Not sure what to write about? Get out of your own head and look around for inspiration. Here are my seven favorite sources of ideas.
1. Look at Current Headlines. Peruse the covers of magazines and look at the titles. Can you adjust a few words and come up with a title for an article for your publications? This is easier to do with printed magazines than online, so take a walk to your local news stand or grocery store.
Take the current cover of Vogue. We see "The Dream Life of Penelope Cruz" and "Fish Out of Water: Jon-Jon Goulian." Could you write about the dream life of one of your clients? How are some of the people you work with (someone on your staff, a volunteer, etc.) like a fish out of water? Use headlines to help you uncover stories that are already around you, but you just can't see them for what they are.
2. Look at the Calendar and Holidays. Every month of the year includes holidays -- real and creatively imagined by various organizations to highlight issues and causes. I've noted a handful for each month here, and am delivering an email once a month to subscribers on our free Monthly Nonprofit Writing Prompts list.
3. Pick the Format First. There are several tried-and-true article formats that readers generally love. When I'm struggling for ideas, I'll often decide, "OK, I'm going to write a Top Ten list. Or I'm going to write a how-to article with five steps." That gives me just enough structure to get started.
Here are my top five favorite formats:
- How-to Article
- List (e.g. Top Ten)
- Fact Versus Fiction (or True or False)
- Advice (usually in response to a question)
- Roundup (group several smaller items together under a common theme)
4. Fill in the Headline. Like picking the format first, this gives you a push in the right direction. Copyblogger offers several fill in the blank headlines. These are some of my favorites for nonprofits:
- The Secret of [blank]
- Get Rid of [problem] Once and For All
- [Do something] like [world-class example]
- Have a [or] Build a [blank] You Can Be Proud Of
- The Lazy [blank’s] Way to [blank]
- Do You Recognize the [number] Early Warning Signs of [blank]?
- You Don’t Have to Be [something challenging] to be [desired result].
5. Start with a Metaphor. Granted, this approach usually requires a little time for brainstorming, but the results can be very powerful. Pick a topic, and see how you can use it to describe your work. From that, story ideas will flow. For example, how is your work like gardening? Or travel? Or parenting? Download my free e-book, 25 Metaphors Nonprofits Can Use to Get Their Messages Across for many more metaphor ideas and tips on how to use them in your writing.
6. Survey Your Readers. This won't work for writer's block you need to solve today, but it's the best solution long-term. Go to the people you are trying to serve with your writing and ask them what problems they are facing, what issues they are interested in, what surprised them recently about your work, etc. Get a better understanding of the information needs and interests of your readers, and deliver matching content.
7. Ask a Question on Facebook. If you don't have time for a survey, but still have 48 hours before you really need the idea, throw it out to your supporters on your Facebook page (Twitter works too). Ask what questions fans have about a topic, what they want to learn more about, or poll them to narrow down a list of ideas you already have.
We'll talk more about beating writer's block during Wednesday's webinar, Creating Awesome Content: Ideas for Nonprofit Writers, on May 25, 2011. This article first appeared in Kivi's weekly Nonprofit Marketing Tips newsletter on May 25, 2011.