Writer Tools for Success: Idea Generation
If you want to keep the money flowing into your bank account, you need to keep your fingers flying across the keyboard. That’s hard to do if you don’t have a constant flow of ideas.
Sometimes, your clients will tell you exactly what to write, but the best writers are able to toss some ideas out to the client as well. This actually helps you because it means that you’re able to work on project ideas that are easier or more exciting for you.
How do you keep coming up with ideas?
We’ve put together this list of tools that will help you with idea generation.
Ideas can come to you in the strangest of places: in a dream, in the shower, or when you’re driving to the store. Some people stick to the old-fashioned “idea notebook” for jotting down ideas, but many others have gone digital. Since we tend to be permanently attached to our phones, it makes sense to add an app for voice notes. Best of all, the hands-free aspect allows you to safely jot down your ideas whenever you get them. You’ll no longer have to worry about forgetting. There are a lot of choices out there, but TechRepublic reviews a few.
BuzzSumo is a neat little tool that you should definitely be using. It helps you get a better sense of what people are talking about and what type of content is more likely to go viral. You enter in a keyword that relates to your topic, and the site shows you the most-shared articles on the topic, along with some actual data about how many times it was shared or discussed on different social media sites. This gives you topic ideas, but it also can help you identify where you might be able to reach an audience.
For instance, if you search the term “dyslexia”, you’ll find that the top result is an article about Henry Winkler’s experiences with dyslexia. It’s been shared a lot on Facebook, but has had hardly any engagement on Pinterest or Reddit. On the other hand, dyslexia-related articles that might appeal to teachers — focusing on rethinking the way we teach dyslexic learners and a debate on whether listening to an audiobook is the same as reading — have comparatively high engagement on Twitter, Pinterest, and Reddit. This suggests that you might be able to reach teachers through these sites, where teachers are more likely to connect with others professionally. You should see similar trends in your own industry.
HubSpot Blog Ideas Generator
Using an “idea generator” like the HubSpot Blog Ideas Generator can help you come up with some good ideas for the next week or the next year. You enter in a few nouns that relate to your topic, and the generator spits out a week’s worth of potential titles. Sign up to get a year’s worth of ideas. In the past, idea generators have been criticized for giving out titles that seemed too clickbaity, but HubSpot has improved the offerings.
If you don’t want to use a tool like this, you can create your own sort of idea generator. Just make a list of common types of blog posts. A few ideas for you:
- Things You Didn’t Know About _____
- 7 Insider Tips on _____
- How to _____
- Surprising Thoughts on _____
- This Week’s Top Stories About _____
With the Google Alerts tool, you’re able to get regular emails showing what others are saying about a particular topic. Enter a keyword, tell Google how often you want to receive emails, and they’ll send you a convenient email with links to the latest mentions of that word.
Many people use it to track things like their own name, a company president’s name, the company’s name, and competitors’ names. You can also use it for other topics for ideas, though. For instance, if you frequently write about interior design, you might set up alerts for “interior design,” “kitchen design,” or “bathroom renovations.” Seeing what other people are saying about your niche can spark some ideas of your own.
Sometimes, it takes a bit of tweaking to get the results that are most relevant for you, but give it a try. If you’re overwhelmed by the volume of emails you get from Google, you can reduce the frequency to once a week or set up filters so that you’re only looking at the emails when you have time.
The best writers are often voracious readers, and it’s a good idea to immerse yourself in your topic. Subscribe to magazines, sign up for blog alerts on popular blogs, and follow industry insiders on social media. The idea isn’t to repeat what everyone else is saying, but to let the ideas of others spark your own ideas. For instance, let’s say you read an article about how different types of trauma can affect children. That could spawn an idea about how a particular type of trauma could change how children react in a particular place: how a death in the family changes friendships at school or how a sarcastic teacher causes outbursts at home. If you’re in the mortgage industry, news of rate increases could lead to ideas that relate to specific customer personas: what rate increases mean for first-time buyers or how important it is to refinance before rate increases go into effect.
An additional bonus to following industry news is finding new potential clients. You can pitch your ideas to the magazines or blogs you read.
Everyone gets stuck for ideas at times, but with the right tools at your disposal, you can get over the block. What are your favorite tools to use?
Don’t miss our roundup of productivity tools!
Shannon T has been writing professionally for over 10 years. In addition to the thousands of articles, blog posts, and web pages she’s ghostwritten, she has bylined work that’s been published on sites like Headspace.com, ModernMom.com, Chron.com, and Fool.com (The Motley Fool).