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Published November 8th 2021

Knowing When To Start And Stop Writing

Read the next article on building a content community

If you’re anything like me, you spend far too long staring at a blank page every week.

Trying to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) is hard when you don’t even know where to start, and the mocking of the flashing cursor doesn’t help.

If only it was this easy, right?

On the flip side, I’ve bashed out thousands of words in a matter of minutes that have made me think about giving up writing completely they’re so bad.

So where’s the middle ground? When do you know how to begin as a writer and, perhaps more importantly, how do you stop?

How do you know when you’re ready to start writing?

There’s a lot that goes into writing an article before you’ve even typed a single word.

For me, there’s what feels like about 17 million hours of research, a lot of staring into space, and playing Tetris with my ideas until they fit into what looks like a decent outline.

Sometimes, there’s a whole load of procrastination, too, but at least I’m not the only person.

Here’s when you know (or at least begin to realise) you’re ready to start writing.

1. You understand what your audience wants

Writing is far easier when you know who’s going to be reading what you’re putting down.

Getting words on a page can feel cathartic, but if you’re specifically writing an article that has a purpose, it’s important to know who those words are for and what kind of words those people want to read.

For example, a social media manager for a new agritech company probably isn’t going to be interested in a piece about working with fashion influencers.

Well, they might be, but it’ll be for other reasons.

When I’m figuring out what the audience might want when writing a new client piece, I do several things.

  • Create audience personas: I build out 2-3 profiles of people who might be interested in what I’m writing. These profiles might include basic demographic data as well as psychographic tendencies, like their interests, goals, and pain points.
  • Discover common questions: I research questions that these people are asking to understand their pain points and what they need the most help with. I tend to use sites like Quora and Reddit to find these questions.
  • Find out what’s out there already: Lastly, I have a look at what content is already out there that serves a similar audience. To do this, I’ll choose 2-3 competitors and run their sites through BuzzSumo to find the most popular posts.

Here are the top performing posts on BuzzSumo over the past six months.

From this, I can glean that the audience wants to know how to write better headlines, create superior content, and discover marketing-inspired Chrome extensions.

2. You have a topic, vision, or goal in mind

Starting writing also requires knowing what you’re going to write about.

It seems so obvious, but it’s easy to go in vague and churn out a thousand words of rambling nonsense (don’t feel bad, we’ve all been there!).

Once I’ve done the initial research to find out what my audience might want to read about, I start brainstorming blog ideas.

I’ll only start writing when I’ve got a clear idea about the topic of the piece as well as the purpose.

Topic ideas are either incredibly easy to come up with or incredibly hard.

I’ve had some of my best ideas come up when I’m on a walk or in the shower – inspiration can strike anywhere and everywhere.

But, if it doesn’t strike at all, you can still give your brain a kickstart.

Here’s how I do that:

  • Run keyword research: I use a tool called Keywords Everywhere that lets me type a phrase into Google and get a list of other, similar keywords that people are searching for.
  • Use Google’s People Also Ask: Google is a wealth of inspiration, from its autosuggest feature and its People Also Ask feature, to the similar search results listed at the bottom of the results page.
  • Get inspired by other posts: I regularly use BuzzSumo to find writing ideas. I simply type in a keyword and take a look at the suggestions that come up.

While carrying out this research, I start a new document to jot down the ideas I come up with. You might want to create a mind map or something visual to connect up similar ideas and spark new ones.

3. You have the energy and motivation

Trying to write when you really don’t feel like writing is the worst.

I’ve often been up against a deadline and forced myself to sit down and write, but nothing comes out and, if it does come out, it’s sub-par.

In these instances, it helps to take some time away from the screen.

Sometimes all it takes is a quick break and then I’m back at it, rather than forcing myself to try and put anything down on a page.

Some things that help me that might help you include:

  • Listening to music (I like to listen to upbeat, lyricless music when I’m writing – some of my favourite playlists are this one and this one)
  • Changing your environment (work in a different room or try a coworking space – I personally love working from a coworking space that has lots of different rooms, like quiet rooms and a busy cafe)
  • Removing distractions (get rid of anything that might be distracting, like put a social media block on your phone for a bit – I often put my phone on aeroplane mode if I want to get in the zone)
  • Leveraging helpful tools (I personally like the Pomodoro timer, where you work solidly for 25 minutes before taking a break)
  • Doing something completely different (go for a walk, do a workout, cook some lunch, have a coffee, phone a friend – anything that takes your mind off the task at hand for a while)

Too much too soon? When to stop writing

Knowing when to stop writing is a totally different ballgame to starting writing, but it’s equally as important.

There’s no point churning out words for the sake of it if you’re not happy with them or they’re not moving you towards your end goal.

I often find that stopping writing is almost harder than starting writing – or, more specifically, knowing the right time to stop.

So, how do you know when you should take a step back and put your pen down?

1. You’re struggling to put a sentence together

If you’ve written the same sentence over and over again and still can’t get it right, it might be time to stop for a bit.

There have been plenty of occasions where I can’t get the introduction or the conclusion how I want it, but I keep trying anyway, only to end up frustrated, disappointed, and questioning my writing ability.

Found yourself in the same position? Take a deep breath and remove yourself from the document.

Things often become clearer when we’ve had some time away and aren’t totally absorbed in a piece.

2. You’ve run out of ideas

The idea machine is infinite, but it often doesn’t feel like it.

I call it “idea fatigue” and it happens more than I’d like to admit.

Sometimes, if I’ve been writing words all day long, I’ll struggle to make a decision or come up with anything unique.

Running out of ideas isn’t the end of the world, and it definitely doesn’t mean that you’re never going to come up with an idea ever again.

But it does mean it’s time to take a step back and do something else for a bit.

I mentioned some of the ways you can regroup in the section above, but if you’ve run out of ideas and need a dose of inspiration, you can try:

  • Exploring similar pieces of content to see if you’ve missed anything
  • Reading well-written pieces on a completely different topic
  • Stop reading completely and listen to music or do another activity
  • Getting out into nature and going for a brisk walk

3. You’re finished but keep tweaking

You might find yourself endlessly going back to a piece and “just changing a sentence here” or “adding a word or two there”.

It’s easy to feel like your content is never finished, but sometimes you just have to stop and draw a line under it.

If you’ve gone back to a blog multiple times, it might be time to call it quits.

No piece is ever going to be completely perfect and there will always be something you can add or change, but it’s important to know when to stop.

I tend to finish a piece, take a step away, and go back to it the next day.

If I spot any places for improvement, I’ll make those tweaks, but once that’s done I don’t go back again.

At that point, it’s sent to the client and out of my hands!

How do writers write?

Starting and stopping are two very real problems writers face.

Knowing when you’re ready to go, and knowing when it’s time to put the metaphorical pen down, can help keep your motivation levels high and your words flowing freely.

Use the tips here to notice when you’re feeling fatigued and then go do something – anything! – else.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll be amazed at how refreshed you feel when you come back to your keyboard to conquer that blank page.

If you want to test-drive any BuzzSumo tools featured above, grab a 30-day free trial here to inspire your next piece of content.

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