Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Ben Cook of BloggingExperiment.com.
“I think writer’s block is simply the dread that you are going to write something horrible. But as a writer, I believe that if you sit down at the keys long enough, sooner or later something will come out.” - Roy Blount Jr.
The most common problem faced by anyone trying to create something (including bloggers), no matter what their subject or level of experience, is lack of inspiration. Sure, some of us will suffer from it more often than others but there is no avoiding it. Sooner or later you’ll find yourself in a creative desert struggling to write something … anything that doesn’t come across dry and lifeless. For this reason, I’ve compiled this list of 5 Inspiration “Hacks” for bloggers and other creative types to help get you through the dry spell.
Blogging has been progressing more and more towards the magazine style of writing. This progression is really quite natural considering the skill sets needed to be successful in each venue. Both blogs and magazines need attention grabbing headlines, topics people care about, and content that will keep readers reading. A lot of bloggers think of magazines as “old school” media with nothing to offer, but magazine writers and editors have been honing their skills for years and are experts when it comes to grabbing and holding readers’ attention.
Copyblogger’s Brian Clark has written about pulling inspiration for posts from magazines and I couldn’t agree more. If you find yourself searching for ideas, stop banging your creative head into the proverbial wall, go to the store, and purchase a couple of magazines. While just about any magazine will do, I’d suggest buying at least one that you wouldn’t normally read. Creativity is about bringing a fresh or new perspective to a topic and if you’re struggling, you need get outside your usual set of influences. If you’re a sports guy, pick up a photography mag. If you’re an animal person, grab a copy of Car and Driver. If you’re a baby boomer, consider buying the magazine 17. Sure the content might not be something you’d enjoy but the point is to get your creative juices flowing and learn from the magazine’s style of writing. I mean, just look at all the post ideas Copyblogger pulled from a single issue of Cosmo!
Just like magazines and blog posts, movies need to be compelling and the best ones almost always center around a gripping story. Everyone’s tastes are different, but I’ve found films such as Rudy, The Pursuit of Happyness, or my personal favorite, Finding Forrester, to be incredibly helpful in helping me break through that creativity barrier. You may not like any of the movies I just listed but I’m willing to bet there’s a movie out there that somehow inspires you. Maybe it’s the story of a person overcoming all the odds, or perhaps its a movie that reminds you why you love the topic you blog about. Whatever the case, the point is it’s a movie that inspires you that is exactly what we’re after.
Here are a couple of practical notes for you if you decide to use movies as your source of inspiration. In the DVD age most movies include the trailers or previews that the studio put out to promote the movie you’re watching. These are basically the attention grabbing scenes and are the movie equivalent of a headline or title and I’ve found they can be very helpful. Also, once the inspiration for a post hits you, pause the movie and go write. Don’t wait until the movie is over, get writing right away. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had a great idea for a post half way through the movie, only to forget it by the time I sat down to write it after the movie ended.
Books are another great but affordable source of blogging inspiration. For example, I’ve recently picked up a copy of The Big Moo edited by Seth Godin with contributions from 33 people including Guy Kawasaki, Mark Cuban, and several other great business minds. The entries are very short and probably would all make great posts but the bigger point is that they inspire me. They stir up my vision of having a remarkable blog and immediately get me thinking about different ways to achieve that goal. The book Good to Great is another example. While reading it you can’t help but think about how you can transform whatever it is you’re doing right now into something great. The same goes to Steve Kaplan’s Be the Elephant. Granted my blog doesn’t exactly match the types of businesses he talks about, but the principles drive me to want to do something right now to improve my blog.
When it comes to blogging, that’s precisely the mindset you need to be in to generate creative and high quality posts. Countless people, including myself, have talked about the importance of having remarkable content but it’s a point that really can’t be emphasized enough. High quality content not only makes sure your readers will keep coming back, but it acts as natural link bait as well. Again, people’s tastes in literature are often quite different but as long as the book makes you want to get out of your chair and go DO something, it will serve it’s purpose. Remember, inspiration is the goal here, a good book is just a tool to help you get there.
Half of you probably scoffed just reading the word tabloid, but the truth is, that just like magazines, they can be a great source of inspiration. No, I’m not suggesting you write about how you were abducted by aliens or claim to have a three headed child. However, if every post on your blog had titles as captivating as the tabloids, you’d be well on your way to a very successful blog.
Think about it, how many times have you found yourself reading the cover page of the National Enquirer or something like that? Sure you know it’s a bunch of crap but you read it anyway don’t you? In blogging, half the battle is getting people to read your post, and a great headline will help you win that battle every time. Study the headlines in whatever version of the tabloids you happen to pick up and figure out what makes them appealing. Why do people read, or more importantly buy, these kinds of publications?
However, unless you’re hoping people equate your blog with tabloid journalism, make sure you also study aspects of the stories you should avoid. For example, what effect would it have on your blog if all your stories turned out to be lies? What would the repercussions be if your headlines were obviously unbelievable? And besides, now you’ll have an excuse to buy one the next time your at the super market… it’s research!
The last source of inspiration is one that you might not immediately think of in relation to blogging. However, anyone that’s ever stood in front of a beautiful painting or a breath-taking photograph or an amazing sculpture will tell you, it can truly be an inspirational experience. Once again, art is something that is incredibly subjective but for me personally, art inspires me in two very distinct manners. First and foremost, it illustrates just what is possible, given enough time and dedication to your craft. The images that people are able to create out with just a few tools is almost incomprehensible to me. The fact that people can create things like the the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or Monet’s Water Lilies from within themselves is incredible to me.
The other important aspect of art is that it gets the creative part of the mind working. Scientists have found that the right side of your brain is the area that controls creative functions like imagination, etc. They’ve also found that many activities involving art and music cause us to use that more creative side of our brain. If you’re struggling with blogger’s block and can’t seem to come up with any suitable ideas for a post, art might very well kick the right side of your brain into gear and allow you to be more creative in your thoughts and writings.
To be honest, you could probably gain these benefits by simple pulling up images online but it’s never a bad idea to step away from your desk every now and then. Most major cities have an art museum and even if you’re not in a major city, I guarantee there’s an art driven organization in your community. Research also suggests that certain types of music can have the same benefit to creativity so if nothing else, go buy a cup of coffee and listen to a live band. Better yet, buy a sketch book and give drawing a shot. Whatever method you choose, it won’t take long for that artistic inspiration to spill over into your blogging.
What other sources of inspiration do you use? Are there certain activities you’ve found that help you be more creative with your posts? Have you tried any of the ones I listed here? If so, I’d love to hear your experiences. Whether it’s to agree, disagree, or even share other movies or books you find particularly inspiring, please feel free to chime in with a comment below.
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