People who have read my fiction often ask, "where do you get your ideas?"
I'll confess: When it comes to fiction, I don't always know where the ideas come from. As J. K. Rowling said, "Sometimes the ideas just come to me. Other times I have to sweat and almost bleed to make ideas come. It's a mysterious process, but I hope I never find out exactly how it works."
Fiction is one thing. When it comes to non-fiction, things are often a lot trickier.
So many questions to answer! Who am I writing for? What’s my goal with the piece? Do I have a call to action? What question am I trying to answer for my audience? And on it goes.
Maybe you’re in a similar spot. You're trying to post to your blog regularly, you need a piece of content to pique curiosity about your services, or you want a book to boost your platform.
But when it comes to a specific idea? The proverbial well is DRY.
So where do you find an idea for your book, e-book, or other content when you don’t have a clue what to write about?
Here, in no particular order, are five conventional places to look for ideas for your content:
1) Current events, buzz, talking points in the industry: Peruse sites like Forbes, Fast Company, The Economist, or whatever industry publication you read on a regular basis. Check LinkedIn and see what your colleagues are talking about. Read blogs. Listen carefully in meetings, hallways, even restrooms. Carry a notebook with you. Jot down everything that comes up.
2) Challenges in your own current projects and client work: It’s easy to see a current challenge as just something to work through or overcome. Instead, keep a notebook or journal of how you face and overcome the challenge as you work through it. Pick apart your notes when you’re done. Look for common themes or methods that you can turn into content.
3) Client work: Beyond the project profile, case study, or success story, look at the work you’re doing with your current clients. Can you use your current client projects to create a “step by step” guide or something similar for future clients?
4) Brainstorming or mind mapping: It’s an oldie, but there’s a reason that brainstorming and mind mapping have become tried and true methods for coming up with new content—they work! Allow yourself to close the door, put your phone in airplane mode, close your laptop, and just write down every idea that comes to mind for a fixed amount of time. No ideas are too crazy! If you think of it, write it. There are some great online guides to successful brainstorming—check out one right here.
5) Ask the hive mind: Post a question on whatever social media platform makes sense. There is no shortage of opinions on the Internet. You might as well mine them for ideas for your own content.
Okay, so you're already mining those sources for ideas, but you want to do something unconventional. Consider some of these not-so-obvious sources of inspiration for your content.
Family members--including non-human family members
Funny things people say in the line at the bank, post office, drive thru, grocery store...
Home improvement projects
Kitchen mishaps or successes
Old experiences with a new twist
You get the point.
"But wait--this is business content. I don't want to be too casual."
Fair point, and only you can answer whether writing content around an unconventional idea is right for you.
But consider the following:
Good content is relatable and authentic. Part of good storytelling is creating a connection with the audience. When your content is based on something familiar, there's an automatic connection based on shared humanity. Who among your audience can't understand waiting in line, throwing out a kitchen disaster, or trying something new? When your content creates a connection with the audience, you put yourself a step ahead of your competition.
Good content creates a pattern interrupt. Maybe everyone in your industry can write about the brand new technology, process, or study. And maybe your audience is currently inundated with stories and content about that new technology, process, or study. When you publish content that interrupts that flow of information with a fresh twist or a new perspective, you interrupt the pattern and stand out from the crowd.
Good content cements your brand and your voice. If you want to brand yourself as a little bit different from everyone else in your industry--and who doesn't want that--looking for ideas in the unconventional could be exactly what you need to do. Drawing on unconventional ideas will help you develop your unique voice and define your position and brand in your industry.
Not all of your ideas will turn into content, and very few will turn into anything of any length beyond a blog post. But the exercise of constantly looking for and collecting ideas will help you turn your brain into an idea-generating machine. And when you're in the habit of constantly generating ideas, your content and the connections it builds will help you stand out in whatever industry you serve.
Need help turning those ideas into content? I write everything from blog posts to books. Call me to discuss your next project!