What To Blog About When You Cannot Figure Out What To Blog About
Here’s the way it works: when you first start blogging, you have nothing but ideas for blog posts — otherwise, you never would have started a blog in the first place. This lasts for a while, maybe even several years. Then, at some point, you will hit a wall. This might happen for any number of reasons, and none of them have to do with your value as a writer. It may just be that, after writing regularly for a few years, you are kind of tired. Or, more likely, after interacting for a few years with some of the same people, you reach a point where you cannot say the same things as you used to say with the same level of abandon as you once did. You measure things more carefully now, and what your writing has gained in polish and precision, you might have lost in inspiration. You start to feel like you are all out of ideas. Everything has already been said. But if you look around, there are still new blogs being started every day, and new topics being generated with them.
So what do you do? Do you pay somebody to tell you what to blog about when you cannot figure out what to blog about? No. Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m a fan of Chris Brogan. I think his book, Trust Agents, is awesome, and I recommend that anyone who wants to better understand how to use the social media space as a business tool should gladly pay money to read it. But if you are finding yourself in the middle of a blog topic funk, you don’t need to pay somebody to spoon feed topics to you, regardless of how great a blogger or how great a writer they may be. What you need to do is pretend like you are brand new again. Here’s how.
1. Go read and comment on ten brand new blogs in your niche.
People who are brand new in the blogosphere are writing about brand new things — they cannot help it. Oh, yes they are. Old skool bloggers like to think they know everything already, but the fact is that all knowledge is always already shared: what the new people bring is a new perspective. So go get their perspective. You should be doing this anyway, because sooner or later these guys are going to be competing with you for conference panels, sponsorship deals, ad space, and the like. Get to know them now.
What are the new bloggers talking about that you haven’t talked about in a while? Is there something they don’t know about that you do, that you can link to and help them with? Or, is there something they’ve shown you that your readers might be interested in hearing about?
2. Go read and comment on ten brand new blogs in a totally different niche.
Sometimes what you need isn’t just a new perspective from people talking about the same topic — sometimes an interdisciplinary approach is necessary. What other niches can you expand into in order to make your blog writing more dynamic? Why not go check out those niches? For example: design bloggers tend to also read fashion blogs and vice versa because the disciplines speak to each other. If you are a personal finance blogger, you might also read business or marketing blogs. But the most interesting discussions stem from the fusion of two passions of a blogger that do not necessarily go together intuitively — for example, Design Mom grew out of Gabrielle Blair’s passion for design and for parenthood, and her blog is an intersection between both of the parenting and design niches. What other niches can you explore?
3. Allow yourself one afternoon to go “down the rabbit hole.”
I usually spend most of my time in Google Reader to discourage what I call “time spent down the rabbit hole,” or what happens when I end up reading comments on a blog and clicking through to blogs, reading more comments, clicking through, reading more comments, clicking more links, and so on. But the truth is, sometimes you find some interesting stuff this way. If you use a program like Evernote to make notes about it, your thoughts about it, and where you found it, it can also lead to some interesting blog posts at some later date. So every once in a while, allow yourself some time to explore on the web as if you were brand new again.
4. Use mind mapping to fully explore every last idea before you reject it.
After you’ve been blogging for a while, you begin to edit your topic choices more than beginning bloggers do. Topics that you might have immediately used in the beginning will not make it past your editor now, and though sometimes this is a good thing, there are times when this can cause you to overlook perfectly good topics.
One way to get access to these topics is to use a mind-mapping technique to brainstorm topic ideas. There are various software options you can use for mind-mapping, but the old school way is just to do it on paper, taking a topic on which you’ve written and you feel like you need to expand more, or one of your more popular posts and writing various ways in which it could be expanded.
I’m going to use the mind-mapping technique for bloggers that Darren Rowse demonstrates here. So, for example, my post on building your blog’s story was a hit with readers and I want to figure out a way to make that material more useful for people. So I’m going to build a mind map of material of possible post ideas using that original post as an inspiration. Each branch represents another idea that can possibly be expanded into another post.
Bear in mind that not all the ideas I come up with will actually be useful, but using this technique encourages me to not just reject things wholesale without fully exploring them, which I am likely to do without the mind map process.
What about you kids? What do you do to find inspiration?