The idea of being a writer isn’t necessarily all that awesome, especially the part that makes you doubt yourself, doubt your creativity and abilities, maybe even doubt whether this whole “professional writing” thing really makes sense to you.
“What the &$%# am I going to write about this week?”
– All writers, at least sometimes
Perhaps not all writers! Surely there are some who never face their content deadlines thinking; “This would be the perfect time to fake my own death.”
Like those people who stay magically thin while consuming a steady diet of packaged cookies and beer, I don’t much want to hear from those people. Let’s talk about you and me, instead.
This month, I asked our editorial team for their favorite techniques when they need a writing topic and there’s nothing bubbling at the moment.
Here’s what they came up with:
Read. It almost doesn’t matter what it is, and it’s usually better if it’s not about content marketing or even business. I’ll end up finding some interesting fact or idea that I can connect with something I already know. That’s the spark that leads to an article topic.
Chris Garrett, chief digital officer
- Go into Facebook.
- Search for [keyword] groups.
- Join the largest groups and see what people are asking.
- Find an inspiring question.
- Write a long-form answer.
Jerod Morris, lead podcast cheerleader
I podcast instead. 😉
Seriously. Some of my most useful articles have come out of preparation for a podcast. The process of prepping for the podcast, by either writing a script (which for some reasons always feels less intimidating to me than writing an article) or preparing bullet points, almost always presents me with something that can become an article.
With a script, the work is almost totally done. It just needs to be reworked to be read instead of heard. And if it’s bullet points, then I use the process of recording the podcast to flesh out the ideas verbally before refining them into an article.
Loryn Thompson, data analyst
If I can, I’ll talk to people in my audience — just casual conversation about what’s on their minds. That usually surfaces a few things that I might not have thought of, or reframes things in a different way.
Another tried-and-true tactic is to just start writing anyway, even if you don’t know what you’re going to write about. Sit down at a keyboard, turn off all your notifications, and just do a stream-of-conscious mind-dump. Keep going until you hit on something that gets you excited.
Also, for me it helps to separate the idea-generation and the actual article-creation work. They’re different states of mind, and I’ve found I can come up with many more topics when I’m in a free-association mode than when I’m panicking about creating the article I will publish next.
Even if they aren’t all perfect, a list of random, free-associated ideas is a better starting point than the blank page.
Kim Clark, VP of operations
I feel like explaining my favorite techniques for what I do when I don’t know what to write is like asking me about my spirituality. It totally makes sense in my head, but when I try to type it or say it out loud, I sound like an idiot.
But here it goes … this is where my obsessive and anxiety-driven personality is an asset. I sit and constantly think.
This can work against me in many ways, but usually I spend a good amount of time thinking of really stupid things to say. I know this because my husband gets one of those looks on his face that says, “What are you thinking? … Please don’t say that.”
Most often, this dilemma solves itself around 3:00 a.m. when I have amazing ideas. I really should be sleeping, but my brain thinks: “No, this is the time to actually solve everything at once, including what to write about.” So I try to write it all down.
Somehow, when I sit down to actually write, the words come out. Usually they make sense. A lot of times, there are extensive edits that need to be made.
But I do have to say, some of those 3:00 a.m. ideas are brilliant. I just wish my brain would want to sleep when my body needs to.