This is a guest article from Ryan Imel of Theme Playground.
Sitting down in front of a blank screen, you type out a string of words followed by a period.
You backspace it all away.
Another, new string of words. Pause…
Lather, rinse, repeat. You get the idea. Why is it that at times writing comes easily, like a fire hose, but at other times it barely trickles out? Part of the reason may be that you’re losing all of your best ideas (read: best potential articles) in between those sit-downs at the computer.
One of my favorite speakers of all time, Rob Bell, spoke at a conference I attended last year specifically on preaching original thoughts and ideas (it’s kind of his thing, if you’re unfamiliar). Some of his thoughts on this topic, I think, are very useful.
“I try not to present anything that hasn’t been marinating for months and months of my life. Look at the next six months and plan ahead – you can always be spontaneous in the moment, and that’s okay. But what if (when you sat down to write) you literally had to choose: I don’t know which I’m going to do because a bunch of them are ready to go.”
Bell drops his thoughts and ideas into what he calls buckets, which are nothing more than Word files on his computer, so that he never loses anything which could potentially contribute to a solid lesson. These buckets, when they cross over to one another, he collects in what he calls chunks, at which point they start to develop into something stronger.
One of the reasons he does this is so he can accumulate wisdom on topics over time. If his thoughts weren’t down, either on paper (scary) or on his computer somewhere, he may not remember when he reads a related topic in a book or hears a story that applies. Without that way of connecting what he has thought before to what he is experiencing or thinking now, some of his best lessons might go out the window.
The same principles can apply to blogging. When you have ideas or see things which get you thinking, write them down. Catalog them in some way. Odds are within a few days of doing this you will see connections and trends you wouldn’t have caught before. This will lead to more quality content. Not to mention: consider the exceptional quality of a post that has been written over the course of weeks (even months)?
Something I’ve found myself doing since then, and since I began writing for the web, is starting up a lot of draft posts in WordPress. At any given time I can have anywhere from five to 15 posts either halfway completed or standing as headlines only. While it can be daunting to stare at a big list of posts waiting to be written, it can also make the process of beginning to write a bit easier when I hit creative roadblocks.
Beginning to write everything down
- Grab a writing tool that tracks changes. I use Writeboard, but there are others out there. Even Word can track changes if you want. Keep your ideas flowing, and keep working on them over time. See what happens.
- Make your process a fun one. Call them buckets and chunks or streams and rivers if you need to, but keep the fun level high so you can train yourself to come back to the process often.
- Don’t skip over silly ideas and stories. You never know what might come in handy later.
- Actively investigate the world around you. Be a journalist all the time. Ask questions and look for details. You might be surprised at how many ideas jump out at you.