Do you need brainstorming help? We all do from time to time. Writer's block strikes everyone who writes at any level. The idea well can run dry, or pressures from other work and activities mean you don't have as much creative time as you'd like.
So here are more than 19 ways to brainstorm and generate new ideas for your content, no matter what format
Plus – more than 22 questions that your audience is probably asking and you need to answer! Read to the end for enough questions alone to fill your content calendar for months.
Change up your routines, your normal working space, your writing music or even the sites or sources you usually turn to. Go offline and try looking for information in a new “place”.
Monitor Magazine Trends –
Look at the headlines and attention-grabbers on the magazines, trade press or journals in the topic areas you write about or create content on – these are usually ‘hot' topics. Try searching on the keywords or article titles to see what else comes up or if it sparks an idea for your to riff or take off on.
Ask Your Audience –
Talk directly to your readers, your listeners, subscribers or users. What do they want to read, hear or see more of, need more help on? You’ll get a much better response if you guide and “trigger” them into responding. For example, ask them what they think you haven’t written about yet. . Or ask them to complete a sentence such as: “The most frustrating part about selecting a new novel is ___________________”.
Look for Ideas on TV –
No, not reality TV or soaps – though you might be able to make that work.
Watch documentaries, behind-the-scenes shows, science shows. Take notes. See how you can make connections to your business. Really, that's your homework!
Categorize, Then Think of a Topic –
Topics are easier to come up with if you are directed in some way, so write down a minimum of four categories:
- Evergreen (topics or ideas that are always current)
- New Information
- Top Tips for ______
- “How-to” do ______
Now try to come up with your best idea for each category. You’ll be surprised how well this tip works. But even if you just come up with one idea, it’s totally worth the effort.
Change a Pattern
Sometimes running out of ideas means you’re getting stale. And you get stale when you never vary your patterns.
So, vary your thinking, your research techniques; even your route when you’re walking (if you’re prone to getting ideas while out walking or jogging). Change your routines, change your patterns.
Write in the morning instead of afternoon. Write at a coffee shop instead of your desk. Write at someone else's desk!
And go read some new publications, sites or blogs.
Look for Triggers
Log onto a relevant forum or discussion group and see what issues are currently triggering (a) many responses (b) heated responses (c) conflict. Those are tip-offs that you can turn these triggers into topics. What questions or topics are heating up members of your professional associations, email lists, Facebook Groups? Can you write something that addresses those hot buttons? Do a Pro/Con post, point to resources for learning more?
Learn to be alert for complaints in forum and social network posts as well as in others’ blog posts. Have you heard complaints in your library, on your email lists, on your own Facebook page or blog? If you can provide a solution, point to some help, or solve their complaint you’ll gain instant hero status.
Carry a Notebook
Go old school! The best ideas are always the ones you don’t jot down, so make sure you carry some kind of physical notebook (I like little Moleskines) and always have a pen or pencil with it, so you can scribble down every idea you have – no matter how uninspired you might feel it is. Later, when you have no memory of them and read them, you may be surprised at the topic ideas these notes trigger.
Oooh, I have a new notebook love – check out Rocketbooks – finally a notebook that lets you write on paper, but capture your thoughts digitally. You can scan with your phone and send your notes to email, Drive, Evernote, Trello, or wherever you pick online.
Keep an “Idea Jar”
In the old days, writers would often literally keep a container and a stack of blank paper slips for quickly jotting down ideas. Create your own ‘idea jar', or basket, mug or even bucket!
Write down a keyword, a question, a person, a website, app or tool – something that is relevant to your audience. Throw the slips in your jar. When you have one of those blocked moments, pull an idea at random from your particular jar, then force yourself to write XXX number of words on whatever comes up connecting that slip and your topic. This can be a wonderful way increase your article – and idea – generation power.
Read the Comments
When you read articles that come up in response to [your keyword] topic ideas, be sure to read the comments below the articles. That’s where you find the real gold – when readers point out omissions and errors, add more thoughts of their own or ask further questions. Write a post, create a quick video and address those questions or point out where someone could find more information to address the errors or missing data.
Follow ‘Official' Authority Blogs
Who are the other top writers, bloggers, v-loggers, social media gurus and sharers in your field? Who else writes about things that matter to you, that you read and follow? If you want news and tips, read up on what others are writing. What are their commenters or followers saying? How can you add to the conversation? [I'd love to hear from you as to who your favorite writers or bloggers are! Leave me a comment with your blog or your favorites]
Search for [Keyword Topics]
You have tried the direct route, right? Go to Google and search for “[your keyword] + topics” See what comes up in the auto-complete box as you type, what the top results are, what the paid ads alongside are for. Now, look for what's missing. What doesn‘t show up? What can you add a twist or your own spin to these top results?
Make Topic Generation a Game
Find ways to make topic generation fun for you – not something you dread. Challenge yourself to find ten topics (not one). Give yourself a piece of seriously excellent chocolate, a handful of Skittles, some fresh strawberries or other small prize if you come up with a real winner. Take yourself out for a cappuccino if you fill up your monthly blogging/content calendar with topics. Whatever it takes to engage your brain ultimately ensures your topics themselves will be more engaging.
When I know I need to kick my content in gear, I look at my Stretch Yourself Content Marketing Challenge Guide– and since I've participated in many of the SYC years, I have practice at pushing myself in a 30 day challenge. You can always get the SYC self-study guide if you can't join the once-per-year live challenge. You can read about some of my participation in the content challenge here and why I think it makes content marketing easier here.
Use mind-mapping software or hand-draw your central niche topic in a circle. Brainstorm ideas connected with that topic (don’t try to make headlines or blog titles just yet).
Think Like a Newbie
You may be so over-familiar with topic, your job, or your audience that you find yourself making assumptions, glossing over terms and methods, and worrying about coming up with someone “new”.
Topic generation is all about balance – different types of posts, media and content. Think about those newest to your niche, those who are least familiar with your services, and see the world through their eyes again.
Try to think what that person who is a brand new parent, brand new to paper crafting, brand new to an online business, might ask next. What would someone doing social media marketing for the first time be afraid to ask – for fear of looking silly? Help those new folks out.
Use a Life Example
People don’t respond to topics – they respond to people. Use a single example from your own life, from a recent experience in your business, from a client or even from a famous person’s life to illustrate a point in your core topic area or niche.
Stories are powerful marketing tools – use them often and wisely. (I highly recommend the book by Donald Miller, the Story Brand to learn more)
Using question to drive brainstorming probably deserves its own post – because there are so many ways they can prompt great new thoughts and content. Here are more than 20 questions to get you started thinking.
Ask Yourself Questions
Set aside an uninterrupted fifteen minutes. Turn off your cell phone. Think about your niche. Think about your audience. Think about your patrons/users/customers. Then start asking yourself questions – and do your best to finish them.
Don’t over-complicate the process: Ask yourself questions like…
- What if…
- Why Should You…
- When is it…
- What should I have done instead . . .
- What do I wish I knew about . . .
- What I am afraid of about . . .
- What do I love about . . .
Questions From Your Users/Clients – Your Audience –
What are the questions you know that your customers/clients have; PLUS the ones you think they SHOULD have; ones maybe they are a bit afraid to ask.
If you aren't sure what types of questions your clients/users are asking or SHOULD be asking – take a look at this partial list borrowed from Darren Rowse of ProBlogger
- What are the most frequently asked questions you get from – customers, clients, partners, etc?
- What are the biggest misconceptions people have about your organization?
- What are the biggest myths in your industry/niche/field?
- What is the story behind one of your new products or services?
- Who are the people who work/staff/volunteer at your organization; and what brought them there?
- What does a ‘day in the life’ of your organization look like? Or a ‘day in the life’ of a particular type of staff member?
- What are the top 3 things someone in your field needs to learn to become an ‘expert’/ ‘be successful’
- What’s a surprising statistic about your user base you want to share?
- What are the most common mistakes you see being made – in your field, niche, industry, department?
- Which ones are you guilty of making? What did you learn from them?
- What do your customers/users have really hard time doing? Learning? Using?
- What’s a lesson you learned in the last month? Year?
- What are some key takeaways you got from a conference, meeting, industry even you attended recently?
- Who’s a real leader in your niche or industry – what would you ask them?
- Even better – actually interview them! Email or live (record it via Skype, Google Hangout)
I think that probably adds up to more than 19 brainstorming tips! I hope these techniques let you break out of any content creation ruts or writing blocks you may hit. Feel free to share your own tips for how you brainstorm and create new content ideas.
[orig Jan 2016; update Oct 2020]