When I read Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist, I realised I was robbing people already. I write for a living. And while I offer only a limited copy writing services nowadays, I do a lot of writing for my own business, including blogs, emails, sales pages, and free resources for my community.
I schedule in time for writing regularly. At the scheduled time, I often sit down to write and … nadda. I have no inspiration. After no inspiration, I have scant motivation. There’s simply myself, a blank page and a blinking cursor.
At these times, I go looking to steal – from other people’s blogs and writing.
But of course, I’m not ripping off other people’s work. (You didn’t doubt me, did you?) There’s a vast difference between stealing like an artist and plagiarising (for a full exploration of this, go read Klein’s Steal Like An Artist. You can thank me later.)
Look for the feeling
When reading for inspiration, I’m seeking a particular feeling. It doesn’t really matter what the subject of my reading is – finding your soul mate, building your career, managing your priorities as a busy parent, friendships and travel – it’s the feeling that the writing inspires in me that I’m seeking.
Oftentimes, I only need to read something for five minutes to feel the feels – something that feels a bit like urgency, drive and excitement. Suddenly, I’m rip-raring ready to write.
Know your favourites
We all have our favourites online – those blogs and websites we regularly read. Some things we read to stay informed and educated. But often these aren’t the best place to go to feel inspired to write.
Develop a shortlist of your favourite reading materials that bring this feeling. These places will be different to other people’s places. Ask friends and colleagues to recommend great websites and reading resources but don’t be put off if they don’t sing to you in the same way. Keep searching.
Oftentimes, we fall out of love with our muses. Don’t get hung up on this. Simply seek new inspiration. You don’t need a whole bunch of these places. Just one good one will do. Remember, you’re not reading to stay informed or to feel like you’re “on the ball” – you’re reading to write. Don’t use this as an excuse to waste hours “working”. Ideally, you’ll just need five to ten minutes of reading to start writing.
Excavate their writing
Try excavating the structure of what you enjoy reading. Does it start with a personal story before dovetailing into more detail around a particular topic? Why exactly do you like it? How does the writer manage to pluck your heartstrings?
Pay close attention to the hook and headline – how does the headline grab your interest and how does the hook – the first couple of sentences – compel you to keep reading?
Notice what words you fly through, almost without seeing them, and which are designed to pull me up, to take particular notice?
A skilled writer will be adept at skilfully wielding words to fly through or pull you up short; a not-so-skilled writer unintentionally pulls readers up with words you trip over. Known as ‘clunky’ writing, seemingly unimportant words slow the reader down because they don’t properly fit – they don’t sound smooth; they bring unwanted baggage to the story; they’re distracting.
How does the writer build drama? What, exactly, makes the writing so riveting? Is it the topic? The writing style? The writer’s tone?
Excavating another’s writing is massively useful to better understand the mechanics of effective writing. When we start training ourselves to do this, we’ll start seeing the scaffolding behind each piece we read.
And most importantly …
The best way to never again stare blankly at a blinking cursor on a white screen is to always write from a list of topics. In my blogging for business course, I break down each step of writing: topics; headlines; writing; editing. (We also look at SEO for blogs and content distribution.)
Having a list of topics to work through means you’ve overcome the first hurdle of inspiration. Your list of topics could include headlines (the starts, as well as working titles) and a few other points that you’ve jotted down during your brainstorming phrase to ensure you don’t forget.
You can steal other’s topics – so long as they’re coherent with your brand and make sense for the reputation that you’re building for your business. When reading other people’s articles or consuming other content, ask yourself:
Do I agree? And why?
Do I disagree? And why?
What’s missing from this conversation?
You want to write like your arse is on fire. Turn all your reading time into an ongoing list of topic ideas and key points, and you’ll banish that blinking cursor forever.
I laughed when I read the title to this blog post. But it grabbed me and I absolutely agree. We use other people’s stuff to fuel everything we do.