March 6, 2006
Liz published this at 9:19 am
Ideas Get Things Going
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