Creating content is hard work.
While the actual research and writing takes a mental toll, most of the blood, sweat and tears are spilled during the search for ideas. How many of us have stared at a blinking cursor on a blank page praying to the content marketing muse for some divine spark to get our fingers moving?
Let's not do that anymore.
Here's the thing: it doesn't work. Attempting to summon something interesting from thin air is a fool's errand. Waiting for that magic moment by "sitting still and focusing" is a waste of time. You need to get your brain moving forward.
There are millions of great ideas floating around in cyberspace just waiting for you to come along and "appropriate" them and adapt them for your own purposes. You can call it sampling, creative licensing or straight up stealing.
I call it "Cultivating Content Inspiration."
Today, I'm a Content Director, but in a former life I was a journalist, an editor and and a moderately adequate graphic designer. I've worked for monthly magazines and daily newspapers. And I spent close to a decade putting together alternative newsweeklies, which meant collecting and creating content to fill 36-52 pages... every single week.
It's easy to feel a sense of deja vu these days thanks to the furious pace of creating blog articles, social media posts and e-books for clients. Lately I've found that many of the tricks, hacks and habits that helped me consistently crank out quality content are still useful in the 2017 world of digital marketing.
I'm starting with this idea of "Cultivating Content Inspiration" because I think it's important.
Make it a habit. Make it a routine. And soon you'll find that generating ideas doesn't have to be such a painful and plodding process.
Here are a few of my favorite content inspiration hangouts:
Google Magazines is a great resource for virtually flipping through decades worth of periodicals. It's a great place to see how this whole "content" business evolved and it won't take long for you to realize that there are, as Mark Twain said, "no new ideas."
How can you use it? Here's a scenario...
Say you need to write a blog post about choosing a mutual fund. One way to start your creative process is to browse through financial blogs, money magazines, the Wall Street Journal online, Google news. But sometimes the better way is to head in the entirely opposite direction.
Try spending some time looking through old scuba pubs, black belt magazines or even the Weekly World News. The trick is to find publications that have seemingly little (or nothing) to do with the subject matter you're working on. You'll be surprised at how quickly this sparks new thoughts, combinations and associations.
In much the same way that travel can revitalize the mind with new sights, sounds and smells, spending time browsing "foreign subject matter" can have a similar effect.
Pro Tip: The best places to look for inspiration are the “front of the book” of magazines, where they pack all the short, quickly scannable content. This stuff is custom-made for you to adapt and tweak for your own online content purposes.
This "Essential Guy Skill of the Month" from Men's Health could easily become a quick-hit how-to piece of content for any company that is looking for entertaining and informative ways to answer questions for their customers. Just swap the subject matter and you're on your way! Think "Essential Web Skill of the Month," "Essential Personal Finance Skill of the Month," or "Essential Entrepreneur Skill of the Month."
Bonus: The advertisements are also packed full of great ideas, headlines and copy.
Feedly is a great tool for organizing the tidal wave of daily content that is produced online. Remember, according to Alphabet Chairman Eric Schmidt, there is more content produced every two years than there was between the dawn of civilization and 2003!
That's a lot of content.
What does Feedly do? Basically it's an RSS reader that lets you customize and organize new posts and stories on whatever subjects you choose. It's a great way to keep up with what's being published online and will help kickstart your headline brain if you need some help finding a hook or idea for your latest post.
One of the best features is that you can read the new posts in a line-by-line format, which makes for quick scanning (if not horrible eyestrain).
And going back to the idea that I mentioned about browsing magazines, it might be helpful to include some newsfeeds from sources that aren't directly connected to what you're writing about.
Using the financial content scenario, what would happen if you spent a few minutes looking through headlines and stories from the worlds of sports, fashion and science?
In addition to boosting you brain and keeping your creativity sharp, it's a clever way to add some new language to your daily content thought process.
Let's say you need to write a post about mutual funds. After browsing in some new Feedly neighborhoods, you could generate a list of headlines/ideas that would never come from Wall Street.
Top Mutual Fund Draft Picks
Understanding the Complex Chemistry of Mutual Funds
Spring's Hottest New Mutual Funds: Trendy Picks for the Season
Does Global Warming Affects Mutual Funds?
Mutual Funds Are the New Black
Lessons from Savile Row: Why Mutual Funds Should Fit Like a Tailored Suit
Who Deserves to Be in The Mutual Fund Hall of Fame?
New Mutual Fund Workout Will Get Your Portfolio RIPPED
You get the idea.
If you don't feel like fooling around with Feedly, you can browse through a site called 1st Headlines, which does exactly what it says on the box.
It's a pretty straightforward, always updating, collection of headlines from news sources around the world. Click on the sections in the sidebar to follow what's happening in a diverse collection of topics from technology and weather to medicine and the Middle East.
The "trick" here is to juxtapose as much as possible and see which words and ideas can be modified/adpated/tweaked to give your content some new life and a fresh twist.
The secret to consistent creativity is combining existing elements to create something new.
Ads of the World - Another one of those sites that "does what it says on the box." This is a constantly updated compendium of advertisements from around the world including print, outdoor, online and television commercials. Easily browsable and a rich source for both content and design inspiration.
Uncrate - Formerly known as Devour, the video section of this site is a curated collection of noteworthy viral videos, commercials and internet finds. It's considerably less overwhelming than YouTube and provides a simple, clutter-free interface.
McSweeney's Internet Tendency - Always a good spot for humor, satire and bone-dry wit. McSweeney's is my go-to site when I'm trying to figure out new ways of presenting copy-heavy content. Their short, clever submissions are submitted as lists, open letters, monologues and whatever format fits the funny.
COMING UP NEXT: Interviewing & Imagery Tools!