September 06 2017
For a writer or a content marketer, few things are more rewarding than seeing your byline on a company’s website, but few things are as irritating than writer’s block.
Even people with more than a few years of writing experience still arrive at the day where they feel like there’s not a single good idea left in this world. Some of us hit it every month.
The innerweb’s general advice given to brands is to produce ‘valuable content.’ That’s great and everything, but to shamelessly state a cliché, easier said than done. If only vocalizing my frustrations (loudly and repeatedly) and blankly staring at the screen resulted in more results!
When those tactics fail, I resort to these eight ideas to keep my content wheels spinning.
#1 Ask Yourself the Right Questions
What’s special about your POV that relates to your industry?
Are you in an expert in a super niche field? Are you a marketing newbie churning out content for a retention publication? *slowly raises hand.
Draw on your experiences and someone out there will relate. Be authentic and honest about where you’re coming from. In other words, if you’re not a ‘thought leader’ don’t pretend you are. Own where you’re coming from.
What are the content holes in your industry?
It’s overwhelming when you try and think about what you don’t know, and you realize you don’t even know what you don’t know. The fix is to start digging around for some questions.
Visit other sites. Read the latest industry news. Search social media for trending topics (even if it’s not industry related, you can often tie current events into your content). Read blogs, articles, listen to podcasts, etc. and see what questions arise. Then search for the answers to those questions. Maybe you’ll see it’s already been answered ten times over, but you could also discover a content hole waiting in need of some filling.
What does nearly everyone disagree with you about?
Paypal founder and Facebook investor Peter Thiel uses these questions to fuel his material. Maybe this tactic won’t win you the ‘most agreeable’ award, but it will drive traffic.
Challenge the norm and embrace the idea that dialogue is good for business. Exercise this tactic with caution because you don’t want to isolate your readers, disrespect anyone, or do some brand damage, but sparking a respectful debate can liven up your traffic and inspire even more ideas on your end.
#2 Do a Team Brainstorm
Usually, one person isn’t responsible for all a company’s content, so extend this to idea generation as well. Gather the troops for the proverbial Editorial Meeting and bounce ideas off each other.
Everyone comes with their own perspective and team members could bring something up in the meeting that could inspire an idea. Have everyone come prepared with a short list of possible topics and you’ll increase the chances of landing on your next top performer.
Don’t be afraid to throw out an idea, even if you think it’s terrible. Sometimes, one really good idea is shaped by multiple people.
#3 Borrow (Don’t Steal) Content Ideas
You don’t always need to reinvent the wheel completely. Look to other blogs, articles, and websites for inspiration. You can’t plagiarize (obviously), but you can use other posts as a starting point.
After reading outside content, think about whether you have a different take on the topic, an interesting experience you can write about, or if you have your own perspective you can add to the conversation.
If it’s a popular listicle topic (ex. 10 Marketing Tools You Need in your Life), put your own spin on it by using different examples, telling a story, or coming up with different strategies.
And think about this as you’re collecting ideas: nothing anymore is original. We all get our ideas and inspiration from somewhere, and as long as you don’t copy/paste, your take will add to the conversation.
#4 Know Your Content Generators
The Internet is magic. There are plenty of content generators you can use to get article titles and the whole process can take ten minutes or less.
A few resources to get you started:
And you can always resort to Reddit, not an idea generator by nature, but there’s plenty of inspiration found on this site by using subreddits. Here’s a handy guide to subreddits, if you’re new to the website. Remember: check the score (to the left) of the page. A higher score means more people are interested in the question. If you’re still stuck, this article on how to use reddit will clear things right up.
#5 Tell a Story
People love stories as much as they love talking about themselves. Stories make any content more interesting. Neil Patel uses these questions as a guide for storytelling:
- What are you doing right now? Write about it, and coach other industry professionals through your experience.
- What is on your schedule today? Explain a day in the life of someone in your niche.
- What is your morning work routine? Turn it into an article about how “[Your Job] Prepares for the Day.”
Struggling with formatting your narrative? Masterful storyteller Adam Fout provides more than a few pointers, for instance in this article.
#6 Ask Your Followers What They Want to Know
Your followers are your audience, you’re writing for them. Ask for their input. Maybe they will have questions you haven’t considered. Many readers will love the idea of contributing to your content.
This is also an excellent customer retention strategy. What’s more customer centric than giving them exactly what they asked for? Ask your social media followers for some suggestions and simultaneously increase interaction and give your content a facelift.
#7 Look to Your Content for Follow-up Ideas or Unanswered Questions
Go back through your content log. Are there subjects you’ve already explored that could use a follow up? Maybe there’s an article that requires a part II or has the potential to turn into a series.
Look at the comments section (if you have one), and read the posts for suggestions. Maybe you realize after some time has gone by that an article needs updating or there’s still a question left unanswered. Did your audience love a piece on a certain topic? Make it a habit to review your content with fresh eyes and note what sticks out.
#8 Step Away from the Computer and Clear Your Head
Staring at the screen in despair isn’t going to achieve anything. Take a walk, go for lunch, read, or do something that puts your mind at ease. Distract yourself, but be open to receiving ideas from unexpected places.
Some of my best ideas came while I was taking a shower. Sorry for the TMI, but you get where I’m going with this. At times, the best way to overcome content block is to embrace the void and channel your energy elsewhere.
The Game Plan
Don’t sit down and say to yourself ‘I’m going to come up with a masterpiece that will become a viral sensation.” Stop trying to make viral happen. It’s too much pressure. Instead:
- Do the research
- Ask for feedback
- Discuss ideas and be open to other perspectives
- See what’s missing in your own content
- Borrow an idea from someone else
- And if all else fails, step away from the computer!