Fit It Under Your Umbrella
In the last month or so, several people for whom I have lots of respect, have asked me questions about generating ideas for blog posts. As a writer, I’m fairly good at thinking up things to write about so am going to share one technique that works pretty well. If you are just thinking about starting a blog or if you are trying to establish a new direction for your blog, you might find this post helpful.
Keep the idea of an umbrella in mind when you think about your blog. Choose a big topic – in my case it’s running a very small business – then write about whatever you want as long as you can connect it in some way to your big topic. In other words, make it fit under your umbrella. The best blogs out there do this extremely well. Copyblogger is probably the best. They have managed to connect everything from training dogs to The Princess Bride in some way or another to the topic of content marketing, and every post is relevant, entertaining and full of good information.
If you don’t think of yourself as creative, this might be hard. There are ways to make it work, though. You could try making a list of random observations throughout the day. Just write down things you observe – a crazy lady at the post office, a toddler pitching a fit, a jogger, someone making a complaint about your business, an angry co-worker, a sporting event, just anything you see or even thoughts that cross your mind. Don’t think about why you are writing them down.
Ignore your list for a few days, a week or even a month or more. Then get your list out and choose 3-4 of the events, observations or random thoughts and write them down on separate sheets of paper. You can go all English 101 and write them in the middle and circle it and do a textbook brainstorming session or, if you are more linear-minded, fold your paper in half and make two columns.
Then you just start making connections between the items on your list and whatever your umbrella topic is. It’s okay to really stretch here. Your connections can be completely tenuous. You aren’t writing at this point. You are just thinking and capturing those thoughts loosely. This should be a no-pressure, fun thing to do.
After your paper is full, or your brain is empty, or both, you are ready to start looking for something that might make a blog post. You might have already found a topic, or you might need to take one or two of the most interesting connections and repeat the brainstorming process in a more specific way.
The next part is easy (hahaha!): You write. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, punctuation or any of that at this point. Just write out your thoughts about your random topic and how it fits under your umbrella topic. Then put it away. Don’t look at it for a couple of days, a week, a month or however long you can wait.
After some time has passed, get out your very rough draft and read it. If it still makes sense, start smoothing out the edges. Correct any obvious grammar or punctuation errors, make word changes, move sentences or paragraphs around if necessary. If it doesn’t make sense, put it away until the next time you go through this process. If it doesn’t make sense by about the third time, just delete it.
I normally either polish the draft up and post it or put it away one more time at this point. If you go through all these steps once a week for a while, you’ll eventually have a rich source of ideas and posts just waiting. Some people end up with a nice backlog of fully written posts that they can schedule to automatically go up, and others (like me) just save a bunch of drafts and pick one that reflects my feelings on the day I post it.
If you don’t enjoy the processes of brainstorming and drafting, you probably are looking at this thinking that it seems a bit much. But really, it doesn’t take that much of a time investment, maybe an hour or two a week, to make it work. I am also a member of a group that meets to talk about blogging and those meetings help to generate ideas as well. I will write more about how that works later.
Do you have a sure fire method that helps you generate ideas for blog posts? Would you find a process like the one described here cumbersome? Do most other people write multiple drafts, or is it more common to write and post immediately?