Writer’s block is a terrible thing. You know that you need new content to fill up your calendar and keep your audience engaged, but you can sit at your desk for hours, resulting in nothing but tearing your own hair out in frustration.
The good news is that even the best writers get writer’s block. The bad news is that you’ll never solve it by forcing the issue – it’s the equivalent to repeatedly slamming your head against a brick wall instead of just using the door.
After hitting that wall many times, I decided to do something about it, resulting in the following system that I (and the rest of my team) now use to generate great ideas for content month-in-month-out.
First, understand your enemy
Writer’s block is caused by one (or both) of the following:
- Lack of inspiration (your mental cup is empty)
- Outside sources (stress from physical illness, bereavement, the end of a relationship, etc)
Outside sources are largely beyond your control, and so shouldn’t be worried about too much. Not only that, but it’s also the lesser of our two factors – even a calm mind will struggle to generate ideas if there’s nothing to draw from.
So the problem we’re left with is one of resources. Think of your mind as a furnace, with knowledge as coal and ideas as your flame. With nothing to fuel your fire it will (at best) produce mediocre results, but with a stockpile of knowledge you can fan the flames and produce something truly spectacular.
Still, if lack of knowledge is the issue then how the hell do you go about it? There’s almost so many ways that it’s difficult to start, and all seemingly use up valuable time which you just don’t have in your 9-5 life.
Don’t worry – I was in the same situation, and I’ll tell you exactly what worked (and still works) for me.
Listen to podcasts
By far the easiest way to top up your mind while keeping your current schedule is to listen to business podcasts when you’re otherwise stuck with naught but dead air.
For example, all of the following are great opportunities to fit in an episode or two of a podcast without spending any extra time to do so:
- While exercising (daily workouts are also brilliant for productivity in general)
- During the daily commute (be careful if driving while listening)
- Toilet breaks
- While cooking
- When traveling (airport queues? That’s a good 3 podcast episodes right there)
Essentially, any time where you’re not listening to anything or require a lot of focus on other tasks (such as researching/writing a blog post) you can make more productive by listening to podcasts. I honestly can’t count the number of ideas I’ve gained from just listening to an episode while walking around the shops every couple of days!
As for recommendations of which podcasts to listen to, that would depend on your purpose, type of content, and niche. However, these are a good place to start:
- ProBlogger (Darren’s 31 day challenge is awesome for new and experienced bloggers alike)
- Business Systems Explored (a deep dive into the systems you can use to improve your business)
- The Productivity Show (an all-around great resources for tips on how to be more productive)
- Almost any high-quality marketing podcast
Use an RSS feed
So, you’re taking in information through podcasts – that’s great, but it’s not enough. You need to be keeping up to date in your niche in order to know which ideas are best to follow up on sooner rather than later.
This is where your RSS feed comes in.
If you’re anything like me, then you’ve probably subscribed to a next-to-uncountable number of blogs’ email list in an attempt to keep up to date. The problem with this is that people (myself included) are sooner or later going to slip up, especially if a distraction is available.
A distraction such as, I don’t know, the rest of your inbox?
RSS feeds, meanwhile, collect all of the posts published by the blogs you subscribe to and put them all in one place, ready for you to blast through whenever you have the time. My team, for example, tends to check their feeds in the mornings and evenings, noting down their ideas as they go.
There are obviously many ways of setting up / tracking your RSS feed, but as Drew Hendricks recently pointed out, Feedly is an incredible app for doing just that.
By attaching your RSS feed to a mobile app, showing stats such as the number of upvotes / shares, highlighting the most popular posts, and generally making it easy to read several posts in rapid succession, Feedly is our app of choice.
Record ideas ASAP
The amount of ideas you generate is completely irrelevant if you have no way of recording them when inspiration strike. I can tell you from experience that unless you record your ideas as soon as possible you’ll forget them, and if you forget them they will very rarely surface again.
So, how do you make it easy for yourself to jot down ideas the moment that magic lightning hits? Well, there are a couple of ways:
- Use a note taking app on mobile
- Integrate apps to automatically create notes
- Record everything in an easily navigated location
For note-taking apps you can use pretty much anything, but I’d recommend either Evernote or Do Note (by IFTTT). Evernote is a strong contender from how easy it is to create a note, and the flexibility in terms of integrating with other apps, but Do Note is the ultimate in simplicity.
Integrating your apps essentially means that any notes you make will be detected, categorized, then pushed automatically into another program. This pairs up nicely with recording your ideas in an app like Trello or Airtable.
For example, you could use Zapier to integrate Evernote with Trello. Then, when a new note is created in Evernote with the tag “idea”, Zapier could be told to push a link to that note into a new Trello card in your “Ideas” column.
It may sound like a massive undertaking, but everything I’ve talked about in this post can be achieved in your “dead time” – I’ve even found that having a podcast episode at the beginning and end of work is a great way to firmly stamp out your work/life balance, and ease into each side as needed.
How do you generate your own ideas? Have you tried anything I’ve talked about? I’d love to hear from your in the comments below!