Concocting Content Ideas - A Guided Exercise For Those New Writers Stuck Without a Subject

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I've seen a number of posts on this forum asking about filling blogs, coming up with content, and generating ideas. I'm always a bit surprised when people say they're not sure what to write on their blogs, in their email series, in an eBook, etc. etc. Coming up with ideas should be the easiest part of the process.

Sure, we've all experienced writer's block, and it sucks, but whenever I hear people talking about how they're having trouble coming up with material for their various properties, my immediate thought is always that they aren't reading enough.

So, for anyone looking to become a prolific content creator but struggling to find ideas, below is an exercise in idea generation that anyone can do regardless of their experience level or writing skill. This simple exercise is something I'd bet my last dollar the vast majority of experienced content writers do some version of, whether consciously or not.

A word of warning, the post below is over 2,000 words. If you don't want to read, exit here. But then again, if you don't want to read, that might just be the cause of all your problems. A-hooooo, see what I did there? How I turned that one around onya? Did ya see?

Anyways, away we go.



Step One: Grab a Book

Any book. If you're looking to write on a specific topic or genre, grab something within that range. If you're just looking for practice, grab any old non-fiction book. This is your new source of inspiration, and reading it is your homework. This book - in fact, one chapter from this book - is going to provide you with a bucket-load of ideas.

I've picked my book! For the purposes of this quick guide, I've grabbed a copy of Entrepreneur Magazine's Ultimate Guide to Google Adwords - Fourth Edition by Perry Marshall, Mike Rhodes, and Bryan Todd. Why did I pick this book? Because the spine is green and I like green, so it caught my eye on the shelf. It's an older book, but it checks out. (Five points for identifying the reference.)

If you're like me and you have shelves and boxes full of books that you've purchased (and probably never read), then great. If you don't have a decent library to select from, put on some pants and go to the actual library. They've got everything you need.

If you live in the desert and have no access to books of any kind, then fine, get one on Kindle or order one in, I guess. But the goal here, at least right off the bat, is to spend zero dollars on this exercise. Once you've got this all down to a science, then buying books will actually become profitable, but for now, avoid spending.

So, however you want to do it, pick your non-fiction book now. Got one? Good.



Step Two: Pick a Chapter

Any chapter. Seriously, you do not need to read the book from page one right through to page x-hundred and three. If you've chosen to write on a subject that you're not familiar with, then you maybe should read it from cover to cover, but for the purposes of this exercise, you can start anywhere you'd like.

I've opened my book up to the index and have opted to start on chapter eleven, entitled "Ads That Pass the Test: Editorial Guidelines and Split Testing". Why did I select that chapter? It was the second one on the first index page I opened to, and my eyes fell upon it. That's it. No other consideration was given.

The next step is to assign that chapter to a Fiverr seller and instruct them to rewrite it by changing every fifth word! Done! Congratulations, you are now a writer!

Seriously though, do not - do not - just plagiarize the chapter you've selected. Please, for the love of God, don't do that.

Instead, read it.

But don't just read it as if you were sitting in the bath reading a John le Carre novel. Your goal with this read-through is to identify sub-topics within this chapter that might make for a good article that you can write. At this point, you're less interested in absorbing the nuances of the chapter and more interested in mining the ideas in it for gold you can refine further.

Grab a piece of paper or open up Notepad and start jotting down ideas. Here's the list I coughed up from my quick readthrough of my selected chapter:
  • Understanding Google's Exposure on Advertisements from Illegal Vendors
  • The Dangers of Choosing Niches and Markets with Shady Histories and Unsavory Characters
  • Giving Google What It Wants: X Tips for Ensuring Your AdWords Ads Meet Google's Editorial Guidelines

Note: Right here, in the book, was an image of Google's Policy Center. It's an older book, so I jumped on the web and Googled the page so I could see the updated version, leading to...
  • Google Prohibited Practices: An Overview of Google's Big No-Nos
  • Google Prohibited Content: The Content You Can't Push Through Google
  • Google Restricted Content: An Overview of Content Google Might Let You Promote, But Probably Won't

...back to the book.
  • The Importance of Coordinating Your Ad and Your Landing Page
  • X Tips on Writing Google Friendly Ad Copy
  • A Brief History of Split Testing
  • Split Testing: A Beginners' Guide to A vs. B
  • Split Test Every Time: Why You Should Be Split Testing Every Ad You Publish
  • Concocting Winning Titles: The Art of Stealing Ideas from the Greats
  • How to Make the Most of Google's Preview Tool
  • Google Disapproves: The Top X Reasons AdWords Ads Get Axes and How to Avoid Them

Alright, there she is. Some of these ideas are definitely better than others. I mean, clearly readers will flock in droves to feast their eyes on A Brief History of Split-Testing, right? But it's ok to have some duds. This is just a brainstorming session.

That list represents fifteen ideas generated from spending about ten minutes reading an eight-page chapter. That's essentially two ideas per page, and I guarantee you there were more in there that I missed.

This book has 370-something pages. At our current rate, we'd generate almost 700 ideas (this, of course, is not how it works, but still!)



Step Three: Pick an Idea

You now have a handful of writing ideas that you can dive into immediately. Once again, please, please don't just plagiarize the book you've chosen to read. Instead, take one of your ideas, open up a Word file or whatever the Mac equivalent of Word is, and get going.

Research is key. We're not trying to put out garbage here, so we want to make sure that the words we put down on the page are all quality words. In my case, I've chosen a book on AdWords from 2014. That means some of the information in the book is definitely out of date. So even if I wanted to plagiarize this book (which I don't), there would be no way to be sure the information I was copying is even right. So we research!

If you're already an expert or something close to an expert in the field you've chosen to write on, then you might not need to do much research. If it's a topic you're unfamiliar with, hit the books big time. Either way, research is your friend because it's going to unlock more ideas. It'll also help you come up with the outline for your article if you're stuck on that.

You can go outline -> research or research -> outline -> research depending on your current knowledge of the subject. Whatever you pick, write an outline. It'll keep your efforts directed and give you an early idea of the story your article is going to tell.

For our purposes, I'm going to go to my list and choose to write: "X-tips on Writing Google-Friendly Ad Copy."

For my research, I'm going to use the book I've got open, the web, other books, and maybe some fortune cookies if I really get desperate. I won't bore you with a live video of me doing the research, but if this was a movie, we'd go into a montage sequence right now and voila, here's my article outline:

Title: 3 Tips on Writing AdWords-Friendly Advertisement Copy Google Will Love
Introduction
Tip One: Remember That Your Ad Will be Read by People (This section covers spelling, grammar, repetition, etc. - technical writing aspects, basically.)
Tip Two: Match Your Ad to Your Landing Page (This section discusses some of Google's destination requirements and how to ensure the ad and landing page sync up.)
Tip Three: Make Sure Your Ads Use Google's Features As They're Intended (This section covers the different fields and areas in Google's ad formats and how they can and can't be used.)
Conclusion

Alright, there we go. Outline created. Now it's time to write the article by filling out the outline sections. This is just an example, so I only chose three tips. This article could easily have five, ten, whatever. There is a lot that could be written on this subject. Which leads us to our next section!



Step Four: Mine Your Article for More Ideas

Once you've written your article and published it or done whatever it is you intend to do with it, don't just shove it away on some hard drive and forget about it. That article, developed from a single idea on your brainstorm list, is chock-full of other ideas.

Using the article outline from above, let's take each section and try and drill them down into at least a few more ideas we can write on!

Tip One: Remember That Your Ad Will be Read by People (This section covers spelling, grammar, repetition, etc. - technical aspects.)
  • Writing Ad Titles - The Importance of Focusing on Readers Over Spiders
  • The Importance of Proper Capitalization in Ads - Why tHiS Will Cost You Money
  • Repetition in Advertising - When It'll Drive Your Message Home and When It'll Drive Your Customers Away
  • Editing for Success - Ad Proofing Tips for Non-Native English Speakers

Tip Two: Match Your Ad to Your Landing Page (This section discusses some of Google's destination requirements and how to ensure the ad and landing page sync up.)
  • Google's AdWords Destination Requirements: What Your Landing Page Must and Must Not Have
  • Destination Experience: Why Google Cares About Your UX
  • Destination Content: Why You Need to Treat Your Landing Pages Like the Rest of Your Content
  • Ensuring Your Landing Page Doesn't Violate Google's Policies and How to Fix a Suspended Site
  • There are wayyyy more ideas we could pull from this one, but let's move on...

Tip Three: Make Sure Your Ads Use Google's Features As They're Intended (This section covers the different fields and areas in Google's ad formats and how they can and can't be used.)
  • Misused Ad Features: The Most Common Feature Traps that Will Get Your Ads Denied
  • Creating Images and Video for AdWords: X Tips for Ensuring Your Media Meets Google's Requirements
  • Modified Clickability: How HTML5 Ads Affect Google AdWords Clickable Areas

Alright, there we go. Very quickly, with little effort, we just turned one idea from our original list into twelve additional brainstormed ideas. We could almost certainly repeat the process with any one of these new ideas and come up with a third list. All this starting with just one short eight-page chapter of one book.

This is the idea tree. Each new piece of content branches out into one or more new pieces of content. Eventually, you'll write an article and upon review, you'll decide you don't want to pursue any more topics from that line of content. That's fine, you've just reached the end of that branch of the tree. You'll have plenty of branches on the go!



Step Five: Keep an Editorial Calendar and Write Every Day

Hopefully, by now, you've started to come to the realization that generating ideas is often the easy part. One chapter of a book can branch out into tens or potentially hundreds of ideas. Imagine what a whole book might yield. Magazines, websites, videos, podcasts, and just about any other form of media can all be mined and refined in exactly the same way.

But once you start to get good at pulling ideas from the media you're exposed to every day, you'll probably find yourself drowning in ideas. It can actually be overwhelming. My recommendation is to create a calendar in Google, Outlook, or whatever, and maintain a simple editorial calendar.

Take the ideas you've generated, weed out the ones that just won't work, and assign the rest to your editorial calendar. Each day should have at least one article assigned to it. Later on, when you're a productivity machine (I guess that's kind of redundant) you can use these dates as deadlines for those articles to hit the web, but for now, they're going to be the days you work on the ideas.

The next step is to write every day. Or at least every work day. Take weekends off if you must, you lazy *******, but don't come crying to me when you're still only making $xxx,000 after the first five weeks!
(That's a joke, but writing every day isn't.)

Following your content calendar and writing every day will not only turn you into a much better writer, it'll also ensure that you plow through your list of ideas rather than just letting them stagnate. As you write each article, remember to mine your own words for even more ideas.

Following this process will keep you in ideas essentially infinitely, assuming you are an immortal being, which, for the purposes of this guide, I'm choosing to believe you are. So in the year 3015AD when you're sitting in your hover chair writing an article on the pound-shedding benefits of going into zero-G space for your weight-loss affiliate site, don't forget this post!

But to reiterate, what you should absolutely not be doing is copying anything. You're using the existing materials to help you come up with ideas, and then writing original content based on your own research. Do not plagiarize!

Cheers,
Ryan
#concocting #content #exercise #guided #ideas #stuck #subject #writers
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  • Profile picture of the author maninaction
    Thanks for sharing such detailed step by step process. Bookmarking for times I face the writer's block.
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    • Profile picture of the author rhealy29
      Originally Posted by maninaction View Post

      Thanks for sharing such detailed step by step process. Bookmarking for times I face the writer's block.
      Glad you found it helpful Maninaction. Cheers.
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  • Profile picture of the author writeaway
    Alternatively, you can REVERSE ENGINEER proven HOT content in your target niche by using social media signals.

    Create content that has a PROVEN track record of ACTUAL DEMAND

    "Massage in" SEO elements at that point
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    • Profile picture of the author DABK
      Figuring out what are the hot topics is not quite the same.

      Once you know what a hot topic is, how do you come up with several articles for it?

      You can do what the OP suggests.

      And hot content on social media doesn't always translate into content that can help you sell... It might just be scandalous.

      Originally Posted by writeaway View Post

      Alternatively, you can REVERSE ENGINEER proven HOT content in your target niche by using social media signals.

      Create content that has a PROVEN track record of ACTUAL DEMAND

      "Massage in" SEO elements at that point
      {{ DiscussionBoard.errors[11298256].message }}
  • Profile picture of the author Daniel1000
    You exposed a universal truth. If you're constantly having trouble writing it simply means you don't read enough.

    I have an eclectic taste when it comes to reading. I've read books about mystical arts, third, fourth, and fifth-dimensional beings, and even the Egyptian God Ra (it's a we not a he).

    I keep Microsoft word open and jot notes. If I'm not close to a computer then I write them down and add them later.

    Even when I'm writing, many of my subheadings end up turning into another article on their own.

    I just finished a post on conversion boosters. There are 20+ of them. While writing, I ended up jotting down ideas for about 10 more posts that I can write and link to from the original post.

    Will I write all of them?

    Probably not.

    But I know if I'm having trouble coming up with something "original" (what does that mean anyways. I digress) then I'll just check my idea folder, start a timer, and get to writing.

    Thanks for sharing this.
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