible. 

How do you keep creating? 

Well, let’s look at my day. So far I’ve had a lot of ideas that haven’t happened. 

Firstly I wanted to look at how many things had changed on Facebook in the last week, and illustrate how some key concepts about social media stay true whatever happens to platform functionality, but it felt a bit flat. Do you really want to hear me say ‘make good content, target the audience, measure the effect’ again?

Of course not, but you might like to hear me say that if I add in a case study or show you some figures from an experiment I carried out. 

I could list how people are using Facebook stickers to communicate, and the opportunities for brands to produce their own:

Or we could take a look at FB’s recent acquisition of Monoidics. They’ll probably be using it to beef up their mobile offering, Monoidics specialize in code authentication that can help with bug-chasing, among other things, and what an increasingly mobile-orientated service means for different industry sectors.

Moving on, this Vine went semi-viral earlier:

It’s a lady who is properly pissed off at Apple because she has to make an appointment in the Apple Store after AppleCare told her she could get a part easily there. Frankly I sympathise, so maybe there’s something to be said about the state of your customer service if the only way to get what you want is being the subject of a viral video. 

Something something using social media to jump the line, something something need for integrated service processes across channels? 

Feels a bit same old doesn’t it? 

But maybe I could make a personal point though. The tax office recently deciding that I’d been a self-employed construction worker for the past six years and tried to charge me £1,800, and kept me on hold for nearly two hours, twice, while I tried to contact a human to fix it.

Which they couldn’t.

That’s a bit more engaging (and enraging) isn’t it? 

The rules of content

So it turns out I’m already producing content.

Even the cast off ideas have angles I can use.  I’ve managed most of a post already, based on not being able to write one. The bigger problem here isn’t that I can’t write, it’s that I’m worrying that what I have to say has been said and done.  

In the content marketing age, only good content counts. Meaningless waffle is easy. Insight is not.

What can I do to improve this? 

Let's take a look at Robert Heinlein's Five Rules of Writing. All of these apply equally to any kind of content you are producing. Print them out and memorise them/glue them to your forehead.

1: You must write. 

Great, we’ve got that covered.

2: Finish what you start. 

Well we’re halfway there. In case you can’t be bothered reading on, the butler did it. 

3: You Must Refrain From Rewriting, Except to Editorial Order

That’s an easy one as well. I never even rewrote my dissertation, which may explain why my parents are vaguely disappointed in me.

4: You Must Put Your Story on the Market

Here you go. Feel free to tell me I suck. See how I’m inviting the community to engage already? 

5: You Must Keep it on the Market until it has Sold

I’ll be sure to add an edit if this post has a particularly high conversion rate. And I’ll be sure to try to have a conversation about it on our social channels.

All this procrastination doesn’t mean I’m not being creative. I’ve been updating Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and more this morning as well. I’ve been curating content, and I’ve been answering emails, occasionally using puerile gifs instead of words. 

Earlier, I had a crazed plan to scrape LinkedIn groups using RSS for info, which involved lots of research, lots of spreadsheets, and an ongoing dual with LinkedIn’s API. It probably won’t work, but hey it’s worth a try. 

The actual problem here isn’t a lack of ideas or subject matter, it’s lack of focus. If you can’t focus on a single idea through to completion then you’ll lack visible content, and if you haven’t got content, you’re nobody on the web.  

Make your content do more

The answer to all this is about being smarter with content. I’ve already mentioned how curation plays a part, as does sourcing the news, and adding insight and context to events (hello again Vine lady). 

If you’re really stuck, go to a website, any website. I chose Facebook earlier because it’s of interest to a lot of our readers, and it changes a lot.

Look at the hero image. Look at the buttons. 

  • How many pixels are they from the side? 
  • What colour are they? 
  • What psychological effect does that have on people? 
  • How does it affect conversion? 
  • How many sites use this layout? 
  • Are there any notable exceptions that might want to do a Q&A on their usability?  

Each one of those points warrants a valuable post in its own right.  And if you can manage a Q&A, maybe there’s time to do a Google Hangout, which will go on YouTube, and can be shared on Facebook, and transcribed into a blog post, which can be tweeted. 

The fact is, you’re rolling in content, everything you do in your day-to-day job can be made into an interesting case study, and no matter how many times you’ve heard it, there will always be a small, seemingly obvious point that is news to someone.

Did you know that putting an @name at the start of a tweet means it’s only visible to someone who follows both you and the account you are addressing? Now you do. 

And we work in digital marketing. I deal in data, in platforms and persuasion techniques. Think of the amazing creative I’m surrounded by every day, the huge reams of facts and figures and stats. 

The point is, every time I think I have writer’s block, I’m kidding myself.

Not everything will be brilliant or change the world, but if you can frame it and add some human context then you’re well on your way.

Even if you aren’t a writer, you can video something, you can draw a picture, you can take screenshots.

There’s no reason for not making content, and there’s no reason for it being bad. Good content is the stuff which echoes and amplifies the experiences your customers and site users are already having. 

Now quit reading and go and make something. you’ll feel better. 

Matt Owen

Published 25 July, 2013 by Matt Owen

Matt Owen is a marketing consultant based in London. He was previously Head of Social at Econsultancy and currently runs Atomise Marketing. Opinions expressed are author's own.

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Comments (12)

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Nick Stamoulis of Brick Marketing

"Even the cast off ideas have angles I can use."

Even the worst idea you ever had has promise, you just have to know how to rip it apart to get to the good stuff. I too have stared at my screen and not known how to start (or how to end) my content. Sometimes you have to just walk away and come back with a fresh mind and remind yourself that you do have something to say and it is worthwhile and people will want to listen.

about 5 years ago


Peter Balck

So you can't write? Sadly that appears to be so, not least because your grasp of English grammar is a little weak!

Your opening line should read: ".... I have been sitting at my desk...." (not "been sat at my desk"). Alternatively, it would also be correct to write," .... I was sat at my desk."

Nevertheless, a good article which I've benefited from. So thank you.

about 5 years ago


Kim McFayden

I enjoyed this article - a great illustration of how to work with what's staring you in the face. And Peter Balck, just about to head over to your blog to see if I can find some grammatical errors just for sport ;)

about 5 years ago


Rajesh Magar

I am in same situation and trying hard to overcome these problems. Thing is whenever I away from desk or roaming outside lots of content ideas pops up in mind but when I reach at my desktop to put that on paper I get stuck (bang..) and do't get the words to start my article.

about 5 years ago


Elite Marriott, Consultant at Digital Heart

Brilliant, thanks! I've worked in digital roles in the publishing industry for 10 years but never had to write any content, and now I've left the industry to set up on my own, I have to write my own content.
What do I have to say? I keep asking myself this question and beating myself up over not being eloquent enough, after having worked with amazing journalists for so long.
But you're right - I am curious and think about websites and online marketing every day, every hour of the day. So why not put some of these thoughts out there... I love the light tone of what you're saying. It's not that difficult!

about 5 years ago


How Khiam Goh

Great content! it's the human element that makes it so easy to read, absorb and digest. and sometimes this is what we (or at least for myself) lack in daily writing... which makes writing such a painful job.

thanks :)

about 5 years ago


Peter Black

Hi everyone and especially Kim McFayden

Oh heck! I hang my head in shame! It was I who whined pitifully about Matt Owen's poor grammar in an earlier comment, only to be justifiably put under the microscope by Kim.

What hope is there for me when I can't even spell my own name properly! (Earlier comment listed as Peter Balck) My apologies to Matt and anyone interested. What's worse I haven't even posted my first blog yet, so who am I to criticise?

What do they say, about 'pride before a fall'? Guilty as charged.

about 5 years ago


Elite Marriott, Consultant at Digital Heart

Peter, I love to be corrected... some of my best friends correct my English in public. You may be guilty of some things but at least you made me laugh today!

about 5 years ago

Matt Owen

Matt Owen, Marketing Consultant at Atomise Marketing

My Grammar will be pleased to hear it, she's a lovely old lady etc etc...

That said, I tend to write as as I speak, hopefully the message makes its way through the digressions!

about 5 years ago



Great article! I have always found it difficult at times to write a post that helps and contributes to what it is I am indulged in at the moment.

Above all...

Trying to write a post about a subject that hasn't been touched upon before that most likely has been discussed in the past.

I guess if you speak it in your own words, there is that slight chance that you may reach others in a way they haven't been reached before by expressing what it is your trying to express in your own particular style.

about 5 years ago


Genni Lynch, Web Marketing at JIPL

I want to know what's going to happen to the three unfinished novels? will you finish them?

about 5 years ago

Matt Owen

Matt Owen, Marketing Consultant at Atomise Marketing

Haha - I have a theory that I'll finally finish them when I retire, then they'll sell 300 million copies and I'll be annoyed at myself for not doing it earlier... ;)

about 5 years ago

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