Shut up and blog: How to create endless ideas for content!

brain

Today I am going to share a subtle but critically important secret to developing an endless supply of fascinating social media content. It’s an idea that seems so obvious … but I don’t think I have ever seen it discussed before.

I have a backlog of nearly 200 possible blog post ideas. I hardly ever dip into this treasure trove because every week I am coming up with even more ideas that turn into the posts of the day. How do I keep the ideas coming?

It’s quite a simple routine, but a discipline you must hone each day — I view my life through the lens of a blog post. I am constantly aware of ideas that interest me and consider how the experiences of my day could be turned into a story.

Perhaps it would be easier to show you instead of trying to describe this process. Here are examples where simply being aware of my environment led me to great blog post ideas.

  • I saw a headline on a magazine cover — “Shut Up and Dance.” What if I wrote a post called “Shut Up and Blog?” What would that look like? I captured the headline and here we are today.
  • Pro Proย Ann Deeter Gallaher was preparing for a speech and sent me an email asking for my opinions on upcoming digital trends. I copied and pasted my answer into WordPress and my email response morphed into “7 Digital Marketing Trends to Embrace Now.” (At last count, this little post had received more than 1,800 social shares!)
  • My friend Alex Lavidge described an experiment on a Facebook post — For the next 100 days he’s going to hand-write notes to people who have impacted him. I loved this idea and saw the potential for quite an interesting guest post. He’s agreed to work on it.
  • At a basketball game, I saw a confused basketball player score a basket for the opposing team. I thought to myself how awful it is to execute well against the wrong goal and this became “How Do I Develop a Strategy When the Target Keeps Moving?”
  • The number one source of post ideas (by far) is simply paying attention to the questions people ask me. If they are curious about a subject, perhaps the readers of {grow} are too. When somebody asks a question my first response is to wonder if it would make a good post.

So you see, my catalog of new post ideas is not coming from any particular gift of personal insight or intellect. It’s simply being aware of my environment and developing a nose for news.

Think about it this way. You are being bombarded with millions of sensory stimulations every day. People. Conversations. Images. Events. Surprises. Websites. Stories. Data. Isn’t it likely that just one or two of these experiences could become an interesting and relevant story to tell your audience? The key is activating your mind’s “blog” setting and not ignoring these daily provocations.

I think anybody can develop this habit. Any time you think to yourself “Wow that is cool (or interesting or disturbing or inspiring)” consider how the emotion you’re feeling at that moment can be translated into a blog post. And then write it down somewhere!

Does this make sense to you? What process do you follow to create new content ideas?

All posts

  • Another great article Mark. I think your process is one which many people may follow subconsciously, but not realise that they can proactively embrace.

    Fresh, consistent content is my biggest challenge (as I’ve probably harped on about before). Because I write about photography, many of my experiences and thoughts during the day that could be turned into a post have to be accompanied by photography to illustrate my point. When out on a shoot for images to accompany the article, I will often start to experiment with other types of photography techniques etc which will then give me another blog post subject.

    The best ideas are the ones you don’t try to think up, and just come to you!

    It’s kind of self propelled I guess.

    Regarding the ideas list, I have one of those in Google Keep, if I’m at work, note it through my browser, on the move and it’s added through my phone.

    Works really well ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I keep a running ideas list, and a stockpile of interesting images too. I made a special Dropbox folder for “potential blog images” and keep a collection so that I don’t have to resort to stock photos so often.

  • Right on Mark… Thanks for sharing your process. Works for me! ~Rae

  • Chuck Kent

    As much as I like to hear myself prattle on, I am just going to take your advice today and shut up and blog ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Patricia Haag

    Mark – I loved your post and the suggestions made in comments, also. You are correct about not ignoring your experiences. Sometimes it’s a case of information overload and all that experience gets shut out. And that’s followed by nothing being written.

    I’m glad you believe that learning to see life through the lens of a blog post is a habit that can be developed. I’m going to put up a big sign on my wall as a reminder and try it for 30 days.

  • Becoming a blogger has definitely changed the way I look at the world. And the way my family interacts with me (That won’t end up in a blog, will it? is a common comment these days). Since I am a “personal” blogger, it is challenging keeping track of what I can blog about and what is too intrusive for my family members. If there were no line? Wow, would I have a lot of content. LOL

    I like the “ask questions.” I try to think what people would like to know (and what they actually have a legitimate interest in knowing LOL) and that’s where a lot of my blog content flows from. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Good reminder to be alert and aware. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Totally agree with this, Mark. I’ve definitely experienced this. In fact, that’s how most of my ideas come to life too. Just this morning, I listened to a CEO talk about how she started her business and built it to what it is today. She talked a lot about her company’s culture – the whole time I kept thinking about her story makes for a great case study about that. It might just become a blog post very soon!

  • Red Branch Media

    Great article! I shared it with our content creator. She is always looking for new topics to blog about.

  • Hi Mark – I’ve been systematically curating high quality articles that other marketers have written over the last few months on the topic of: “Blog topic ideas”. It’s a library that’s grown to over 700 quality articles (this article has just been added Mark!) very quickly. Up until today you could only view these articles via the free @flipboard app as a magazine – but that changes as of today, since everything’s now available via browser in HTML5 format as well. You can access 700+ articles – probably over 2,000 blog posts ideas here >> http://flip.it/CiauA

    Cheers, Robin,

  • Hi Mark, I constantly ask subscribers to send me issues they have and it’s great turning those issues into posts. They are happy and I am! I think if you get ahead then it’s easier. If you’re waking up in the morning knowing you have to come up with an idea and a post then it’s much harder!! Ian

  • Good post Mark.

    Now, I have a somewhat similar treasure trove of ideas, but I have a problem. There is no way I can find time to write about them all!

    Given that you have some years of experience in treasure trove maintenance by now, how do you cope with this problem? How do you prioritize all your ideas?

  • You have such beautiful photos on your site. I would love to hear the stories behind them. Maybe stories of others too?

  • That is brilliant. I keep meaning to do that and never have. I have so many great photos!!!

  • Awesome.

  • Ha! Prattle forth Chuck!!

  • Report back, won;t you? MIght make a great guest post!!! The Living My Life Through My Blog Experiment” : )

  • Ha! I get that too — that won;t be in the blog, right? I even tell people when it’s off the record! : )

  • Beautiful!!! Way to go and get ‘er done Laura! Look forward to seeing that post.

  • Glad i could help!

  • Good point. Writing ahead is important. You need to take advantage of any down time to get ahead of the curve. I wrote 3-4 posts last weekend.

  • That is my problem too. Unfortunately I write about the ones at the top of the pile and most posts will never see the light of day. I could probably write for weeks and never get through all the ideas. That would be a luxury I would love to experience some day, actually : )

  • I would be glad to share some of the stories behind the images (the one’s that I know of!). There is an interview with a great photographer contact of mine from Google+ tomorrow, he shares some great insights (plug unintentional) ๐Ÿ™‚

    Let me know what you would like to know, I’d be more than happy to share ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Ross M. Wallenstein

    I have a note on my iPhone called “Blog Post ideas” and whenever I read something that sparks an idea, I jot it down. Unfortunately, with a full time job and a 3 year old when I get home, I don’t have the time to actually write the full posts. But one day, I’ll do it. Any suggestions for getting them on paper?

  • Anne Deeter Gallaher

    Thanks for the shout out, Mark! From your reply to my “digital trends” request, I wrote and presented a speech, wrote a blog post on my blog, tweeted it, sent the content to you and our crew, you and Billy Mitchell then wrote blog posts. I’m dizzy from the stream of content spawned from one question in an email! Ideas come from everywhere!

  • As a designer, I keep an idea file/box around to help spark the creativity; makes sense to do so for blogging. See also: everyone else here; my issue is time, time, time – and I’m working on getting that back on the schedule as a must do.

    The other elephant in the room: the balancing act of writing w/ purpose, in my case being to build a business, a career. If I put my mind (and time) to it, I probably could write practically anything – blog about movies and TV, food and wine, travel; I could dip into the SM/PR topics du jour again. But been there, done that – and none of it would take me where I need to go. Like you’ve skillfully illustrated here, the real trick is taking the inspiration and bringing it back to something usable, applicable in the communications, business arena that makes for quality content – and getting into that regular habit. FWIW.

  • Linda D’Alessandro

    As usually, I really enjoyed reading your blogpost! I often find myself in a sort of “daydreaming” writing headlines and blog posts in my head. Usually when I sit in the car and drive for long distances I come up with new ideas. But once I try to put everything on paper I have a blackout. It’s like when you wake up in the morning and you forget what you were dreaming about. I wished I had a recorder plugged in my brain able to translate my thoughts into writing! How cool would that be?

  • Linda D’Alessandro

    Great idea, Rosemary!
    Wish you a great summer!

  • Find quiet, undisturbed time each week — even if it is for an hour — to write. Make it sacred. For me, it is early Sunday morning. I put on a pot of coffee and write before the house starts to stir.

  • Wow. Rolling content. Love it!

  • Two superb points Davina. We all have enough time … the same amount of time in fact! : ) Just comes down to priorities. For me, the cutback is television viewing and most other forms of popular culture!

  • Yes, yes, yes. You need to RECORD those ideas right away! Carry a little notepad in your purse?

  • Patricia Haag

    Now that’s motivation!

    This is hard to see, but I printed out your post along with some prompts for myself and posted it this morning right in front of my laptop ๐Ÿ™‚

    (Well darn, it looks like the picture didn’t upload)

  • Giovanni Ella

    You hit the nail on the head here, Mark! I do some semblance of what you just described. When you step back and proactively observe your surroundings, your and others thoughts, you’ll be surprised at how much there is you can write about. What’s helpful for me is as soon as I think of something, I immediately pull out my smartphone and type up thoughts and ideas directly onto the Blogger app. This way I don’t later space out and forget.

  • Diane Holcomb

    I show up at the computer and freewrite for thirty minutes. If my inner critic is MIA there’s usually a gem in there somewhere. But your approach seems a lot more trustworthy.
    http://www.squirrelsinthedoohickey.com

  • Mark, one of the things I appreciate about your blog is you share your experience with blogging, social, content, modern marketing, etc.

    Your “secret” works for you because your inspired posts (ie inspired by Shut Up and Dance) are not just a headline riff, but a jumping off point for sharing that experience.

    Modifying the common inspiration / perspiration quote slightly, I would say your (blogging) genius formula is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration (from accumulated relevant working experience).

    Today, many bloggers focus their effort on blogging, instead of on that well of experience to draw from (and that’s probably why so many bloggers blog about blogging…). They slave over the writing, use content formulas, and follow all of the latest content promotion advice. But the perspiration is misplaced.

    As usual, I’ve taken a tangent in your comments. I appreciate the examples you shared and the reminder to keep my eyes open for content opportunities around me.

  • Linda D’Alessandro

    I do have a notepad in my big purse and the notes app on the iPhone. I have a problem in taking notes when I am driving….it’s one of those Carpe Diem moments, either you catch it or it’s gone.
    Thank you for encouraging me

  • record it?

  • Absolutely, That is key. Thanks for sharing Giovanni.

  • Interesting. I don’t have the patience for that process but maybe I should try it Diane.

  • Very, very interesting. I like this a lot. You are an all-star commenter my friend. : )

    Blogging is hard work. No denying that. Plenty of perspiration and it helps to have a lot of stories to call on but to also have a nose for news, as I write today. I just think people usually don’t think that way. They don’t view their daily world as a content-creating opportunity. Thanks for this gift Eric!

  • rhonda hurwitz

    Actually I have a pile like this, but sometimes I go back through and see the snippet of a headline idea and wonder “what was I thinking?” It is frustrating to be reminded that I had a great idea that inspired me to write down a few words … and then the idea vanished! Maybe the key is to write more than 3 words:)

  • Diane Holcomb

    Just curious…how long does it take you to write a blog post? My first draft is quick, but I get hung up on rewriting.

  • Loved the point – ‘I view my life through the lens of a blog post’

    That takes out a lot of thinking and planning! It’s really a luxury to have so many ideas.

    Great points Mark!

  • Christine Webber

    Great idea to see a headline and turn it into a blog title. Will definitely be on the look out from now on. I am beginning to develop a long list of ideas which I record on my iPhone.

    Sometimes I have a creative session with myself where I get silly with colours, words and ideas on paper. Best of all is throwing ideas around with others – great fun. We are about to paint a wall in the office with White Board Paint then we can really go mad!

  • It depends of course. Anywhere from 30 minutes to 3-4 hours depending on the complexity. To be successful, you have to have the courage to be imperfect and push that publish button!

  • Yes, I usually write a few bullets too to let the “future me” know what I was thinking!

  • Good luck with that idea. Glad it helped!

  • awesome. You’re lucky to have such a creative team!

  • Guest

    I can relate, @rossmwallenstein:disqus! As a work-from-home mom of a very active 2 year old, I’ve struggled to make writing work but I agree with Mark about finding time where you can be undisturbed. For me, nights find me pretty brain dead so it’s helped to develop the habit of waking up 1-2 hours earlier than the rest of the house each morning to write. I’ve been amazed at how much I can get done in a short amount of time with an uncluttered mind.

  • I can relate, Ross! As a work-from-home mom of a very active 2 year old, I’ve struggled to make writing work but I agree with Mark about finding time where you can be undisturbed. For me, nights find me pretty brain dead so it’s helped to develop the habit of waking up 1-2 hours earlier than the rest of the house each morning to write. I’ve been amazed at how much I can get done in a short amount of time with an uncluttered mind.

  • Great post, Mark. I think it helps to keep writing, no matter what. Like James Altucher says, the more you can flex your “idea muscle” by writing every day, the more you’ll find you view the world through a creative lens.

    Thanks for the real-life examples of this!

  • Hi Mark,

    Love this! You can find great material anywhere, but I think many overlook one of the very best pieces of source material out there, the good old podcast.

    I think the long-form format, combined with casual conversation leads to some pretty compelling stuff, especially with the comedians โ€ฆ I rather like compelling and salty.

    Anyway, guys like Mitch Joel and Srinivas Rao really help me come up with great topics, as I love Six Pixels and BlogcastFM, but there are some amazing podcasts (idea generators) out there that help immensely โ€ฆ

    This American Life

    Marc Maron’s WTF

    Neil deGrasse Tyson (Star Talk)

    Freakonomics

    The Moth

    The Accidental Creative

    I could go on โ€ฆ

    Oh, and a guy names Mark Schaefer has a little show called, The Marketing Companion … Love that one! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • I think there is truth in that. Time and persistence also help you get more efficient and more skilled!

  • Great comment Craig. A few new ones here.

  • Mark,

    I text message myself blog post ideas all day long…

    …at any given time I have 20-30 ideas just sitting in there. I feel this is the different between being a blogger and content creator.

    Bloggers scramble for ideas.

    Content creators can’t write fast enough to get all their ideas out.

    Hanley

  • You rock. You know that right? : )

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  • This is a wonderful reminder about the importance of observation and reflection, especially for bloggers. I often think of things during the course of the day that could work as a blog post, but with two small kids at home, I’m usually in the middle of something that prevents me from running for a pen to jot it down. But I do always have my cell phone with me, so I recently started recording my thoughts on the phone.

  • I follow a similar process and then try to pare down the list of ideas to cover those that are timely/topical and or are of most interest to me.

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  • Awesome Tisha. I can imagine the challenges (my kids are grown!)

  • A solid process Josh.

  • Diane Holcomb

    Arrgh! (You’re right, of course).

  • Jennifer Hatfield

    Great post. I have spoken about this on my blog and podcast just this week. I have an editorial calendar but usually end up using my day to day happenings. I love how you say “viewing your life through a blog post lens.” Makes complete sense to me. P.S I would also love to experience the luxury of simply writing about all of my ideas some day, Mark.

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  • let’s figure out that business model Jennifer!

  • I feel the same about tweeting. I’ve been wanting to write a post about where I get tweets from besides just retweeting. I find useful and inspiring content everywhere and most people don’t think they can turn it into a tweet. Tweets don’t have to always be filled with links. I’ve even been complimented on my tweets, which is a very weird thing. I rather get complimented on my humor, but I’ll take it.

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  • wyatt christman

    It is the power of your creative habit combined with thinking like Sherlock Holmes, ever aware of the details. I am betting Evernote or something similar comes into play quite often. Having a thumb on what people are asking either directly or indirectly seems to be a key element. Have you ever tried Dragon Naturally Speaking or something similar to help get those post ideas out of the archives? Most people speak faster than they write. Of course you already have so much great content already so maybe it doesn’t matter, right? ๐Ÿ™‚

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  • Divorced Kat

    I agree. I’m taking in life as a possible blog topic or tweet!

  • Divorced Kat

    Me too. I have a running note on my phone and in a Word doc. When desperate, I’ve left myself voicemails in various places.

  • I keep a draft post around – with different blog title ideas – but I rarely draw upon it. I usually have a life event (hey, one kid got married and gave me a grandson and the other is going off to college) or plenty of sports “fodder” to draw upon for blog content.

  • All good sources!

  • Good ideas Wyatt. I do use Evernote for longer-term projects like a book but usually like to have the post ideas right in front of me in WordPress.

  • Excellent point Tiana. I am working on that more myself!

  • It’s fun to find content that’s not originally intended for Twitter or blog posts. Creativity is key.

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  • Wendy Pitts Reeves

    Along the same line, I keep a list of ‘Favorites” in Flickr that are licensed for commercial use. Whenever I’m hunting for new pics, I inevitably come across a few that seem especially powerful in some way – even though they may not fit what I’m looking for at the moment. Saving them to Faves, means I have a ready file to start with each week for each new post.

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  • Leslie Kohler

    Simple, yet powerful post. Need to shut up and…

  • View life through the lens of a blog post. Kinda sad but effective ๐Ÿ™‚ I like the last tip of just answering questions that are asked of you and turn them into blog post topics.

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