Sometimes writers get stuck! Whatever your blogging niche, idea generation weighs constantly on your mind as you have to crank out that next blog post. The real problem is that you want the blog post to be great, reach readers, go viral, and make you famous.
But, you are realistic and would be satisfied with a solid post that enhances your brand and attracts visitors.When you have written for a few years, sometimes the well lacks a bit of water. It's hard to come up with new, valuable blog posts everyday.
As a university writing instructor, I face this wall with 60 students each semester. Imagine your problem of finding a topic multiplied by 60 to a 100 students, more worried about plans for Friday night than your little assignment to write a personal essay.
"Mr. Hammond, I don't know what to write about" I am thinking to myself that this individual has lived for 18 to 20 years and must have all kinds of stories to tell. However, that isn't the problem.
The real snag is that the student doesn't see her stories and her knowledge as important. This often happens with bloggers as well. We are so busy hunting for the next viral topic that we neglect stories all around us.
One of the most powerful features of writing is the discoveryof meaning. If you start with a blank page and no ideas, that's no problem. You need to rethink your task. Your job as a writer is to discover ideas and stories and make them meaningful for your audience.
This means that you have to have your eyes and mind openat all times. Here are some items that will help you always be on the lookout for stories:
- A writer's notebook: This is essential, and it's not electronic. Every true writer needs paper and pen. The notebook needs to be small enough to stick in your pocket or purse, to have handy whenever an idea pops up. Always keep it with you and use it
- The writer's pen: You must have a pen that sticks in some way to your notebook. Slipping the pen through a spiral binding is a good idea, but I've seen writer's get creative with velcro and even duct tape. The idea is that you don't want to be caught with paper and no pen to write with.
- Reminders: To instill a habit such as looking for topic ideas, you have to be reminded until it sticks. Post-its can work great for this. I leave them stuck around places that I frequent, and I just write the word "Topic." I stick them on my computer, doors, mirrors, car dashboards, work desk, etc.
- Recorders: Some people do better with recording ideas in audio format. Either they find it easier or less time consuming, and the great thing is that everyone has access to one now. If you have a smart phone, you have a voice note recorder, or should have. If you don't, head to the app store.
- Electronic devices: While pen and paper are essential, electronic devices are too. I was once in a Walmart store where I had to wait 1 hour and 15 minutes for a prescription. With my iPad in hand I wrote a whole blog post while I was waiting. It's somewhere in these blog pages. Sometimes you have to wait around for a while, and digital devices are essential for getting some real work done in a moment. That blog post I wrote was about the experience of waiting at Walmart, forever.
With your writing tools in hand and reminders-a-plenty, ideas will come to you, and you must write them down instantly. Blog post ideas are like dreams you try to remember in the morning. They vanish just as quickly as you try to remember them. When something interesting happens, write it down, in shorthand, just enough notes so that you will remember the story.
Sometimes a more concerted effort is needed to locate a topic. I'll share with you some of my favorite spaces and places for finding rich ideas:
- Mind mapping: Either on paper or computer, mind mapping works great to explore ideas, see how they are connected, and make extensions from what you already have written down. In a visual way, mind maps push toward new ideas that many times you never would have thought of otherwise.
- Mall watching: Head down to a popular mall and watch people. I say "mall" but this can be any place where people are mingling and working. Watch what they do, how they do it, and why they do it. Explore human psychology a bit. Other good spaces include parks, gas stations, busy sidewalks, diners, etc.
- Brainstorming: You are familiar with this one. Give yourself a 10 minute time limit, a pen, and your writer's notebook. Brainstorming means listing, not writing in complete sentences, and the goal is to keep your hand moving the whole time. This is a quantitative approach, not qualitative: meaning you want as many topic ideas as you can think of, even if they seem stupid. Pushing yourself in this way causes your brain to generate ideas from your subconscious that you might never think of writing about. After 10 minutes, you should have at least 20 topic ideas. Even though 90% of them might be trash, all we need is one good idea.
- Freewriting: A similar strategy is to set a 10 minute (or more) time limit for yourself, and just start writing in sentence and paragraph form. Let your mind unload. This is a mental dump. You will likely find at some point that you have nothing left to write. DO NOT STOP. Keep writing stupid things because what happens is your brain gets bored with the repetition and will pop up new ideas. Make sure your pen does not stop.
- Random writes: This is an extension of free writing where you pick a random word, idea, action, or event, and just start writing about it. Let your mind wander and go wherever it wants. If you keep your hand moving, you are bound to come up with something bizarre and interesting.
- Hats: In this writing exercise, you imagine yourself wearing different hats representing occupations or people. Pick any topic or event and ask yourself, what do I see when I look through the eyes of a photographer, a janitor, a librarian, a contractor, etc. Seeing through different eyes will help you find new angles to write about familiar things.
- Call or write a friend: They may give you a great topic idea. They might say something funny or bizarre. Maybe they will even piss you off. Whatever the case, there is room to write.
- Memories: In your writer's notebook, do a session where you just explore memories. Be sure to include the good, the bad, and the ugly. I once found a topic for a post this way, thinking of my mother who past away in 1996 from breast cancer.
- Change your environment: Wherever you are, go some place completely different and do some free writing.
- Go for a walk: Exercise combined with new environments are great sources. Simply pause and jot down ideas as they come.
- Photographs: These can be your own or photos you find on the web. Photos tell stories, and part of what you are looking for as a blog writer is a good story to tell.
- Read and research: This is my favorite way to find topics. I read books. I go to the library and peruse books. I go online and read. When I find something interesting, I research it and read some more. Let other writer's inspire you with their stories.
- Read your past blog posts: Sometimes you will find that this loosens your mind, sparks ideas, and gets you started on a topic you're interested.
- Read and comment on other blogs: This is not only good blogging practice for making connections and acquiring readers. It's also a great way to discover new directions to write.
- Interview anyone: Every person has unique stories, and, by interview, I simply mean talk to someone. Sometimes it's best if it's a stranger you sit with at a park bench or on the bus. Listen to their stories.
- Talk with a child: Be sure it's a child you know rather than a stranger. It is true that kids will say what's on their minds, and often times it makes for a good post.
- Research authorities: You know who the big players are in your topic area. See what they are writing about. Write a response to one of their pieces.
- Find online lists: There are a ton of these. People are out there who have experienced a block themselves and want to help you out.
- Social media: You can use social media in a lot of ways, from asking questions of your contacts to seeing what people are talking about.
- Tune in: Put on some headphones and any kind of music. Sometimes it works better if it's not a favorite. Either way, music inspires writing.
- Museum: Art inspires writing as well, and there are many different kinds of museums to visit, everything from modern art to natural history.
- Random nouns: Have a friend choose three or four random nouns, put them at the top of your notebook, and start writing to see what you discover.
- Problem solver: Look at your community, nation, or the globe and write about a problem you see that others may not. You can also peruse the internet, looking for problems.
In all of your activities, it's best to search for the unusual and uncommon. You want your ideas to be novel and meaningful. I hope you find these strategies useful.