One of the hardest obstacles to overcome when writing a blog or newsletter is to sit down at the computer to write, look up at a blank screen, and think "What should I write about?"
The best way to avoid this challenge is to have a number of ideas already thought of, collected, curated, and ready to write about.
Collecting ideas isn't all that difficult, really. Especially when you've already decided to commit your energy to your writing project. It doesn't take any extra time, and it makes the writing process far more enjoyable.
Here are 3 steps I use to have a bucket-full of ideas ready and available for when I sit down to write:
1.) Find ideas for articles in the things you see every day.
What catches your eye or during the course of the day?
- A very tall tree?
- A beautifully manicured yard?
- An exchange with terrific customer service? (or very poor service?)
- A listing appointment where the seller did something extraordinary, or where they made a classic mistake?
When something grabs your attention, stop for a minute to think about how this might be shared with your audience.
2.) Store these ideas in an idea journal.
I use Evernote as my idea journal for a number of reasons - one being how many different ways I can quickly capture my ideas:
- Jot down a simple text note with an idea.
- Record a short audio note, dictating to myself something I want to write about.
- Snap a picture with my phone and add enough text or audio that I'll remember why I took the picture when I'm reviewing it at some point in the future.
- Capture a screen clip or a web page and save it for future reference.
You could be just as effective with OneNote, Word, Google Docs, Ink Pad, or an old fashioned spiral ring notebook. The actual application isn't as important as your use of it - whatever helps you quickly capture what's on your mind and save it for future reference is the best one to use.
3.) Curate the journal into a collection of articles.
It's easy to review your journal when you have several ideas; it's not as easy when you have several hundred. At some point you'll want to start doing a periodic scan / review of your journal:
- Review what ideas you have in stock. Sometimes my review triggers a brainstorm and I come up with additional ideas while reading my earlier notes. Or I might use the Rule of 3's to generate more topics.
- Organize by using tags-categories-labels, and group together related articles and topics.
- Add additional links, photos, and information as inspiration strikes.
- Even better - start jotting down some bullet-points and crafting introductions and key concepts to include in your article.
A large journal full of ideas is most helpful when you have a sense of what's inside, and when you can find whatever it is you're looking for. Even when you're not looking for a specific idea, an organized journal is easier to browse. Periodic reviews will make your journal more functional.
Bonus: Schedule which articles get published when.
Use a calendar or spreadsheet (or any other method) to schedule your posts ahead of time. I schedule 2-3 months in advance by writing down the date and the topic (or headline) I'll publish. This lets me see what topics are coming up in the next couple of weeks, which let's my subconscious start forming paragraphs in the background.
Generally I find a topic I like or a headline I want to write and then add it to a future date in the schedule. Sometimes, however, I have an open date in my schedule, so I'll search through my idea collection journal for a topic.
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The bottom line is you're going to need to think of what to write about before you can write and publish. It doesn't take any extra time to think about topics in advance, or as part of your daily routine, and it makes your writing life a whole lot easier.
If, after all this, you still can't think of what to write about, give me a call and I'll write your eNewsletter for you - it's what 8 Dollar Farming is here for..!
- Chris Butterworth
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Idea Collection and the Rule of 3's
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