The Blue Sky Method of Dealing With Writer’s Block

We’ve all been there. At some point in life we’ll all come to a point where in we’ll run out of ideas and we’ll find ourselves staring helplessly at a blank screen with absolutely no idea what to fill it with.

It’s part of the joys and pains of creation. And it happens to even the most brilliant and the most creative. Sometimes the underlying cause is that we tend to second-guess ourselves sometimes, or overthink things, or do any number of things that cause us to get in our own ways. The problem disappears once we have dealt with our own neuroses.

But more often than not, the issue doesn’t really get that serious, and all we need to get out of our creative rut is a whack in the head, or a jolt of stimulation, just a little push to get us rolling.

That’s where brainstorming comes in. Advertising creatives are pretty great at doing this and they’ve got it down (almost) to a science. Each agency would have its own “method” of jumpstarting creativity. In the Lowe agencies, they use what is called the “Blue Sky” method, in which participants just put ideas in as if anything were possible.

Brainstorming with the blue sky method gives you permission to fail, and license to fly. When we take away the issue of falling to our deaths, many of us would probably be perfectly willing to jump off a cliff. When we take the fear of failure and fear of rejection off the table, you’d be surprised at how many interesting, kooky, wacky ideas we can bring forth.

Step 1: Write down the central topic, statement, or the problem to be dealt with.

You can do this old school on a huge sheet of paper. Or you can use a mind-mapping software like Xmind (used with an LCD projector if in a group setting). Determine the essential words and phrases — these will be the seeds from which your ideas will spring forth. If you get more than 3 seeds, it may be a sign of wordiness or lack of focus in your main statement or topic. You may want to simplify.

Step 2: Make word associations.

For each “seed”, write down everything that pops into your head. Continue branching out from each of the items you come up with. Keep on churning them out for 15 minutes or so, or until you feel you’ve exhausted your mind.

You can take a break after this stage.
Tip: Don’t edit yourself. If you’re doing this in a group, don’t shoot down others’ ideas either. Don’t think about cost, or political correctness, logistics, or “practicality”.

Step 3: Find or make connections.

Take an idea in one “tree” and try to associate or combine it with a word or idea from another are in the sheet. This brings in a lot of fresh takes on the issue and a lot of Eureka! moments.

This time, you can make a list of the ideas that you come up with. Generally, the first few ideas that you come up with are the most obvious ones. Come up with a few more.

Tip: Don’t get too attached to an idea. Advertising honcho Frank Lowe used to say, “The good is the enemy of the great.” Fixating on a particular idea might keep you from seeing the great idea when it comes.

Step 4: Detach, then come back.

Do something else. Take a nap, watch a movie, run errands or do chores. Just take your mind off it for a while. This is a very good way to get those ideas to marinate (to use a meat metaphor) or to steep and brew (to use a beverage metaphor) — which is an essential step in any creative process.

When you’re ready to come back to your blue sky, you will find yourself better able to judge on which ideas to move forward with or you may find yourself in the midst of a second wind of Eureka! moments.

Set up a criteria for judging and evaluating ideas and shortlist those that have the most merit. Trust your instincts and your own internal BS detector, and remember to not get too attached to an idea.

Moving forward

Now that you’ve given your creative juices a whack, go forth and see where an idea takes you! It should bring you to come up with better solutions to your problem or better content for your website.

Need more brainstorming ideas? Check out this article in INC.

7 Reasons Why You’d Never Succeed at SEO in Japan

Are you a SEO practitioner looking to enter the Japanese market or already working with Japanese clients?

Then take note, you need to read this article to find out what’s stopping you from success!   

1. You don’t focus enough on mobile

Japan has a high internet penetration of 86%, and a mobile penetration of 122%! This means that on average, each person owns more than one mobile device.

Many searches take place on mobile. And majority of the people who use social media use it on mobile as well as desktops.

Are you making mobile the focus of your SEO strategy?
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Source: We Are Social

 

2. You are not using the most popular Japanese search engines


Two search engines (Google and Yahoo) control nearly 97% of the market share. Yahoo used to be the dominant search engine until mid 2011, when Google took over.

That said, Yahoo still accounts for almost 40% of the search market. Are you optimizing your website for Yahoo SERPs?   

036Source: Global Analysts  

 

3. You ignore the top Japanese social media networks

If you have Japanese friends, you’d know that Line is the Japanese Facebook in terms of market dominance. Line is a mobile platform with approx 54m users in its home market of Japan.

It’s especially popular with the ladies because of its cute characters. Young people often swap Line IDs the way they swap phone numbers a few years ago.

Below is an overall ranking of the most popular social media networks and messaging apps in Japan for all ages. The results are based on a survey published in 2014.

Facebook has been growing in popularity, but its growth has not been as fast as Line’s over the past years. The key reason being it’s not a service born on mobile.

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When you segment the different age groups (by decade, from people in their teens to those in their 60s), the results look very different.

  • Those in their 20s are the most avid social media users across the board.
  • Twitter is disproportionately popular among Japanese teens.
  • Facebook is more popular with millennials and less popular with teens.
  • Millennials still use mixi but teens don’t really anymore.
  • Line is the most popular social media network across the board except for seniors in their 60s.

Source: 2014 Institute for Information and Communications Policy

In another study, people were polled and asked “Out of Facebook, Twitter, and Line, which would present the most trouble if it were suddenly taken away from you?”

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Source: 2014 Fast Ask

Almost half of respondents (49.0%) chose Line as their most essential service, with the rest of the respondents split between Twitter, Facebook, and “I don’t know.”

 

Are you using the right social media networks for your target age groups?

4. You don’t use local domain and hosting

Search engines give more value to websites hosted on local web servers. Hosting your website locally, as well as having local ccTLDs will give you a significant advantage to rank in Japan.

Using local domain and hosting is an important geo-targeting indicator of trust and local authority to search engines.

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Source: Ginza Metrics

 

Google understands Japanese characters and displays them properly in SERPs if they have been correctly encoded. You want to ensure that your URLs are UTF-8 encoded.

You can also consider using Japanese character keywords in subfolders if they draw search volumes. For example, “yourwebsite.co.jp/folder/ここにキーワード.html”.

This will give you a better chance of ranking for your target keywords.

As Japanese users see trust as an important element of an online presence, consider placing your brand name at the end of the title tag.

This will help to raise brand awareness and create a good click-through rate for users who are familiar with your brand.

Are you using local domain and hosting?

 

5. You don’t localize your websites or have a Japan-specific content strategy   

Unlike the Western mantra of “less is more,” Japanese users expect to see lots of information. To them, more is better.

You need to adapt global templates to Japanese visual aesthetics and UI preferences.

Here’s a screenshot of Rakuten, Japan’s biggest ecommerce site. It might look busy and cluttered to Western eyes. But to Japanese people, the huge amount of content builds trust.

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Don’t just (Google) translate existing English content, Japanese users will know. Create content specifically for the Japanese user.

Highlight local management (if any) to build trust. Japanese consumers value quality and brand recognition.

The “About” page is particularly important for foreign companies so display your achievements and experience.

Localize forms, especially for dates, credit card input, names and addresses. For example, don’t insist on having users fill in “zip codes.” This American term is not familiar to Japanese users.

Avoid the typical multi-racial corporate imagery common in the West. Instead, show Japanese people who are fashionably and smartly dressed.  

Are you localizing your websites based on Japanese sensibilities?  

6. You don’t optimize your keyword strategy for Japanese characters

There are 4 character sets to optimize for in Japan–kanji, hiragana, katakana and romaji. And spacing matters, there’s a difference in search volumes between single byte and double byte.
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Additionally, Japanese grammar rarely matches how searches are formatted. Japanese tend to search in the infinitive, which can be hard to naturally work into the copy.

Are you optimizing your keyword strategy for the various Japanese character sets?

7. You build links to/from non-Japanese sites

Search engines value links originating from Japanese IP addresses and sites with Japanese content. Japanese anchor text is essential, back links with English anchor text are not ideal.

Yahoo Chiebukuro (Q&A) is a great place to engage users and build back links. You can create a brand ambassador who answers product, service or brand questions.

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Also, Pay Per Post back linking programs on top blog networks and directory listings are popular in Japan. Japanese users are not turned off by sponsored blogging the way Americans tend to be.  

Are you building links to/from Japanese sites?

Conclusion

If you take care of these 7 points above, you’d have a fighting chance to make it in the SEO world in Japan. Good luck!

Developing Your Craft as a Blogger

Whether it’s your bread and butter, a side project, or something you do for fun, creating a blog and maintaining it demands some kind of commitment from you. Bloggers have a responsibility toward their readership to hone their skills and their knowledge so they can provide good information and good insight.

So how do you become a better blogger?

Know Your Stuff

Your readers look to you for what you know or what you’ve experienced. So if your blog is about European travel, have you indeed traveled to Europe? If you review books in your blog, then you should have read each book that you’ve reviewed at least once. You might say, “Well, duh! Obviously!” Well, yes it is obvious. It’s so basic that you really should have it covered, but you’d be surprised how often this is overlooked, intentionally or unintentionally. Anyway, the point is, do try to achieve a certain level of expertise in your blog’s subject matter, and do your due diligence and keep yourself updated on new developments. 

Sharpen your Writing Skills

We don’t mean that you should become some sort of grammar snob, nobody likes that either, but let’s face it, blogging is about using words to communicate ideas. In fact, language is a building block of thought. So you’ve got to have those blocks down pat if you want to build anything. Grammar isn’t about following arbitrary rules, rather, it is about effective and efficient communication. Besides, you owe it to your readers to communicate well. Wouldn’t you want them to have a good experience in your blog? Nothing causes a headache quite like reading incoherent gibberish.

So brush up the grammar and composition lessons from your school days. Keep a copy of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style handy. Build your vocabulary so that your use of words is correct and precise.

Practice. Tweeting would teach you valuable editing skills and help you appreciate economy in the use of words. Keeping a journal won’t just help you develop your skills as a writer, it’s good for you as a person to immortalize certain memories and verbalize thoughts and feelings.

Cultivate Your Curiosity

You can’t write if you have nothing to write about. Keep learning. When you stop learning, you stagnate. No matter how much you know, there’s always more to it.

And don’t just limit yourself to your own field. Take an interest in other things and develop new passions, and you’ll find it amazing how one hobby or interest enriches another.

Sign up for workshops — whether they be for writing, pottery, or wine tasting. Procure books. Attend talks. Take copious notes and make it a practice to revisit them after some time; detaching yourself for a while allows the new knowledge to marinate in the mind, which gives rise to new insights.

Have Your Own Voice

As a blogger, you wouldn’t want to simply regurgitate what you see and hear or read about. Put your own spin on it when you write. Share your reflections and reactions; have a point of view, an opinion. Think of yourself as a newspaper columnist rather than a beat reporter.

Your blog is an extension of yourself. It reflects who you are and what you stand for. So put something of yourself in it, so when your readers come, they find you.