Don’t Hunt IDEAS — Be an Idea Magnet

Ideas Get Things Going

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The question that professional writers are asked most is Where do you get your ideas? The answer they always give is Ideas are everywhere.

It’s true that ideas are everywhere, but . . . that’s not much consolation when you look everywhere, and you seem to find nothing.

Yet ideas are the stuff from which quality content is crafted, and quality content is what builds relevance. Relevance draws people to read us, to add to the conversation, and to share our ideas with others. Quality content packed with relevance also leads search engines to show us off in their rankings. So solid ideas are critical to blogs, websites, and all online businesses.

Ideas are what gets the whole process going. But . . .

Sometimes the very idea of getting an idea can be intimidating.

Be an Idea Magnet

Looking for ideas can be a lot like looking for a white shirt in the Mall of America. If you don’t have anything to narrow your search the task can be overwhelming. Too many kinds of white shirts to choose from and soon they all seem to have the same value–none at all. Ideas work in much the same way as that. Without some sort of criteria to sort them you can look all day and not find a single one.

Ideas really are everywhere. The art is in training your mind to see the ideas and pull them in before your thoughts pass by them–to make your mind into an idea magnet of sorts.

Many Ideas At Once

Sometimes I’m asked to write a book of ideas for teaching some skill set or group of strategies. You might be surprised to find out how I go about such tasks. I identify pages of ideas before I start writing. One idea at a time is just too much work and too painful for me. I approach the task as I approach doing dishes. Wash all of the dishes first. Then dry them all.

Attracting Writeable Ideas

When I write for my blogs, I figure if I’m going to find one idea, I might as well find many. That way I’m set for a while. With a pile of ideas, I can switch my brain over to concentrate on the writing and editing–that’s work enough for me.

Whether you’re looking for one idea or many, or trying to find a spin on a topic that’s too big to write about, the process for getting to a solid idea is basically same.

Here’s how to get your brain to open up to 4-5 ideas at once.

1. Gather resources with a yes or no look. (60-90 minutes max)

  • Limit research time–the more ideas the less time spent per idea.
  • Use a variety of resources online, magazines, newpapers, and books.
  • Check only headlines and take only a quick look.
  • If what you see doesn’t grab you. Move on.
  • If it catches your interest, print it or tag it to come back to.

It’s important not to read at this point. Just let the headlines soak in. The variety of resources offers a visual change that helps to keep your mind fresh and tends to bring in a wider variety of points of view. You might find yourself seeing connections between one piece and another. That’s good.

2. Read with a highlighter, a pencil, and a pad of paper. (30-60 minutes)

  • Highlight keywords.
  • Jot key points in the margin using 3-4 words you might say if you were restating the point to a friend.
  • If you get article ideas, mark them on the piece that inspired them.
  • When you notice connections between pieces you’ve chosen write them on the pad of paper.

Do these things quickly to let your mind capture and collect information without filtering it. You’ll start to make further connections to your personal experiences. Note those on the writing pad too. What you’re doing is guided brainstorming. (I made that term up.) Feel free to throw out any resources you know just won’t work.

3. Sort your resources into like piles by topic. (5-15 minutes)

  • Give each pile a working title.
  • Add to each pile a bulleted list of events, thoughts, or learnings from your experience that fit with that idea.
  • Choose the idea that you find most useful to your readers and put the rest in a folder.

Also do this quickly as a “brain dumping” exercise. Write what comes to mind and keep going until you have a list–however long or short—for each pile you made. Now you have some solid ideas. Keep them all, even the ones that seem thin or uninteresting. After a day or so you might find uses for those that you don’t like right now.

The Benefits of Working Out Once a Week

This workout shows results immediately. In just that much time I have ideas I can write about. I do this “workout” about once a week when I’m not under pressure to write something. The workout takes away the rush and tumble of having to push through my feeds with deadlines hanging over me. Even when I want to cover breaking news. I have ideas ready to go if I want to post a quick article before I start researching.

The relief that comes from knowing I have many ideas in the hopper makes writing exponentially easier. When I sit down to write, I can concentrate on what I’m writing about. I know it’s a fully vetted idea that will work, rather than one I have to hope will work out. I can use the time I might have spent looking for an idea and use it to check my work.

Writing’s more fun when your brain is free of that voice that keeps saying, “I need to get this done. I need to get this done. My readers are waiting for me.”

A brain is a writer’s instrument in the same way as a voice is a singer’s instrument. Why shouldn’t writers train just as vocalists do?

Power writing is a very cool thing.

Try it and let me know how it goes. I’m here to help any way that I might.

After all, I’m the nice one. :)

–ME “Liz” Strauss

Related articles:
Introducing Power Writing for Everyone
Got the Idea. Now What Do I Do with It?
Why Dave Barry and Liz Don’t Get Writer’s Block
Eye-Deas 1: Have You Started Seeing Things?


  1. says

    What? Angry emails! Hmph! That’s no good.
    I’ll have to come see them. You were dealing in snark, weren’t you? . . . (she said with a knowing look and a smile).

  2. says

    I loved this post so much, I printed it out! I’ll be ready with a highlighter and some pen and paper later!

    This’ll be a BIG help for me, especially now that I’ll be going into problogging.


  3. says

    Hi taorist.
    I figured it was time I shared my “secrets.” It really helps to get all of the ideas lined up first before you sit down to write.

    I’m delighted that you find helpful!! You should see me smiling.


  4. says

    Take a picture and send it to me then! I’ll post it on my blog and write about how you’ve helped me and other people write/blog better.

  5. says

    You want a picture of me smiling? Take a looka the About me page there are a few there and then I have a few others. I like the one in the yellow shirt. . .

    That’s what I look like when I have a secret. (she grins.)


  6. says

    This is the kind of idea that I love. Making the process easier, rather than more complicated.

    Another benefit to your idea is that the articles are simmering in the back of your mind from the time you put the ideas in the hopper.

    So when you are ready to start actually writing, the structure of the article and maybe in some cases, the whole thing, is already there.

    Thank you for sharing this — it’s great!

  7. says

    That sounds like a lot of work! I usually just keep my eyes and mind open for interesting tidbits. If any blog ideas pop into my head, I find my notebook and jot it down. Strangely, many of the ideas I write down never become posts or if they do, end up totally different than my initial vision.

  8. says

    Hi Katiebird,
    Another benefit to your idea is that the articles are simmering in the back of your mind from the time you put the ideas in the hopper.

    It’s so exciting for me that you picked that up. That’s exactly why I do it. To let my brain have time to work on things. As I went through my day yesterday, I found myself occasionally remembering what I was going to write about this morning. it was a nice feeling.

    Thank you for adding your insights to the discussion.

  9. says

    Hello Hsien Lei,
    It sounds like your mind is already wide open to ideas.
    You’re an idea magnet already. If you can see the ideas and just run with them, You probably don’t need this training.

    I do a lot of idea collecting the way you do as well. But the one thing in this article that I always do is pull together all of my ideas, before I write any amount of articles. Idea, write, idea, write just eats up too much time for me.

    As far as ideas changing go–this became two posts and had a totally different metaphor driving it when I first started. So I know exactly what you mean. :)

  10. Ravi says

    Hi ME Strauss,
    This is the first article I have read about creating ideas for blogs. Before I start blogging I think your article will help me in great way.

  11. says

    Hi Ravi,
    Thank you and welcome. There are many more idea starters. I hope you’ll find the, and many good posts for on the NEW BLOGGER PAGE.

    I also hope you’ll stay around with us at Successful Blog. We’re a good bunch of people who learn from each other.

    Great luck starting your new blog.


  12. says

    Thanks very much Liz. I am going to work on being more blog-minded when I am reading, watching tv, etc. Lately, for want of better topics, I have been writing my own personal history tidbits like “Car Camping 50’s-Style”, “Surviving the Columbus Day Storm of 1962”, and “Earthquake Rattles Western Washington on April 29, 1965”. One way I get ideas too is from being a member of groups. There are so many topics there that anyone would be hard-pressed to stay topic blocked for too long. So many of my topics range from “the sublime to the ridiculous”. Just the way I like it!

  13. says

    I read your article and I love the idea of researching and writing posts.
    You need to help me out….PLEASE!!!
    I am a fairly new blogger of about 3 months maybe less and I do not understand researching.
    What do you post about? Latest news?
    I have a general Christian based blog which I write on. It’s basically what’s on my mind but has a general christian theme.

    I want to get some great ideas to write some great content but for your strategy to work do you have to have a news blog?
    I want to create a blog where people will be in community and write comments with their opinions and ideas but i dont know how to create this.

    Please help me out I am in desperate need. My blog is please leave me a comment with some helpful advice.
    That goes for anyone I need help

  14. says

    I enjoyed your article and the comments. I especially like the idea of using the highlight marker. I do that all the time when I read a book (I read a ton). I can tell if the book as any good by flipping the pages and seeing how much yellow I see. It also helps me retrieve good thoughts quickly.

    I also write down phrases that catch my eye and put them in a drawer. This way I always have a source of ideas to draw from.

    One more thing for blog writers. I never consider an article finished. If I think of something worthy to say, I go back and make additions or changes. I’m always amazed at people who go back into the archives and read something I wrote months ago…


  15. says

    Hi Ryan,
    How did I miss your comment? It must have been because it was the night before my birthday! I’m so sorry. I’ll sen you an email to see how you’re doing.

  16. says

    Hi Eduardo!
    Sometimes I highlight. Sometimes I underline with a pencil. Sometimes the pencil is graphite. Sometimes it’s a red pencil. I don’t know why. Different books ask for different responses.

    Sometimes I use arrows and numbers in the margins.

    I use my archives as fodder for idea to write about now. :) Though when I’m reading them I’ll often tweak what I see. :)

  17. says

    this is kinda how I do it too. Lots of ideas at once flow. Then I start the writing part which is much slower and during that time the ideas that are not so attractive naturally fall aside.

    Ah, now, if I could only write as fast as I get the ideas.

    I know more speed will come with time. It already has. But I yearn for higher productivity!! :-)

  18. says

    Hi Sully,
    Sounds like you’re getting your process down. That’s the toughest part. Soon you’ll start to get a rhythm about when and how you write. Then the speed will come. :)

  19. says

    I’ve been doing this for years…dedicated sprints into the field to find ideas and keep a finger on the current state of thinking.

    I call it ‘ideafreaking’, and I think it goes further than the ‘workout’…I think being an idea magnet is a matter of making it clear that you’re a person people should bounce ideas off of. I’m an ideafreak; I want to hear yours, and I want it to be concise and clear, and if it’s not that’s always my feedback. Otherwise I try to reach out to people (during ‘workouts’ or otherwise) if they are in the middle of something interesting…a conversation, thought, project…whatever.

    What’s nice is now the ideas come to me…the projects and articles and links and emerging trends. I know who else is a focal point for these ideas and can do faster, more efficient outreach when I need something.

    You gotta love ideas, first, though:)

  20. says

    I like your method. Writing content as you say is the most important part of having a successful website and it is something I am working on, So your way has given me a good resource to achieve it.

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