You know how it is…
Your blog post is well overdue. You sense your readers are waiting, but you can’t come up with anything fresh to offer them.
You’ve been writing for so long about the same topics, you just can’t think of anything new to say. It’s kind of like you’ve reached the bottom of the well, and now all that’s coming up is mud.
To cap it all, when you do get a cool idea, something that sounds fun to write about, you look around and discover an A-lister just delivered the final word on it. Doh.
Frustrated, you decide to flip on the old boob tube and relax for a bit. Maybe inspiration will strike while you’re watching the latest episode of CSI…
Sounds unlikely, right?
Well, I would’ve thought so, too, but that’s exactly what I did the other night, and I noticed something surprising.
Everything You Need to Know about Finding Ideas
Generously distributed over network television schedules lies unexpected inspiration, even salvation.
CSI isn’t just about forensic experts examining hair, blood or fiber fragments. This show tells you everything you need to know to find killer content. You don’t even need to be in a forensic lab to use ace crime-solving techniques.
Because you see, great ideas don’t appear out of thin air. They’re found. You have to search for them the same way as a forensic expert searches for a killer.
Let’s go through a few examples, and I’ll show you what I mean.
Turn the World Upside Down
In the CSI world, what is presented is often not entirely what it seems.
A victim turns out to have committed crimes in a previous existence. A seemingly virtuous Samaritan has more to his agenda than first appears.
The team needs to flip think: to turn what seems to be evident upside down.
In fact, you could argue all innovators do the same thing. They become masters of flip thinking, habitually challenging what appears to be true and changing the world in ways none of us could’ve imagined.
Once upon a time, everyone in the computing industry believed their products needed to be, above all, powerful, even if that meant sacrificing elegance. Apple flipped this idea on its head, creating devices that aren’t quite as powerful as their competitors but are … well … beautiful. And they turned the world upside down.
So can you.
Take the sacred cows, common wisdom or even what many people want to be true and flip it, disarming and intriguing your readers as a result.
Ask ‘What if?’
“The thing that makes a fantasy great is the possibility it might come true. And when you lose that possibility it just… kinda… sucks.” Catherine Willows, CSI
Presented with fragments of evidence, the CSI crimes solvers often need to ask “what if?” and then come up with a possible scenario.
Imagining possible scenarios is at the core of creative thinking. Not only when it comes to catching killers, but when you need to write that next killer blog post, too
For example, Chris Garrett asked, “What if we stopped looking for shortcuts and just did the hard work?” It resulted in one of the more popular posts on his blog.
Corbett Barr asked, “What if an awesome post is exponentially more valuable than a mediocre post?” 258 comments later, we can see the post was a smash hit.
That’s what happens when you force yourself to ask questions and think outside the box. It opens up all kinds of new ideas for you to consider and introduce to your readers.
Find the Backstory
A main task of the CSI squad is discovering what led up to a terrible crime. Knowing the “why” is just as important as knowing the “what.”
Writing works the same way.
If you can’t figure out what to write next, you’re probably bored. Not because the topic itself is boring, necessarily, but because you’ve lost touch with why you started writing.
To start fresh, you need to think back to why you started your blog. What inspired you? Whatever it was, it’s probably still there.
Go out and find it.
Zoom in on What’s Important
”There is always a clue.” Gil Grissom, CSI
CSI investigators don’t just examine a crime scene, take a few photos, and then make their decision on what happened. They look for tiny pieces of evidence like a blood speck or broken eyelash, and they zoom in with a microscope to discover entirely new information.
You can take the same strategy with your blog posts.
Sure, you’ve probably covered every major topic on your blog, but there are topics within those topics you can zoom in on, turning a small detail from one post into the focus of an entirely new one. It’s a way to continuously recycle the same topics without them ever becoming old.
Build On Your Evidence
“I tend not to believe people; they lie. The evidence never lies.” Gil Grissom, CSI
Ever get a comment from a reader saying they would love to hear more about a certain topic, but when you write about it, the post flops?
Happens all the time, right?
It’s not because your audience is lying to you, exactly. It’s because the interests of one reader don’t represent the interests of your entire audience.
Just as witnesses and suspects lie during an investigation, comments from your readers often misrepresent what your audience is really interested in. Sure, it’s valuable information, but you have to treat it with a certain amount of skepticism.
Rather than blindly writing posts about whatever your readers tell you they want, look at posts you’ve written on similar subjects and examine their stats to see how popular they were. The data will tell you whether or not you should write another post.
If posts on the topic have been popular in the past, then chances are they’ll be popular again. If every post you’ve written about the subject has flopped, on the other hand, then you probably shouldn’t post about it again, even if one or two of your readers are clamoring for it.
Scour Different Locations
CSI officers have to travel far and wide in pursuit of a suspect, piecing together evidence from multiple scenes to build an airtight case.
The same is true for finding killer ideas.
Online, it’s easy to fall into the habit of visiting the same websites, hearing the same ideas time and time again and wondering why you can’t think of anything fresh. But you’re not the problem! The problem is you’re only looking for evidence in a single crime scene.
To come up with original ideas, you need to branch out, reading blogs on entirely different topics with entirely different perspectives. Yes, it might be uncomfortable, and you might also have to work a bit to find something interesting, but once you do, you’ll have an entirely new source of inspiration for your blog posts.
Comb the Scene for the Freshest Evidence
Timing is critical.
On CSI, investigators need to arrive on scene within hours or even minutes to gather evidence before it degrades. They know that fresh evidence is often the most incriminating, so they have to move fast.
Makes sense, right?
What you might not realize is bloggers have to move fast, too. Yes, the problems your readers face probably stay the same, but the solutions to those problems are ever-changing. To stay current, you have to watch for new approaches and then bring those to your audience as quickly as possible.
For example, the standard advice for bloggers used to be to publish a short article every day. Recently though, new bloggers in the social media space like Derek Halpern and Glen Allsopp have flipped that advice, publishing much longer pieces every couple of weeks.
And their audiences have grown like crazy.
So, if you were going to write a blog post on the proper publishing schedule, you would be smart to write about that trend. In turn, your audience will love you for giving them the freshest information.
It’s a Whole New Game
Once upon a time, investigators used to live by their instincts. They followed hunches, kept an eye on suspicious characters, and staked out the bad guy to catch him in the act.
These days, burly investigators in trench coats have been replaced by nerdy scientists in lab coats, and they’re more likely to get a black eye from poking themselves with a microscope than getting in a fight with a suspect. The game has changed, and the investigators who want to stay on the cutting edge have changed with it.
As writers, we have to make the same shift.
In the old days, great writing used to be about originality and thought and finding a unique voice in the midst of everyone else saying the same old stuff, and to a small extent, it still is. It’s also evolved though, making conversations between writers easier, allowing you to track what’s popular and what’s not in real time, and involving the reader as never before.
As a result, writing is much more external than it used to be. Yes, thinking is still important, but listening and watching and studying patterns is even more important, not because it replaces thought, but because it directs it, telling us exactly what to think about and where we should focus.
If we want to survive as writers, we have to make the shift. It can be disconcerting at first, even painful, but once you begin understanding exactly how to search the web for information, you’ll never be without good ideas ever again.
So, put on your lab coat. Search through the evidence. Study it more closely than you ever have before.
Great ideas are out there, just waiting to be discovered, and after reading this post, you know have all the tools to discover them.
So go for it.
Your audience is counting on you.
About the Author: Want to unleash your inner creative genius? Head over to Mrs. Motivator, where Pippa Davies writes about do-it-yourself business psychology.