I’ve been blogging off and on for about eight years now, but in the last four years I’ve been blessed enough to be paid for it. While being paid to write is pretty much every blogger’s ultimate dream, it has also brought on waves of panic at times.
I know I’m not alone in this. Many times, I have scrambled for ideas on what to write. When the clock demands content that your brain just isn’t producing, what should you do?
The Passive Approach
Well, just to be sure I cover my bases, let’s discuss the idea that you only write whenever you really get motivated, irritated, or inspired enough to write…which is every 4 months or so. This recreational approach usually ends up making your blog about as useful as that gym membership contract you signed at the beginning of the year. (Yeah, how’s that going, by the way?) Your blog becomes a dusty old ghost town and your readers aren’t able to depend on you for great content. Then, they stop listening to you.
So let’s just get it out of the way: this unfocused, undisciplined approach doesn’t work. If this is why you have a blog, you might want to re-evaluate.
The Proactive Approach
The best way to ensure that you’re able to keep churning out great content is to remember that your writing muscle is…well…a muscle. You must exercise it to make it strong. Like working out, studying a new language, or learning an instrument, you should practice it (almost) every day. Eventually, you will begin to find great content even in the seemingly mundane.
A few weeks ago, Julie and I sat down to create free email courses on how to be great at social media management, writing, marketing, and editing. We combined our knowledge (mostly hers, I confess), and created a separate email course for each role. The result was great tips that we’re pretty proud of and think are tremendously helpful.
In our writer’s course, we talk about four sources for finding ideas to write about:
1. Derivative Ideas
TV Show spin offs are great examples of derivative content. Derivative content, while completely original, may still have the DNA or otherwise give credit to the original content. This is not plagiarism or stealing. True derivative content keeps enough distance from the original content to be significant by it’s own merit, but it may borrow on themes or ideas proposed in the original piece.
In the blog world, derivative content acknowledges the original post, but continues to build on it somehow. For example, if you read a post citing 10 reasons why you should never own a convertible, it may spawn an idea for you to write “10 More Reasons Why You Should Never Own A Convertible” where you reference the original post, but give your own insight on the subject. You get the idea.
So, the trick to helping your brain generate great derivative ideas is to be sure that you are busy getting out there and exposing your brain to the content of others. What blogs do you regularly read? What books are you nose-deep in? Are there any good podcasts that you’re listening to on your commute to work or even while you’re at work? Regularly expose your mind to great content, and you’ll find plenty of ideas are birthed simply by your reaction to that alone.
Like derivative ideas, inspired ideas occur in the wake of consuming someone else’s content. The key difference is that inspired content is typically more distant from the original piece that inspired it. I love the way Julie describes it when she says that inspired content “sort of shakes loose an idea that you had tucked away” in your head. You’ve probably experienced this feeling many times before when you read or hear something, and it sends your brain on a rabbit trail of great thoughts. That’s inspiration.
So now that you’re clear on what inspired ideas are, you need to be sure you’re flying your brain’s proverbial kite in that thunderstorm. How do you get a lighting bolt of inspiration to strike?
As with derivative content, you must regularly expose yourself to the ideas and the thoughts of others, but I find inspiration is more likely to strike when I’m consuming content that I actually enjoy. Listening to great music inspires musical ideas. Reading great posts inspires great post ideas, and so on.
Do you have any guilty pleasure blogs, podcasts, or books that you’re into? Or maybe you genuinely enjoy reading and learning about technology, marketing, knitting, sports, etc. You name it. Get out there and make a habit of good reading habits. Commit yourself to an ongoing informal education in some field. You’ll find tons of ideas flow from that.
It’s that trip to South Africa you took when you were in college. It’s the first time you saw the ocean. It’s the feeling you got when you first held your child and gazed at that sweet face. Experiences are as powerful as they are unique, and they’re a perfect source for content ideas.
While your own experiences and interpretations of them are unique, don’t feel like you are being selfish in sharing them. You’ll be surprised how many people can relate directly to your story, or at least empathize with your thoughts or emotions as you describe the experience and how it made you feel. Best of all, people love a good narrative. As humans, we engage with stories.
So look no further than your own experiences and stories for great ideas on content. Share what happened. How did it make you feel? What valuable life lessons did you learn from it? How has it changed you? People want to know.
I spoke metaphorically earlier about lightning bolts of inspiration, but epiphany is really the truest form of this.
There you are, brushing your teeth, tying your shoes, or taking out the garbage, and–BAM!–you’re suddenly struck with an idea in this glorious “aha!” moment that comes right out of the blue. Or maybe the idea had sort of been there all along, but somehow the pieces finally just came together for you in a magical moment where the clouds parted and the sunbeams shone down.
Keeping Inventory and Following Through
Regardless of how you get your ideas, the cool thing about the four methods I’ve enumerated here are that 3 of the 4 are within your control. Just by making a habit to expose yourself to others’ ideas and to draw on your own experiences, inspiration will certainly come. How cool is that?
The key is that when inspiration strikes, you must obey. If an idea suddenly comes to you, don’t just try to remember it, write it down. If you find yourself with time to write when you feel inspired, do it right then. Otherwise, that idea will surely float away and the intense feeling of inspiration will wane. I have let too many great blog posts go unwritten simply because I was not disciplined enough to write when I felt inspired. You must strike while the pen is hot.
So begin to keep an inventory of your ideas. Use the Notes app on your phone. Keep a pen and stack of Post-its in your car. I’ve been known to do both. But make it a habit to be faithful to capture and obey inspiration when it strikes and you will find in time that you are never short on your next great content idea.