What do I write about?

In our information-dense world, I know how hard it is to keep coming up with consistent, compelling, original content. And sometimes you just get STUCK.

The problem is, many folks think they need to have all the answers to write a great, original blog post but most of the time, quite the opposite is true. You don’t need to have the right answer. You need to find the right question.

The most relevant, interesting and timely blog posts often are created in response to relevant, interesting and timely questions. If you can find a great question, and answer it, you are likely on your way to a dynamite blog post! So how do find the right question?  Here are four  ideas:

Look to your peer groups.  There are so many great places on the web to find questions. My favorite place is a LinkedIn forum. Did you know there are 800,000 different groups on LinkedIn? There is bound to be one that fits your interests. Go there. Look in the community forums. Find an interesting question. Answer it. Voila! Blog post. Other possible sources are Quora, Focus and Yahoo chat groups.

Look in your comments. I would say 25% of my posts come form comments from my readers. If it is relevant to them, it wold probably be relevant to other readers too, right? Ironically, this post was inspired by a comment about writer’s block from my friend Jon Buscall.

Look in your key words. Many people post questions as their search terms. Go to Google Analytics for your website and see what questions people might be using to find your blog. Recently one of the search terms used to find this blog was “how do I start blogging?” I thought it was probably time to write about some blogging basics.

Google it. If you are really, really stuck, go to Google and type in “what do I write about?”  You’ll be amazed at what you find. People have planted lots of seeds of ideas and prompts for you out there.

How do you get unstuck? Where do you find the best questions to blog about?

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  • One more tip would be go for a ride, discover your city, breath a bit and walk around you. Inspiration comes 😉

  • Its fun when you go through the discussions already being done on the relevant forums, community etc . It is effective  in selecting valuable topics and pooled knowledge helps alot in writing

  • Cole Rautenbach

    Thanks for this – some great ideas. I developed a focused copywriting coaching course for an SEO company. One of my best training sessions led to an awesome blog post (http://letspublish.blogspot.com/2012/04/great-writing-is-like-great-sex.html). The best place I find stuff to write about is from my students.

  • Excellent advice. Sometimes when I see something creative or unusual, I wonder, how could I make that into a blog post!

  • Thanks for taking the time to add your comment.

  • Thanks for adding to the discussion Cole.

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  • My best posts come from my life. I wrote a post last week on my blog called “Daffodils and Gladiolas” about the anniversary of my Mother’s passing. It took ten minutes and needed no edits. That is where I get the bulk of my ideas from is just life and my experiences.

    My work is another matter entirely. I did a video and a post for them about why Facebook should not be your website after having a chat with the owner of a hair salon here in town. He didn’t get why it is such a bad idea, so I blogged about it.

  • Mark,

    I like that you take time to provide ideas for beginners as well as for those of us that still need refreshers on the basics from time to time.

    One of the valuable ideas I’ve learned from you that could be added to your tips is to take time to comment on blog articles you find interesting. Just as answering questions in discussion groups can spark an idea to build a blog article around, so can a comment.

    In fact, I believe that may be a key ingredient of your secret sauce. The other day I noticed for the first time that you can see the stats for other people on disqus (number of comments, likes on comments etc.) and your numbers are off the chart. You obviously take time and care to comment and reply.

    Commenting on blogs requires that you first find great bloggers to follow (the great Mark W. Schaefer for example). I’m surprised at how many people start with plans to be the next great “thought leader” without following anyone themselves.

    As for experienced bloggers, it never hurts to be reminded of basic tips. Afterall, professional athletes that have been excelling at their sports since childhood still need old guys blowing whistles at them during practice.

  • Ouch. How did I miss that one?  Fantastic advice Billy. I am so grateful that you added these thoughts. Really valuable tips and certainly i use this advice myself!

  • Well said Nancy. Most of my most popular posts were triggered by some life event and were written quickly!  That good old “authentic” thing at work!

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  • Anonymous

    Hey Mark … here’s the ultimate super-duper-ever-have-writers-block-again secret:

    Evernote.

    Unless you’ve managed to keep living in a world where you aren’t bombarded y stuff all day, every day, you have a constant stream of things that pique your interest running at you. See it in your browser? Evernote plug-in. See it on your SmartPhone? “send to” Evernote

    I have a backlog of literally several hundred topics. Sure, I amassed them over a couple of year and really should dump all but the most recent couple of dozen already, but I ALWAYS have something to write about, always am able to fed that stream with no effot, and always have access to it when it comes time.

    ONE OF THE FEW Undisputed “wow this technology stuff can be a big win with no real down-side” examples. I’ve come across. Ever.

    I actually wrote ABOUT this subject, last spring. Dropbox got the same props: http://answerguy.com/2011/06/02/cloud-computing-business-change-browsers/

  • We all hit that wall sometimes. I find I get a lot of my ideas from unusual experiences. Try reading a “new”magazine that you wouldn’t normally pick up, or go somewhere you normally wouldn’t go to. I wrote a post about how blogging is like PBR (Professional Bull Riding) after a friend gave me a ticket to see a rodeo in NYC – something I would never have imagined doing a few months ago! I think Abdel’s idea of walk around the city has a similar effect.

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  • Good addition. I have been using Evernote more and more myself. Great organization tool!

  • Some would say that “bull” is my specialty and I didn’t even read that magazine!

  • This one made me smile, Mark :=)

    I try to gather ideas and thoughts in Evernote, and plan more rigorously in a spreadsheet. Obviously, the trick is to keep going. 

    I’ve done the “Ask Google” on the rare occasion, and Yes, checking keywords is a definite must. 

    The other tip I would add is go back to those old posts and rewrite them. I have a post on the inverted pyramid that gets so much daily traffic. It’s on my list of rewrites, definitely. 

    And of course, last but not least, my other tactic for combating writer’s block is to create a podcast based on an older post. Re-appropriating older content can definitely get you through the dry times. 

    And now off to plan something for tomorrow….

  • Andrew

    Nice post, Mark.  I like the idea of looking for questions on Linkedin.

  • All great ideas. Thanks for the spark on this one! 

  • Mark, great post as usual. If I may, I would like to add my two cents. One of the things that has worked very well for me has been  those posts which show vulnerability. So when I have blogged about mistakes I have made in my doctoring life, people have really listened and taken the time to comment. I find that writing about those mistakes is also good for the writer. Kind of like your advice to answer questions, only it is looking inside for the answers to why did I do that, and how can YOU avoid the mistake I made. It helps others relate, since we all make mistakes.

  • Hee.. I just wrote something like this Mark, even asked folks for ideas. Sometimes we get stuck; I say write about the movie you just saw or book you just read or TV show or cool marketing idea your favorite restaurant just tried; find ways to bring it back to the blog, back to keywords (which yes, need to do more of that). 

    I love @jonbuscall:disqus  idea of revisiting, reviving old posts; done that a few times. If ‘life’ inspires me in ways that are relevant to readers like @twitter-117500958:disqus sometimes I get lucky, manage to fire off a quick post. Actually I’m pretty quick with the drafts – have quite a little pile going – a thought or clever phrase gets in my head, fingers start a working; it’s the getting the things ‘publish’ button ready, that’s my wall. To get unstuck, I either find one that’s closest to done, gut it out; or clear the cobwebs, start from scratch. FWIW.

  • Jon I’m curious, do you use the Evernote app in your phone? I also use this method of gathering ideas, but 90% of the times I write them on my iPhone and later edit them with the desktop version.

  • Actually, yes. It’s the app I probably use most on the iPhone. I love the fact my notes sync and are available anywhere.
    Sent from my iPad

  • Just write. Sometimes we get ourselves so caught up in trying to create the best post over written we miss the forest for the trees. Just write and good things will come from it.

  • Yup. I’m all over that Jack!

  • I have not gone in blog revival mode yet but probably should. My audience has grown and they’ve missed some good stuff! Thanks Davina.

  • You mean people like hearing about mistakes their doctor made? : ) Couldn’t resist.  I know what you mean!  Thanks Alice!

  • Glad I could help Andrew.

  • Actually, they DO like hearing about mistakes their doctor made, and how their doctor has learned not to make that mistake again. 

  • Hi Mark, Writing about tech, I’m never at a loss for topics. In fact, I can’t get to all of the topics I want to cover. But I really like all of your ideas, especially searching for “what should I write about?” on Google. I never would have thought of that, but it’s brilliant.

    I also agree with Abel, taking a walk to clear your head works wonders. Showers have the same effect. 

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  • Rowland John

    Great posting. Great points.

    http://www.ebizsubmit.com/

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