Brainstorming ideas usually goes one of two ways: it’s a crashing wave of exciting ideas or painful hours spent hoping the paint will dry and an idea will magically appear.

I’m still pretty new to writing content on my own, but even with a full team behind me at my full-time job, devising new content isn’t always a smooth ride. And this task becomes more daunting if you don’t have coworkers to bounce ideas off of.

So what to do when your idea faucet turns from a steady stream to a slow drip?

I regularly use these three strategies when I need to get my content generation machine going.


1. Give yourself permission to write

A Middle-Eastern woman sits in a dimly lit room working on her laptop
Photo by Mohammad Shahhosseini on Unsplash

Sometimes, in order to get to the good ideas, you have to get the crap out on the page.

But who knows, some of those crap ideas may flip a switch and let you mold them into great ideas. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens enough that it’s worthwhile to write down every idea, start every sentence, and just get all those kernels of ideas out of your head.

“Give yourself license to write. Who knows, your crappy ideas may turn into great ideas when you revisit them later on.”

The other benefit to giving yourself permission to just write is mentioned by Anne Lamott in her book Bird by Bird. In it, she says that “one of the things that happens when you give yourself permission to start writing is that you start thinking like a writer. You start seeing everything as material.”1

Once you start seeing everything around you as potential topics, you’ll end up with far more ideas to work with than if your mind is closed off and your vision is obscured.


2. Read and write down your thoughts

A Black woman in a denim jacket writes notes in a journal
Photo by Kat Stokes on Unsplash

They say good writers read a lot, but I’d take this one step further and say that good writers read and write down the thoughts they have while reading.

Here’s why:

Even if someone else has already written about a topic, that doesn’t mean they’ve covered every angle. Writing down your thoughts and gut reactions can unearth details or points of view that the original author missed.

I recently discovered that Bill Gates writes notes directly on the pages of the books he reads. 

I usually cringe away from writing in my books, but this idea makes a lot of sense to me. In the last month, I started following this practice and have thoroughly enjoyed writing down my musings in the margins of my books. 

It’s refreshing to keep my notes with the text they refer to, rather than keeping notes in an app or document separate from their respective book.

“Even if someone else has written about your topic, that doesn’t mean your thoughts and gut reactions won’t unearth details the original author missed.”

And hey, while I love reading books on Kindle, I also love the idea of physical books. 

Physical books are amazing. The smell and sound of cracking a new book open. The satisfaction of physically turning a page, of closing the cover with a soft “pop!” once you’ve finished.

Yup, I’m a bibliophile.


3. Start an idea file

Notebook pages, a journal, and a mug of coffee sit on a rumpled bed
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Many well-known and talented writers swear by keeping a notebook with them at all times—even by their bedside while they sleep. This is so they can jot down ideas whenever they strike. Even at 2 a.m. in the morning.

This is an easy way to start an idea file. 

You collect your ideas wherever you fancy: in a notebook, Word document, or apps like Pocket and Evernote. Then, when that blank page comes a calling, visit your idea file and get to work. (Tell that blank page you hope the door doesn’t hit it on its way out.)

“Visit your idea file whenever inspiration abandons you. Chances are you’ll find it again.”


Conclusion: 3 ways to come up with content ideas

It’s frustrating to get stuck staring at a blank page for hours, waiting for inspiration to strike. But if you use the following tactics, you can stay one step ahead of the panic that comes with a deadline hovering over your shoulder and an empty page staring you in the face.

  1. Tell yourself it’s okay to write down anything that comes to mind, even the awful ideas.
  2. Read, read, and read some more. And take notes while you read.
  3. Get all your ideas down on paper before they slip away by creating an idea file.

How about you? Do you have any strategies you use to generate content ideas? Let me know in the comments, I’m eager to hear.


Sources

1. Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird (New York: Anchor Books, 2019), 128.


Featured image by Kat Stokes on Unsplash.