Blogging is a legitimate descendant of journalism. In some cases, you are chronicling the events and trends of your world for your readers, and, in others, adding your opinions. In other instances, you are offering advice and a place to share opinions, insights, and help.
The major difference between you and the observers of past decades is your potentially global audience. How disheartening, then, to encounter the same challenge that journalists, commentators, and advice columnists have always risked — a blank screen and an empty fund of ideas! Here are some ways to prompt creativity. You would not be blogging if you did not have ideas — the trick is to unlock them when you need them!
What did your elementary school teach you about the five basic questions in factual writing? You were supposed to answer the question words: Who, what, where, when, why, and how? Let’s see how we can use these prompts to generate new material.
Who has discussed your blog topic?
Has it been in the news, whether mainstream, specialized, or scholarly? Especially if displayed below the fold, you will do your readers a favor by sharing this.
Find an article of interest to answer, attack, defend, or analyze. What are the bona fides of the author or authors? What are the implications of it being discussed by this particular person? While this approach might be most obvious in the case of politics, law, or celebrity misbehavior, you could find an article relevant to almost any topic these days.
What’s happening in your subject area?
Has there been a policy change, law, regulation, product introduction, or recent discovery, which would affect your readers? Read the trade press, do a web search on the big players in your topic area, sign up for an automatic news feed on relevant keywords if you have not already done so. “Osteoporosis,” for example, will generate an astonishing volume of daily stories — not all useful, but they could provide fodder for commentary.
Is there something in process, perhaps revealed by a press release that would suggest something new on the horizon? Read between the lines. What political action or business maneuver is implied? Even if it is just the introduction of a new formulation for a product you discuss in your blog, this is legitimate material.
Where else is your blog topic discussed?
What is the response of folks in other parts of your country or elsewhere in the world to your blog topic? There are plenty of ways to access foreign media. You can select Advanced Search and modify the language filter on Google.
Sometimes just looking at the second and third pages of a regular search will show items in other languages. Use Google Translate to get a rough sense of what is being said and share that with your readers.
Is there something useful and constructive that your readers could learn from people who live far away? As an alternative or in addition to reporting what the rest of the world thinks, you can analyze and compare their approaches with your more local ones.
Seeing how others accomplish things, whether national governance or pizza making, can be very instructive. Most Americans, for example, would not use tomato ketchup to construct the pizza, as is sometimes done in Germany, nor think of corn as a pizza topping, as is sometimes offered in the UK.
What happened at other times? (When)
What was going on relevant to your area of interest in the past decade or past generation? This could be your own recollections of the subject, or the result of doing some oral history with your family or neighbors. It could also be based on some research of the literature.
What might we expect in the future? This could be speculative or based on published materials. Take the current situation and consider how it might evolve. This is a thought experiment, not mysticism. It uses what you know about the past and the present, and your understanding of human behavior, to generate a reasonable prediction of the future.
For example, if population growth continues as it is doing so now, what is life going to be like several decades from now? Big name science fiction authors and moviemakers, scientists and policy wonks think about big issues like overall food availability. You can focus on something a bit more detailed – your blog topic – in this future state of things.
How do things work or not work?
How can your readers solve problems? There is always something going wrong with something, whether it is the downsizing of packaging which messes up recipes, or the cuts to school funding which threaten our kids’ education.
Readers appreciate instructions in ways to resolve everything from failed frosting to contacting their legislators to replacing batteries in specialized equipment. You can make their lives easier and increase their effectiveness by sharing solutions.
If that is what you already do in your blog, take it to a new level. If you routinely advise readers on how to solve computer problems, try advising them on how to keep the computer from developing the problem in the first place, for example.
How do seemingly mysterious processes around us unfold? This could include everything from sausage making to elections, from the manufacturing of marshmallow fluff to the process of generating a state budget, from the way that the brain responds to mindfulness exercises to the way a baby develops nipple confusion when presented with a bottle at too young an age. Research the way things function and share this with your readers!
You have all the makings of a great blog post within you. Just let it come out.
(Photo Credit: John O’Nolan)
Great post David!
Going back to basics is an efficient way to unlock your creative juices.
Sharing your knowledge in this format is a solid structure to get the word out about your niche or product.