If you’ve written or blogged for at least a few months, you know that inspiration comes and goes. It’s not always lack of ideas that stop you from getting that next blog post out — often it’s having too many ideas and having doubts about what to write. Here are a few tips to spark some blogging inspiration, that have worked for me in the past.
Scanning For Ideas
The first step is scan for sources of ideas. Yeah, I know that I said you might have too many ideas, but we’ll take care of that in the next section.
- Scan the blogosphere. The first thing I usually do to start a blogging day is check my favorite aggregators and portals. I like to use Techmeme, Alltop, YourVersion, Google Reader. Depending on the niche that I’m blogging, I might check other similar tools or have my own custom aggregators that I’ve built in WordPress.
- Look at your archives. Ok, maybe it’s a slow news day. Don’t forget to look at your archives. Maybe you wrote about something before that needs correcting, updating, or some sort of followup. This is also an opportunity for you to deep link to your own content, to help build your site’s search engine profile.
- Write for yourself. If you’re trying to establish expertise, you need to cover topics relevant to your niche. Ultimately, you’re probably a rich source of ideas, and writing about what interests you is what gives you motivation and focus in blogging. Unless you’re doing it to pay the bills, why bother blogging about something in which you’re not interested? Look within yourself for ideas. It’s okay to get ideas from readers, but if you’re always wondering what your readers want, you’re asking for trouble. Blog readers are fickle as well as transient as a whole, and unless you’ve been posting a lot of cornerstone content and following a regular publishing schedule, your readership on any given day will change. That’s especially true for a new blog whose bulk of Web traffic comes from search engines. So it’s more important to decide what you want to write about, then promote your content to attract interested readers. They’re out there; you just have to attract them.
- Mine your web metrics. Now while you do still want to write for yourself, as your readership grows, the value of your site’s keyword searches grows. Your site metrics will show search terms used to visit your site from search engines. If you see any trends, they might be worth exploring, provided they’re related to your blog’s niche.
- Mine your comments. You don’t have to have a high-traffic site to enjoy regular commenters and loyal readers. If you’ve been promoting your blog content through your Twitter or Facebook networks, you might find you have regular readers sooner than if you didn’t use social media. Comments can be a rich source of ideas for future blog posts, either because of a direct query or some idea that gets triggered by a comment.
Now that you’ve bombarded yourself above with lots of ideas, what’s the next step? Filtering, to narrow your interest to one or two topics. Inspiration strikes when you’re focused. Believe me on that. I’ve been using inspirational writing and productivity techniques for a couple of decades, and whenever I’m distracted by too many ideas and thoughts, my writing isn’t my best. It’s also far tougher to write at the pace that most blogging requires, compared to non-blog writing. So filtering ideas for focus is a crucial step to getting inspired. The key is to use some sort of mechanism to, real or mental, to narrow down your topic choices.
- Topic themes. Some bloggers have a different weekly or monthly theme for posts, which helps to focus. Usually that’s something you can plan for in an editorial calendar.
- Editorial calendars. Create an editorial calendar ahead of time and use it. Of course, newsy topics aren’t always something you can plan for, but you can for evergreen content that’ll be relevant long-term on your blog. How-to tutorials, guides, and resource lists are often good candidates for editorial calendars.
- Random choices. If you’re fortunate enough to be blogging in a niche that allows you a lot of different sub-topics, then sometimes picking something at random suffices. This works for newsy sites where you’re publishing lots of short content daily. E.g., news, celebrity, politics. That doesn’t mean what you write will improve your site, only that you’ll have something to write about, to help get the creative juices flowing.
- Trending topics. If you’re uncomfortable with randomness and want maximizing your blogging efforts, check for trending topics. For example, the Twitter trending list that you’ll see on your profile page, right hand sidebar, might give you some ideas of what the Twittersphere is microblogging. There’s also Google Trends, which gives you a longer-term historical view and a plotted graph to boot.
- Visual input. While I’ve long ago realized that unless I’m live blogging a TV show, watching TV while while blogging is a major distraction. My productivity is sometimes zero DURING watching TV. However, a short break to watch something relevant to your niche, or to view some video, or even just browse some totally unrelated photos at Flickr might spark a post idea to help you focus.
- Change your environment. If working at your desk is not working for you at the moment, trying moving into another room. Some people like to take their blogging outdoors. A netbook works well for that, if you don’t want to lug around a laptop. If that’s not viable, sometimes moving to another room works. I like to lounge for a while on the couch and use my iPad for some planning and notetaking. I find it’s easier to focus on an iPad.
- Sleep on it. If the blogging inspiration you’re seeking is for publication the next day and you can’t come up with anything, there’s no harm done in literally sleeping on some ideas for the next day. Your brain needs some “alone time” to sort through and parse other ideas that you may have accumulated. I often find that if I’ve prepped suitably, I wake with a couple of clear ideas or possibly even a full post in my head. Alternately, a nap or just a short break away from your computer can make all the difference. (Take a notebook, netbook or iPad with you, but don’t use it unless an idea sparks while you’re on break.) A long break can paradoxically increase your productivity. For example, in the past, I’ve gone off to watch an afternoon movie then come back home and productively written material for novellas or a book. This works for blogging as well, but I usually try to finish any daily client blogging obligations before I take long breaks.
Controlling the Flow of Ideas
If you use the above tips regularly, you might find days where you get over-inspired. Ideas start flitting through your head; blog posts start writing themselves for you, waiting for you to type them up. Because I’ve enjoyed this sort of idea flow for many years, I’ve long used mind mapping as my tool of choice for capturing ideas and breaking them down as far as I can go without writing posts right there and then within a mind mapping application. The problem is, you still end up with too many ideas, thus hampering inspiration for writing a post right here, right now. You still need to filter, as discussed above. (Note: mind mapping is more suited to developing longer content, not short newsy pieces.)
More on finding blogging inspiration, in the near future. Stay tuned.
Disclosure: I have share options in YourVersion and am an unpaid tech evangelist for this real-time discovery engine.
Another good tool to use is the Psychic Search plugin. It gives you a feel for what your visitors were searching for.
Very good suggestions
Thanks, Gregory. I agree: taking a walk is great for clearing the mind and simultaneously stimulating it in new ways.
Thanks, Mariam. Good point about a trackback. In fact, some blogs only allow those, not comments.
This is a nice collection of tips. Writers block is nothing I wanted ever to experience, but it happened when I was running my first blogs.
When I got used to the “blogging thing” it became more easy because I got more structured and knew a lot more about the blogosphere. Scanning the blogosphere is always a good resource to get inspiration for your own posts. Either by reading the articles or the comments on those articles.
Also, if you’re about to leave a comment on an other blog, consider to make an article out of it and link to the post. This gets you attention by the owner of the blog you linked to as well as an written post for your blog…
That’s a brilliant post. I especially like the like the idea of using your web metrics and your comments to make sure that what you are writing is relevent to your visitors. Changing your environment can also stimulate the mind. I often go for a brisk walk when I’m in need of inspiration. I’ll bookmark this now!