Friday, January 11, 2008

What to Do When You're Stuck for Blog Post Ideas

It's tough coming up with great content day after day. Some bloggers make it look easy, while others intersperse in-depth articles with shallow posts that don't offer much value. Your blog is what you make it, though--and you'll do better if you make an effort every time.

The bad news is that Writers' Block happens to bloggers, too--trust me, you will occasionally sit down to write and have absolutely no idea what to say. The good news is that there are many things you can do to make it easier on yourself when you're stuck for ideas. Here are a few suggestions that go beyond reading the news.

Check out the forums. There are plenty of forums for just about any niche out there, and they can give you great insight into what people in your industry want to know. If you have a good answer to any of these questions--or you see an issue a lot of people are talking about--don't just post a response on the forum. Write a blog post about it. Then post a response on the forum offering some advice and a link back to your post.

Think about your worst-case clients. No matter what industry we're in, we all have horror stories. What are some of your worst ones? In the freelance-writing arena, people love to hear about problem clients and how the writer dealt with them. For best results, don't just write a rant--offer a strategy for dealing with these horror stories.

Write a "What So-and-So Forgot to Mention" post. Are there any industry leaders in your blogging field? In mine, there are several--including Copyblogger, ProBlogger, and Dosh Dosh. Find one of the top blogs in your niche--the one everybody knows about. Pick a post, and write a supplement to that post with your own unique spin on the topic. Put the top blog in your title--it's sure to gain notice from others in your industry, and possibly even the top blog's writer. That's a good thing; it might inspire him to link to you.

Write a rebuttal post. I like to check out other blogs in my industry when I'm stuck for ideas. I especially like to look for things I disagree with. If I find one, I can write a rebuttal post. Disagreement is always interesting to readers, especially if you're going against an established opinion.

Rebuttals can be good for both you and the other writer, because they generate links and traffic for both. But still, you never know how the other party will respond. With rebuttal posts, it's important to keep the tone civil and make it clear that you're not intending a personal attack. You don't want the original writer to think you're trying to attract attention by dissing him in public.

Go off on a rant. Are you passionate about something in your industry? Is there something that bothers you about the way things are always done? Your blog is the ideal place to write about it. Readers love controversy and strong opinions. When you're stuck, think about the last time you were ticked off by some condition or reality of your industry, and write a nice long, cathartic rant. Make sure to keep it at least semi-professional; an "I'm SO SICK of my customers!" rant is probably not the greatest idea.

Keep an idea log. Some days you're brimming over with ideas, and other days you come up empty. On days when you have more than one idea to choose from, write them down. Always keep a list of ideas handy for when you're having trouble.

Write a few "emergency posts." Some days you just don't feel like writing--or you might not have time to write at all. It's never a bad idea to keep a few spare posts handy to make your life easier on these days. These posts shouldn't be about time-sensitive information like current news or a response to a recent blog post from someone else. Make them timeless--how-to posts make great spares.

A great blog offers in-depth, useful articles day after day, and as a writer it can be tough coming up with ideas. Use these tactics to prepare for the dry spells, and you'll never be stuck for ideas for very long.


Kathy@TheFlawlessWord said...

I admit to the occasional filler post, more because of a lack of time than nothing to write about, though. I also try to make sure these types of posts have at least vague relevancy for my readers. I figure my loyal readers will excuse the occasional non-substantive posts if it means their visit was not in vain (i.e., there was NOTHING new for them to sink their teeth, or middle finger, into).

Jennifer Williamson said...

I made the choice a long time ago to blog only a few times a week rather than doing a filler post. It gives me a little time to mull over what's been going on in my business and think of good topics--and so far, I've never gotten extremely stuck. I think scaling down your posting schedule definitely helps as much as anything else.

Kathy@TheFlawlessWord said...

I definitely think it's fine to skip days here and there if you have nothing important to say. In that case, I think the trick lies in letting your regular readers know which days they can expect new content.

Rudy said...

Thanks for the list, Jennifer. Writing is not my strongest suit so I try to learn as much as I can from pros such as yourself.

I have a question about:

"...and write a nice long, cathartic rant. Make sure to keep it at least semi-professional; an "I'm SO SICK of my customers!" rant is probably not the greatest idea."

But that's exactly what rant is, a let-go-of-my-hair and all-out spew of how I feel. Or is it just the wording, and the touch of restraint in using certain terms? Do you have an example of a professional rant?

Jennifer Williamson said...

Rudy: it's a judgment call everyone has to make on their own, really. For example, I'd do a rant on this blog about low pricing expectations, annoying grammar mistakes everyone makes, how much I hate my printer, or even a specific situation that keeps happening to me over and over with clients--but I probably wouldn't write a general rant on how much working with clients sucks, because I do have clients who read this blog and they're the ones who pay me. But some freelancers might be able to get away with it.

It's really about knowing your audience and what they'll tolerate. If your blog is personal rather than professional, you probably have much more leeway--although bear in mind that even personal blogs are out there for everyone to see, and someone from your professional life might still find it.

Rudy said...

Good to know. I knew I still had to exercise caution when ranting. Common sense, I suppose. Thank you for the reply, Jennifer.