You Ran Out of Ideas for Your Boring Subject Matter. Now What?
As a content writer, I’m charged with writing rich long-form content for any client we take on. This means a typical workday could leave me writing about portable toilets, gun ranges, mange and, well, writing. I used to think myself somewhat of a well-rounded woman; mildly knowledgeable on many topics. Most of the know-how in my brain revolved around early episodes of Roseanne and sapping, but that’s neither here nor there. Content writing, however, has exposed me to more tidbits of knowledge during my research than I care to admit. Or do I? Ask me about siding options for your home. Go ahead, I dare ya.
What happens as a content writer, though, when there are seemingly no more words to describe one of the more mundane topics you’ve been tasked? You’ve flexed your writing muscles ‘til the sleeves burst off your beefcake of a creative brain and still you’re left with a blinking cursor and a quarter-full Microsoft Word document. You scramble through dictionaries and thumb through a thesaurus with the hopes that some word related to your topic will ignite a veritable grenade of copy ideas, yet you’re left with an empty tank. Do you wave the white flag? No. Never. How dare you even….the nerve!
Battle Writer’s Block and Conquer
When I stretch my brain thin and thoughts like, “There are actually no more words in the English language I could use to describe Boring Topic X,” I take a break. I regroup. Me and my ideas get in a huddle, sort of like sports ball teams, and we amp each other up and slap butts and grunt and things like that. Er, at least this is what’s happening in my head. I lurch my cramped fingers back to my idle keyboard and persist—as you should, too. And here is how.
1. Keyword Search Tools
A good way to get the ball rolling again is the use of keyword research tools. As a content writer, one of your main goals is to boost website rankings on search engines. In order to do this, you should be keenly aware of the keywords you want to rank for so your clients can see more conversions. You may feel, though, that sometimes those keywords don’t give you much to work with. It could seem like you’ve been given the task of sculpting Michelangelo’s David with half a tub of formless Gak.
Keyword search tools, however, are the flint to your steel. Use them.
For instance, one tool I like to use is AnswerthePublic.com. You may be put off by the looping video of a bearded guy picking his teeth, but trust me, you’ll want to check it out. When my idea bin is running low, I go here. I type in whatever topic I might be writing about in the day, pick my country, and submit it. Within seconds I’m met with questions, prepositions and an alphabet of gravel-related questions or topics. Now while not everything that pops up is in my ballpark, some of it is. For example, if I type in gravel (because I need to write 2,500 words about gravel, OK) I get met with topics about gravel in fire pits, gravel ruining tires, where gravel comes from, gravel vacuums, and gravel as a new drug. These are varying positions to take on gravel and they can all present gravel in a new light to me, which is refreshing and could help me keep on writing.
Other tools include BuzzSumo, Google’s Keyword Planner and Ahrefs’ Content Explorer. Essentially these tools can nudge your mind in the right direction, sort of like nudging a stubborn horse back to the barn.
2. Content Calendar
Content calendars are our jam. If you’re a super organized writer, you understand the importance of this tool and reach for it in your toolbox every chance you get. By coherently laying out what you need to write by when gives you clear direction for the course of your content. Not super organized? Don’t have a content calendar? Let’s talk about it, eh?
I typically make a 3- or 6-month calendar when starting work with a new client. Since no two of my clients are in the same industry, each content calendar has a different take. Things to take into account when first creating your content calendar:
– Client’s Budget
– Triage Topics
– Content Variety for Target Demographics
The client’s budget will dictate how much time you can spend writing great copy for them in a given time period. For example, if you’re only allotted three hours each month to write content, you may only need to brainstorm one topic to write about for each month on your calendar. If your client’s budget allows for more content writing, then you should plan out two, three, four standard blog/article posts each month (assuming they’re of a standard 1,000–2,000-word length), or one or two longer content hubs.
Your calendar should also be centered around triaging your client’s needs. If your client’s website, for example, has a home page with 16 words of gibberish on it, you should focus your content writing efforts there before writing quality supplementary blog posts. Make sure your client’s content foundation is firmly in place before building on top if it or the whole thing could come tumbling down.
Finally, consider the variety of the content you’re providing. While adding copy that complements the core landing or service pages of your client’s website, think about the demographic you want your content to hit. What eyeballs are gonna be cruising over this? Young ones? Old ones? Married eyes or single eyes? If your target audience sways younger, maybe mix in more visual content: Craft infographics (Canva and Piktochart and great tools for the design-inept writers), write top 10 lists, create visual how-to guides or think about writing easily consumable e-books. Easily shareable content could also include short videos related to your topic. Write intriguing, succinct and comprehensive scripts to discuss your topic in a video that has casual or professional feel depending on your audience. The variety of performances your content could have is limitless—it’s up to you to open up the cornucopia of possibilities. If you’re out of words to describe your Boring Topic X, try a different medium as vessel to bring your topic to the web.
Good ol’ fashioned brainstorming. A classic staple in every creative writing class I ever took ever, try simple pencil-in-hand stream of consciousness brainstorming about your idea. Write down any word or topic that is even loosely related to your core topic. If you’re sick of writing about gravel, for instance your mind could lead you along a different road:
GRAVEL > ROCKS > QUARRIES > BIG HOLES
There! Stop. I’ll write about quarries. What’s more, I’ll write about the biggest quarry, where it is, how old it is, and how gravel came to be. Informed and researched content like this is interesting and informational. It’s shareable and, when well-written, is good bait for potential backlinking opportunities. An informational and credible article about gravel will also bolster my client’s authority within search engines—all thanks to a little brainstorming.
This may seem tedious to those writers who have an idea and want to just run with it all Virginia Woolf-style, but trust me, an outline can help when you get backed up behind the dull category dam. Write each post or article as if it were a story. Have the standards, ya know? Introduction to your topic, body copy, and conclusion that ties nicely to your intro and should include some sort of call-to-action. Don’t start or end your topic abruptly as that leaves room for the reader to start and end with confusion.
Outlines also allow you, master writer, to pick up where you left off. It isn’t often I don’t get interrupted in the middle of writing. When I get back from an unexpected meeting or putting out some fire, I’m thankful I can find where my mind was going when I left. What’s more is that at the end of writing an article, I can find where it may be a little lackluster. Does my intro seem a little weak? Yes. I can go back and beef it up a bit with more intriguing content. Could there be a paragraph about how gravel is crushed between the paragraphs about “quarries” and “gravel roads”? Yes. Just like a content calendar keeps your topics organized, an outline keeps your writing organized. And more organization can be better than total madness when writing about especially tough topics.
5. Reddit, Facebook, Buzzfeed, Internet Wormholes, etc.
Sometimes you write all day and your mind simply gets tired. Much like a taste-tester or chef can endure tasting fatigue, a writer’s mind can wear out and become a useless mumble of janky vocabulary words (I tend to think of my brain as the horse in True Grit that literally runs itself to death and then needs to be put down). To avoid this fatigue, take a mental break. Don’t think for a few minutes and simply clear your thought cache. Great resources for mindlessness include the aforementioned social sites. Don’t get into anything too heavy, because that will undoubtedly cause you to think too much. For times like these, check into your favorite cat video channel to refresh for a few minutes. You’ll be shocked how much you’ll be able to jump into the thick of your content creation after taking a brain breather.
Get Over Your Writer’s Block like a Beast
When you get stuck behind the tough hump of an uphill writing battle, use these tips to help get through it. There are an infinite number of useful writing resources on the internet. Find the keyword or idea generators that could help spark ideas for you. Everyone has their own writing style, so there isn’t one right answer for how you can get through even the most vanilla of topics. Hopefully, though, a few of my personal tried-and-true methods can cure your blues.
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