There’s an old maxim that says “Ideas are a dime a dozen.” In sort it means that ideas are worthless without execution, which is what gives them value.
That maxim largely holds true for bloggers, that is, so long as ideas are plentiful.
However, if you blog long enough you’ll likely find that, at some point, you’ll run completely out of ideas and your mind, no matter how hard you force it, isn’t able to create new ones.
It doesn’t matter if you’re writing in a tight niche or about something as broad as things you see in your day-to-day life, at some point inspiration dries up and you’re stuck with a post to write and nothing to write about.
How you respond to this challenge can say a great deal about you, your blog and the potential future of both, especially if it is to last for any length of time.
So how do you deal with this problem? The answer is surprisingly simple.
Running out of ideas is always an unpleasant experience, but it is rarely one that is actually harmful to a blog. There’s a natural ebb and flow to creativity that makes it so that you’ll eventually find yourself beached on a low tide from time to time.
There are two ways that this relatively minor inconvience can be come a true disaster.
- Dry Pool: Sometimes the lack of new ideas becomes a more permanent state and eventually the pool of ideas simply dries up. Bloggers with this problem often begin to look at their site as being done and simply walk away, unable to think of what else to say.
- Inconsistent Quality: The more common result is that new ideas don’t stop coming but instead slow down until the rate of posting can not be maintained. As such, the blog either has to change schedules or, more commonly, suffer from inconsistency in post quality. This has the effect of turning away subscribers and slowly eroding the site’s potential fan base.
The first is more often caused by a lack of interest than a lack of ideas. If one stops being interested in their topic, or at least in writing about it, they don’t keep their eyes open for new possibilities and eventually close themselves off to new ideas completely.
The second, on the other hand, is a genuine struggle to keep new ideas coming in, meaning that the blogger needs to either make adjustments to how they seek out new ideas or when they write about them.
Fortunately, both can actually be cured, but we have to be careful to address both a lack of interest and a lack of ideas as, without both, we end up in the exact same position, if not a worse one.
How to Avoid It
The first step to dealing with the problem of running out of ideas is being comfortable with the notion of running out of ideas. Though deadline pressures, self-imposed and external, make it difficult, if you can recognize that this is a normal condition and not take it too harshly, you’ll be very well-positioned to recover.
Beyond that, you need to focus on keeping both your interest up and the new ideas coming in as fast as reasonably possible. With that in mind, here’s several tips to help you get more ideas and improve their quality.
- Keep a Log of Good Ideas: If you think of a good idea, write it down immediately. I use Google calendar for my blogging calendar though there is also a plugin for WordPress that can help. This helps avoid losing ideas that you can’t act on immediately and lets you keep several in the bank for when you need them, letting you work with, not against, the ebb and flow of creativity.
- Stay on Top of Your Niche: Read blogs dedicated to your niche and stay on top of related news stories. I start almost every morning with a relevant Google News search and my RSS reader, about half of my story ideas come from one of those two places.There is a constant stream of new things to write about circulating on the Web and, sometimes, you don’t have to be the first to cover a story, especially if you can be the best.
- Revisit Old Ideas: If you’ve been blogging long enough, you may have a lot of old posts you’ve written and may be able to revisit with an update or a new angle easily. Take a look at your most popular posts and consider coming back to them if they are more than a year old or are otherwise showing their age. Sometimes the best ideas are the ones you’ve already done.
- Seek Alternative Sources: Back in July Andrew wrote a great post about sites to find new ideas on, including several PR sites. You can actually find a great deal of information on these sites and, in many cases, be the first to a breaking story.
- Take a Break: If all else fails, take a break. Pressuring yourself to come up with ideas when none are available doesn’t do you any good. If you are under external deadline pressure, consider asking if you can rearrange your schedule for a while to brainstorm and come up with a pool of new ideas. Sometimes a blogging vacation is just what you need to recharge.
To be clear, none of these are magic bullets that can cure you of idea problems, but they can certainly lessen them.
The main thing to remember is to try and work with the natural ebb and flow of creativity rather than against it. If you can remember the ideas you have (rather than just forgetting them when you can’t act on them) and know where to find new ideas and how to keep your interest high, you’ll likely find that you have plenty of backlogged ideas to weather any storm.
In fact, many find that, when they start actively working on this issue, that they have a large surplus of things to write about, a pitfall for another day.
In the end, the maxim is right. Ideas are cheap. But so is air. The problem with both is that, with either, when cut off from your supply, you begin to suffocate.
Much like a SCUBA diver, you need to be aware that you’re going to spend time, at least occasionally, cut off from the flow of ideas and you need to be prepared. Just like going underwater is a lot less scary with a tank of air, going through an idea drought is a lot less scary when you have a good backlog of ideas and a lifeline for new ones.
If you use your ideas wisely and treat the good ones you come up with the proper care, you’ll likely find that you are never truly out, but at worst, choosing the old one you want to write about. That is not a bad place to be.
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