It’s a regular cycle. Every few days you finish a blog post, it has just been published to the website and shared across multiple channels.
And then it hits you.
You have a proposal due today. For the next blog post.
And even though the only thing you want to do is bask in the glory of your newest creation, it’s time to start planning for next one.
But you’re all out of ideas.
What do you do? Try these tips, born from my own personal idea generation process.
The Working Document
This is a document I keep open at all times, and is composed of two different strategies melded together. Here is a breakdown of each strategy:
Free-Writing/ Stream of Consciousness
When I’m really desperate for new ideas, I sit down at my computer with an open document in front of me and just write.
Usually when I start, I begin with the fact that I don’t know what the heck to write about, then I follow my train of thought, keeping it focused around work-related topics.
That’s what I suggest to you. I want you to sit down with some music (or not), set a timer, and write for five minutes, or whatever time your heart desires. Do not stop writing until those five minutes are up, just keep putting words on the page. Keep it focused on the subjects that your blog centers around, but that’s the only guideline.
Be silly and relaxed with this exercise. No one is going to see it besides you.
Punctuation, grammar and spelling have no place here unless you want them to (I always use them because it’s a habit). You can continue typing through your errors if you want or go back and fix them, it’s up to you. Just remember: don’t get too mired down in the details.
If the open-ended strategy doesn’t tickle your fancy, I want you to go into the mind of one of your customers and think about the questions they might want answered. Heck, you could even start your writing as a potential customer and do it that way.
I used free writing to create one of my most recent blog posts. While free writing, I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t think of a topic to write about because I was bored with the angles I had been using. This inspired this post, which explores writers being bored with their writing, resulting in dull writing. I highly recommend it.
Open Doc/Constant Recording
This is an extension of the above strategy. I usually keep an open document on my computer that contains my most recent free writing, which I then add ideas to while working.
You may think that you will remember all those magnificent ideas as you go through your daily life, but soon you get absorbed in another task and that amazing, original idea you had is gone forever.
I’ll have conversations with my coworkers throughout the workday and that’s one of the major ways I come up with ideas. Even if they don’t suggest the idea directly, sometimes an unrelated conversation will trigger an idea. I jot that down in my working document, maybe hitting enter a couple times to space it out from the next idea.
This working document is an unformatted block of text. It is pure idea, with little organization. You can then draw the ideas out of the document and put them into proposals or throw them into a calendar, to add a little order to the chaos.
Reading is a critical part of idea generation. The reason for this is twofold in my idea-generation process.
First of all, if you don’t read, you can’t differentiate an original idea from one that has already been done. I spend a good part of my day reading popular blogs, learning what has been said and what hasn’t.
This is good for another reason, when you read, you have a list of articles you can reference in your head.
To make it even better, this list doesn’t have to be mental. You can create a reading list where you record all your readings for the day. This keeps your ideas and inspiration close.
I have started implementing this strategy, keeping just the title of the article and any impressions from it in a notebook. That way, when I need to reference something I remember reading, all I have to do is call up the title and I will be able to easily link to it in my article.
There is also an awesome extension on Google Chrome that a colleague recommended to me that does something similar. It allows you to save and organize all the articles you read and even add notes and images to each bookmark.
This can be as simple or as complex as you want.
You can use the extension, take detailed notes on paper or just have a word document with the links of everything you read. It’s all up to you. But keeping track of what you read is a must for a writer dedicated to generating better content.
When I’m feeling out of touch with what’s going on in marketing, I will scroll down through my LinkedIn feed, which, because of the nature of most of my connections, is flooded with marketing content. I scroll through, jotting down the topics contained within the titles of the content I’m seeing. When I am doing this, I don’t read the articles, I just get the keyword of what is being talked about. This makes it easier to come up with an alternate perspective when researching and writing on these topics.
I do not prefer this method because it doesn’t allow me as much originality. But in a pinch it’s a good way to get a pulse on what’s happening in marketing and helps me stay on top of trends.
The article you just read (and subsequent items in this series) is a product of this final idea generation method. Start by thinking about your day-to-day work life. If you’re a content writer, write about how you come up with your ideas, how you actually sit down to write, etc. If you’ve been doing a job for any length of time, then you likely have something new to say about getting it done. There are little tricks that you picked up along the way that you could consider sharing with others. After all, sharing knowledge makes everyone better at what they do, which only makes our knowledge base stronger.
That being said, share with us! What tips do you have for coming up with amazing ideas for content? What works for you and what doesn’t? We would love to hear from you.