How do you come up with ideas to write about?
It’s a question all writers hear – and sometimes struggle with. And it creates anxiety that keeps would-be writers from getting started.
But there’s no mystery to generating ideas – whether writing at your job, for personal reasons or even in artistic pursuits. And the same applies to creating content of all kinds. Anyone who’s done it for a while knows there’s no mystery, no magic, no reliance on a muse.
So here are 15 sure-fire ways to keep the ideas coming, inspiration or not. Mix and match with your own to come up with reliable, proven techniques, and apply them as part of your ongoing process. (Even when you don’t want to. That’s why it’s called work, after all.)
- Jot them down. Good ideas can come at any time – while you’re driving, trying to sleep, watching TV. And, if you’re like me, you probably won’t remember them later unless you scribble them down on a notebook or make a recording on your smartphone. I compile them later on a Word doc and refer to it regularly.
- Tickle yourself. Keep a “tickler file” – either a literal file or something on your computer or phone – of articles, photos or links about things that are coming up that might yield good content. For instance, if your neighborhood organization is hosting a City Councilman, put that in your tickler file – and link it to your calendar for a reminder. This is especially helpful with events that repeat regularly, on a monthly or yearly basis.
- Follow the news. That includes niche sources about your topic, profession or industry. You should stay informed, of course, for other reasons. But events and headlines also are great sources of ideas.
That means pop culture and sports. We just had the Super Bowl – one of the biggest sports/cultural/media events ever. Even if you don’t care about football, you should know who played (and won), who performed at halftime, and which commercials blew up Twitter.
- Revisit your own content. You should periodically go through your existing content of all kinds, not just articles, and see what you can dust off. Chances are, readers won’t remember that you already covered a topic. And you can easily find a fresh way to top, update or present the information.
- Repurpose new stuff, too. Maybe you wrote a long article for your company website that can also be turned into a list for the e-newsletter. Did you have extra material from the Q&A with your CEO that you could put on your company’s internal social media channel?
- Read, read, read. Books, magazines, websites. All kinds of things — literature, trade publications, Stephen King, People magazine.
- Steal from the best. When you see something you like or find useful, see how you might apply it to your own situation. By the time you tailor it for your needs, you will have made it your own.
- Write for 15 minutes. And don’t stop or edit or second-guess. This is favored by a noted songwriting coach in Nashville. He tells students to sit down, with pen and paper (no electronics), and … just. Start. Writing. Let your mind and pen flow freely and, after 15 minutes, you go back and see if you haven’t inadvertently come up with a few good expressions or ideas. Even if you haven’t, it’s a great way to just Shut Up and DO IT. (Write, that is.)
- Curate content. We don’t have to write or create everything all the time. Sometimes, it’s best to share what others have written or produced and make a list to share. I did this over the weekend for the Super Bowl and got good traffic. So much content had already been created, and this was an easy way to join the conversation.
- Ask your friends and colleagues. You don’t have to say, “I have no idea – help me!” (Although you can do that sometimes.) But talk to people you like and respect, listen to what they’re saying, ask how they might write about a topic or present it in a video or a webinar or whatever.
- Get out of the office. Go to community events, conferences, speeches, ballgames – and pay attention. I get great ideas from the monthly luncheons of the Georgia chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. The panels are interesting, the speakers diverse, and the audience smart and curious. Your topic, business and audience will present similar sources.
- Remember the basics. Always ask yourself: What am I trying to say? To whom? And why? That will help you focus, which will help you think of ideas.
- Find freedom in boundaries. Your boss or client wants the content delivered on time and on budget, and it has to include some key elements? Awesome. Within parameters, even those we set for ourselves, we can find great freedom to create. It forces us to focus on what is possible, not what might be ideal.
- Do one thing different. Try a different grocery store. Watch a different news program. Toss the football instead of a Frisbee with your kid. It doesn’t really matter what. But you’ll be amazed how even the smallest new experience can help you look at things in a new way.