Top 3 places to fill up on fresh content ideas

fill up your gas tank on content

Is your editorial gas gauge hovering around empty?

As a creative (read: marketer) you always have to have something in the tank to start with. This is as true with content planning and writing as it is with music, illustration, performance, and basically any art form.

Art form? Yeah, it’s still art if you’re doing it for business.

Even if you’re the one stuck writing dry technical manuals for Dunder Mifflin Inc., your choice of sentence structure is an expression of what you find pleasing. Every line break is a subtle pause for drama and each word selection is placed with care for maximum impact on the audience, and that makes it art.

If you're filling your editorial calendar with topics, you're engaged in artistic expression. 

If in this process you find yourself mired in what might be termed “writers block,” what is really happening is that your creative engine is simply running on fumes. You need only to lift from your chair, draw open the blinds, and take a tour through the immense universe around me to fill it back up.

I'll say that again, only more simply: Your content ideas are the sum of your experiences. If you aren't constantly experiencing or reading about novel things, you won't have anything to write about. Stephen King famously said,

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

Here's where you can look for that inspiration. 

The top 3 places to search for fresh content ideas

1. Get out of the office

Outside is where all the action is, and where you find analogies. I’m a big believer in the explanatory power of these things - analogies are mental shortcuts which compare something you already know with something you’re learning. An apt example might be to call a Can-Am (pictured below) "a motorcycle meets a tricycle on steroids.” That simple mental picture of an enhanced tricycle tells you volumes and beats the hell out of trying to describe the thing from the ground up, as in: “It's like a vehicle with three pneumatic tires arranged at the corners of a right-triangle frame …”

Photo Credit: Myung J Chun of the LA Times

Photo Credit: Myung J Chun of the LA Times

We draw analogies from everyday life and they're all the better if they're told in a narrative about how something happened to you.

For example? Years ago I took a motorcycle training course which taught me to look where I was going, and I spun that into a story for a client about budget planning. More recently I learned how sourdough bread is made and I compared it to blog writing. When people in my office started getting sick last year I related it to what feelings of rejection can do to a salesperson’s fragile ego. Everything you do, no matter how seemingly irrelevant, will infuse your mind with the materials you need to craft content around analogies.

To get started, simply pick one of your services and fill in the blank. Repeat seven times: 

"(one of your services) is like __________"

Sometimes however, getting outside isn’t practical, or it isn’t possible, and that’s when you can fall back on standing on the shoulders of giants.

2. Read or watch something

Read what you ask? Anything. Just like hunting for analogies outdoors, it’s about infusing your mind with new thoughts and these can come from anywhere. All the better if you’re reading or watching something you truly enjoy. Heck, just look at Game of Thrones - it’s been the marketing world's veritable analogy giving tree for the past few years now. You can use anything you experience to come up with topics.

I’m a big history buff, and it seeps into my writing even when I’m trying to sell marketing software. Everything is fair game if you can make the connection.

However, it could be the case that these sources won't do, and you need something more specific. In that case let’s dial-in our search.

3. Quora

If you haven’t heard of it, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Quora is a knowledge sharing site which belongs loosely under the designation "social network." Everyone comes here to ask and answer questions. It’s crowd-sourced in Wikipedia fashion but without all the administration or bureaucratic aspiration to objectivity. Why do people answer? For the same reason that Facebook exists: We all just want to share. (There’s also some sort of gamificaiton point system, but I’m not there yet.)

What you’ll find here are answers to hyper-specific questions from all industries over the past decade where the best answers have been up-voted to the top for your convenience. Can’t find your question? Create an account and ask it. There are a surprising number of subject matter experts patrolling it, one of the most notorious of which is Jason M Lenkin, venture capitalist and founder of Echosign, who believes that it's also an excellent way to promote your business. 

I tried it and received answers within a few hours.

Photo: Screenshot of a Quora question and answer

Photo: Screenshot of a Quora question and answer

Or, if you’ve got a hardcore gambling streak and consider verbose deaths threats ticklishly amusing, there’s always Ask Reddit.


What to do if all else fails? 

Obviously, just Google the question and see what others have written about it. If you don't know about Google Alerts you can use it to keep tabs on your hot topics - it aggregates a smattering of articles and emails them to you each week.

Just remember, make sure it's only set to once per week or it'll get out of control quickly.

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