I am asked from time to time where I get my ideas. It is a VERY broad question and one which is a life long answer. But to narrow the scope a little, to something like ‘from whence do your blog ideas arise,’ and it is a more readily answerable question. It is also a rhetorical question when asked by a person sitting down to writing a blog article.
Musing the topic, three ideas immediately spring to mind, which is a suitable number for the 100 Days challenge. Keeping it short and sweet also gives me a base on which to forge a more in-depth ‘how to’ guide in the future.
1. Build on the current literature
I once came across a statistic, that more data is produced in a single year, e.g. 2019, than was produced in the 5,000 years which preceded it. While I find this a little hard to believe, it also has a ring of truth about it. As such, there is, no matter what you are interested in writing about, a massive body of existing literature from which to draw and to which you can add your voice.
In a sense this is a problem in and of itself, because with so much content how can you add something original? The key is to read widely and not assume you are the first person to spot the trend or ponder the pondering. This will not only give you an idea of what is out there and enhance your knowledge, it should also present some gaps in the literature. For example, yesterday I wrote an article about the Westinghouse Electiric time capsule. The article was prompted by a piece from the prolific Maria Popova who wrote about Einstein’s contribution to the capsule on her treasure trove of a blog in 2016.
Though Maria had eloquently dealt with Einestein’s contribution, I thought there was a gap in the literature in providing a little context to Albert’s words by comparing and contrasting his message with the two other contributors to the capsule. A bit of reading, a few key strokes later and another article was in the archive.
2. Identify the trend, and then buck it!
Too often articles on how to come up with ideas will tell you to identify the trends and then write about what interests people. This is certainly one approach, but unless you have a unique insight to share. For example, travelled with the 1990’s Chicago Bulls team and have some memories to share which were missed by ‘The Last Dance‘ documentary taking Netflix screens by storm. If not, likely your work will become more grist for the mill. In other words, simply writing to the trends is likely doing more to buff someone else’s social media traction or build their blog’s following than helping you along the road to developing a readership base of your own.
But to take the road less travelled, you create an opportunity to provide your readers with something new in their media soaked lives. This provides a point of difference and provides value to your readers, who are likely suffering from mental indigestion.
3. Read it, tag it, retrieve it
As a researcher, I very much live or fail by my ability to retrieve my sources. To write is to cite. To write and neglect to cite, is to plagiarise.
After more than a decade in the publishing industry, this notion was rammed home further, because to fail to cite in the world of professional publishing is often to be in breach of copyright. For which there can be serious legal and financial repercussions. But all is not doom and gloom. In fact, it can be the salvation of the content starved.
A paper based approach is a winner for many and, if not use to data management, can be a far less daunting start. However, as time goes by, unless you are conscientious enough to build your own Dewey classification system, it is a method sure to see many things lost or forgotten. Instead, leverage computers for what they do best, the mass storing, cataloguing and retrieval of data.
A good note taking app will allow you to tag content for categorisation as you go and ease later retrieval. Though the privacy conscious will recommend against it, Evernote is a great choice as it is exceptionally feature rich, comes with convenient web-clipper functionality and can help those new to filing their notes to quickly master the art. For those looking for a more secure option, then I can recommend Standard Notes. But for all its privacy, it lacks much of Evernote’s functionality. If you don’t have any sensitive projects you need to keep securely under wraps until publication day, you might find Evernote a more user-friendly option.
But to really take indexing to the next level, there is Zotero. I use it for all my major research projects. In addition, it comes with a handy add-on that automatically senses research on the internet and allows you to capture and tag the pages in your catalogue for later reference.
But whatever tools you use, the main points to keep in mind are:
- Have a method to capture things you find most interesting in the articles and books your read.
- Be able to retrieve these thought bubbles later when you are ready to write your next article.
- As your research methodology improves, you will find your writing flow will also step up a gear.
One of those wonderful positive spirals in this life.
Good night and good luck.
Writing in Russian cyrillic script with a fountain pen by Petar Milošević is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.