Coming up with ideas that are relevant to your audience, useful, and interesting is one of the most difficult parts of creating great content.
Part of this struggle lies in the way many people approach creativity; they wait until they need an idea to start brainstorming. Caveat to this approach: you can’t force a brilliant idea.
If you’re creating content around the same topic or industry, make idea generation part of your everyday routine. Adopting habits that encourage more creative thinking will keep you one step ahead of the sometimes futile process of idea generation. Then, you’ll always have a collection of ideas on deck to choose from as new content needs arise.
Set aside 30 minutes a day for one of the below techniques to stay inspired, keep your mind sharp, and never run out of ideas…
How to Generate a Constant Supply of Ideas
1. Embrace Bad Ideas
Write down every idea you have, no matter how terrible. Don’t get caught up on whether or not your idea is good yet. What’s important is you make it a habit to record ideas when they happen.
Critiquing your ideas shouldn’t happen simultaneously with generating ideas. You can pick and choose the best ideas later.
2. Follow Less Industry Blogs
Trying to read every blog in your niche gets overwhelming. It’s inefficient to read a lot of blogs, just to weed out the valuable content from the noise.
Focus on 5-10 blogs you consider the most authoritative and forward-thinking in your vertical. This will not only keep you informed, but also trigger new ideas for you to write about.
Keep an eye on which content is most popular for these bloggers. Read what people are asking in the comments, this is often a great source of ideas.
But don’t get trapped in your industry’s blog vacuum. Follow well-written, popular blogs outside of your niche. Examine what makes a post compelling to you, then try to tailor those ideas to your audience.
3. Read More Books
While it’s necessary to read blogs in your niche to keep up with news and others’ perspectives, you should devote the majority of the time you spend reading to books, not blogs.
Since a book is more in-depth and often much better researched than a blog post, reading just one book can set off countless ideas. Pull out the takeaways from the book and relate them back to the topic you write about.
Don’t have time to sit down and read? Listen to audiobooks while driving, working out, shopping, or commuting. Just make sure you have a way to capture ideas while you’re listening (I’ll get to that in a minute
4. Talk to People
And by talk, I mean actually talk…not email, tweet, or send smoke signals.
The trick? Don’t ask them for ideas (that puts anyone on the spot!).
Instead, listen for possible content ideas brought up in conversations about your vertical. Below are a few people who can inadvertently give you great ideas…
- People Who Are Starting Out. What are common pitfalls for people getting started in your industry? If you’ve been at it for a while, this may have changed a lot over the years. Find out what those new to your industry are curious about and what types of resources would benefit them.
- People Who Aren’t Involved. Pay attention to what friends, relatives and others outside your industry often ask you about your industry. People who aren’t involved in the day-to-day of your niche can offer an entirely new perspective.
- People You Don’t Know. Do you overhear random people talking about your industry? Embrace your inner voyeur and turn eavesdropping into ideas. If it’s a great conversation, butt in and ask some questions to flesh out your idea! You’re not nosy, you’re curious…
5. Review What’s Worked
Looking at the metrics for your past content can help you decide which topics to continue focusing on. Let your audience tell you what they want based on what they’ve engaged with and shared the most.
- Blog Comments. Which posts saw the highest level of engagement? Could you write a new post based on questions and ideas left in your blog comments?
- Social Shares. Which of your past posts received the most social shares? Is this the same content that received a lot of comments?
- Links. What did people say about your content when they linked to it? Do sites outside of your niche link to you? Is this a niche you could also incorporate into your content?
- Google Analytics. Which content receives the most traffic? Which terms are leading people to your blog? Where are visitors spending the most time on your site?
6. Revisit Rejected Ideas
Get in the habit of storing your old ideas that don’t make it to publication. Include notes on why these ideas didn’t make the cut, such as not enough time, not original, too much research, etc.
Return to this list every few months to evaluate if you’d be able to write about this idea. By then, you might be more knowledgeable, have a new perspective, or have more resources to execute the idea.
7. Pinpoint Your Most Creative Hours
Do you know what time of day you’re most creative? Using a time tracking app (we use Togglaround here), you can not only understand your workflow better but also notice your peaks in creativity. By tracking my time I noticed between 11 – 2 I tackle creative projects (I suspect it’s because I’m full of caffeine).
8. Plan Meetings for One
Once you identify your creative peaks, schedule blocks of uninterrupted time during those hours. This can be anywhere from 15 minutes to a few hours depending on your current content needs.
Use this time to focus on creative aspects of content creation, like idea generation, outlining, and writing. Tasks that require less creativity, like research and editing, can fall outside of this window.
9. Scour Your Old Content
Get inspired by you. Digging through your blog archives can spawn a lot of ideas.
Most of your past comprehensive “how to’s” or tutorials will eventually become outdated. Edit these to include updates if these drive a lot of traffic to your site. Or, write a “current edition” follow up post you can link to within the original post.
Is there a common theme between some of your content that you hadn’t noticed before? Consider creating a massive resource that combines/links to this similar content.
10. Stop Trying to Be Unique
No matter how innovative an idea, chances are it’s been done before. Don’t let this defeat you.
Be on the look out for ideas that have already been done but you can do better…
- Was it done by someone in your industry or with the same audience as you? If no, go for it!
- How long ago was it done? Could you create an updated version with more current information? If yes, go for it!
- Could you write a more in-depth version, such as an “ultimate guide” or resource? If yes, go for it!
11. Drop What You’re Doing
As nice as it would be to force creative bursts from your brain, that isn’t always the case. When you feel a surge of creativity, put aside other tasks and jot down your ideas.
Even if you only have 10 minutes to spare, take the time to outline an idea while it’s fresh in your mind so you can return to it when time allows. That’s how this post was born.
12. Be Prepared in Any Situation
This seems obvious, but always carry a pen. I’m willing to bet some of the world’s greatest ideas have been written on cocktail napkins. If you have a purse or pockets, there’s no excuse for not having a pen with you at all times.
Inspiration usually pays a visit when it’s inconvenient. Prepare for those flashes of brilliance that happen unexpectedly, and you won’t lose all of the great ideas that come when you’re doing something other than writing. Below are some common, but inconvenient, situations when great ideas surface…
- When You’re Half Asleep. If you tend to be most creative in the morning, leave a pen and paper near your bed or wherever you do your morning routine. This is perfect for writing down any ideas you during that night’s dreams, which you’re likely to forget shortly after you wake up.
- In the Car. Call someone and tell them your ideas or leave a voicemail to yourself on your home phone.
- In the Shower. If this is where you do your best thinking, you’re part of the reason why waterproof notebooks exist.
- While Working Out. Keep your phone with you. Send yourself a quick text or email with your idea during your water breaks. If you only exercise at a level where you don’t take any breaks, well, I can’t help you
13. Have a Life
Ideas are born from rich experiences, not while sitting in front of a computer waiting to be inspired.
Play a sport. Travel. Take an art class. Spend time with your kids. Go on long walks.
Just make sure you have a means to capture all of those ideas that happen when you’re not trying to think of ideas (see above
How do you conquer idea generation? What are some ways you stay inspired? Let us know in the comments below.