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Overcoming Blogger’s Block

November 18, 2009 

The best way to sustain visibility, name recognition and search-engine love in our information-saturated world is to write a lot, particularly on a blog, which is a magnet for search engines.

But writing is hard for most people. Just coming up with a topic to write about and something new to say is often the biggest struggle.

I’ve learned a few tricks about how to overcome Web 2.0 writer’s block that I thought I’d share with you over the next couple of issues. I also hope you’ll come to the blog version of this article and add your own. We’ll start at the beginning.

Choose a Topic.The first step is to write about things that inspire you and about which you have strong opinions. If the subject doesn’t move you, it’s hard to get motivated and create ideas.

Use Feeds. All blogs and most news sites support RSS feeds. In some cases, the feed delivers the entire content of the site. In other cases, they’re organized by topic. You assemble feeds in RSS reader.

RSS readers are basically mini newspapers you create out of information streams from online sources. I use Google Reader to set up topical feeds from bloggers and publishers I like who cover these topics. Here’s an example of one I set up about journalism and news. It’s usually a two-click process to add a feed to Google Reader, and another couple of steps to organize the feed into a folder. You can even republish the collection of feeds as a single feed of its own.

Topical feeds inspire great ideas. You can easily see if a topic is trending by the amount of attention it’s getting. Feed collections also give you a quick idea of whether a topic is controversial, since you can easily see if a lot of people are writing about it.

Tweet and be Tweeted. I’ll admit to not being very good at jotting down ideas when I have them. My teachers always told me to carry around a notebook for this purpose, but I’d either forgot the notebook, the pen or both.

Twitter has helped me surmount this disability. Now when I see something interesting, or have an idea, I tweet it. I can then go through my own tweet stream later and look for ideas that have since slipped my mind.

Twitter is also an endless source of ideas. If you carefully manage the list of people you follow, the stream of tweets is a great source of inspiration. With the new Twitter Lists feature, I can now read tweets from people who share interests or affiliations. It’s like the topical RSS feeds described above, only shorter and less predictable.

Bookmark. When you see an interesting article or video, bookmark it and write a comment. Services like Delicious, Reddit and Clipmarks make this easy. My personal favorite is Diigo, because it allows me to highlight and annotate the items I bookmark. Here’s my personal list of the most interesting articles I’ve bookmarked recently. Choose a tag you’ll remember, like “ideas.”

Listen to Your Audience. Conferences, meetings and consulting work are good sources of material because they tap into what’s on people’s minds right now. Find an article that interests you and look at the comments to see what questions people are asking. Maybe you can be the one to answer them.

Refresh old material. If you’ve been writing for more than a year, chances are there’s some material in your archives that could use a fresh look. Revisit an old prediction and see if it came true. Or discuss new ideas on an old subject. Be sure to link to the original article to drive a little more traffic to it.

I’ll continue with more ideas next week. Also, as I was writing this piece, I came upon an article by Steve Aitchison on the very same topic. He suggests 100 ways to generate ideas, and many of his suggestions are very good.   What are you tips for overcoming blogger’s block? Share them here.

Hear from the Word of Mouth Supergeniuses!

Andy Sernovitz is arguably the father of word-of-mouth marketing. He founded the association that goes by that name, authored a book on the topic and runs a lively and entertaining blog. I was delighted to be asked by Andy to participate in his new “Word-Of-Mouth Supergenius” one-day conference in Chicago on Dec. 16. Only Andy Sernovitz would come up with a title like that! It actually looks like a great program, with lots of small group interaction and several brands that have had notable social media success. Register here and use the discount code “Paulismyhero” (another Andy original!) to get a $101 discount.

Tip of the Week: Twitter Times

One of the reasons the newspaper industry is in disarray is because people are turning to their friends for the advice they used to get from professional editors. Twitter Times takes this trend to the logical next step. Enter your Twitter account credentials, and Twitter Times generates a customized newspaper based upon the articles your friends are talking about. You can then share your newspaper with others. It’s a simple idea that delivers a strikingly good product. If you’re easily overwhelmed by the volume of tweets that course through your reader, this site makes sense of them all.

Just For Fun: Maybe Google’s Not So Smart After All

We’ve all thought Google may just be the Second Coming of the Internet Genius Companies for many years now. It not only brought the word algorithm back into our vernacular, it’s also done things for our lives we never knew we needed. But it is, at its core, a search engine. That search engine is what we’re here to talk to you about today, folks. It’s boring, we know. It doesn’t stand up to the sexy Google Voice or even Gmail. But maybe we can bring back the search engine, just for one day, and make it cool again.   Go to Google and start typing a question. See what the Genius Google, in its near-infinite wisdom, thinks you’re asking when it provides all those “helpful” suggestions. Type in “Is there any” (sans quotation marks) and see what Google suggests you really mean. (Okay, so we stole that from TheNextWeb.com.) Let’s get creative… Type in “why will” or “how come” or even “why is it that” and see what you come up with. Let us know if you enter a question to which Google offers some more really bizarre suggestions. We’ll publish your results in a future Just For Fun.

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