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How to Always Have a Writing Topic Ready

Nov 8, 2017
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For the past several years bloggers around the world participated in the Write 31 Days challenge. I learned of this challenge in 2015 but joined for the first time this year (2017). It may seem daunting to produce one excellent blog post a week, but I encourage you to hang with me for a few minutes as I explain how I was able to complete the Write 31 Days challenge without losing my mind or my love of writing.

If you’ve been blogging for any amount of time you’ve encountered writer’s block. It can be frustrating or stressful when you are facing a deadline without a subject to develop, but there are a few tricks you can use to make sure you always have a writing topic ready. On her podcast Writing Coach, Ann Kroeker discusses The Writing Pipeline. This is her process of moving an idea for a blog post or article through steps from idea to draft, to a published document.

The best part about a writing pipeline is that you can customize it to your individual writing needs and goals. Although my process doesn’t look precisely like Ann’s, I too have found that an organizational method for writing is the key to always having a topic ready.

My Writing Pipeline

Prep Work

I write for three distinctly different blogs each month in addition to freelancing. Because of that, I gather as many content ideas as I can without concern. The common phrase readers make the best writers is true, but inspiration is everywhere.

My favorite sources of inspiration are:

  • Books
  • Blog posts
  • Articles
  • Podcasts
  • Sermons
  • Discussions with friends
  • People watching
  • Songs

This might seem like an extensive list, but remember I’m writing for a large variety of subjects. If you are looking to narrow your research down further, I suggest you begin by developing your reader persona and focusing on developing content that complements the document.

With all of these sources, it could be easy to lose ideas, which is why it’s important to find an organizational system that works for you. Some people will choose to organize their content in Evernote or Pocket (Ann features this app in her podcast) or to bullet journal ideas in written form.

The central hub for my content is Scrivener. I’ll explain why in another blog post (see how easy that was?) For now, just know that eventually, all the material I hope to use someday ends up in Scrivener.

Since my hub is a desktop program, I use Google Keep on my phone to track ideas as inspiration strikes. If you haven’t explored Google Keep you should do so immediately. This is my all-time favorite app, read the Google Play summary here.

For extended notes, like when I’m listening to a sermon, I use Memo. For articles read online, I utilized the “save link” feature for Facebook. Many people use Pocket for this, but I don’t like Pocket. It may seem that I have content spread out all over the place, but since Google Keep syncs to my Google drive, I can access everything from my laptop or phone when it is time to sort.

Sorting the Content

Sorting is the step that makes my process work. Once a month, or sometimes more often, I carve out time to pull all of the content that I bookmarked. I weed through that which no longer seems relevant versus that which I think I will eventually use. This material is then pulled into Scrivener and sorted. I can search by keyword in Scrivener, so I don’t have to stress about cross-filing.

While I’m filing, I write a blog post for my blog featuring the content from the month that I loved most. An article, podcast, blog post or sermon are all highlighted in the same post. It’s my monthly shout out to all of the fantastic work that is out there, and it also holds me accountable to sort through my content.

Here’s a simple example of what my filing categories in Scrivener look like:

pipeline.jpg

Content Ideas/First Drafts

When it’s time to write I pull up Scrivener, and I pull the idea catches my attention. If I have a few posts due around the same time, I will pick a few ideas and start separate word documents for each subject.

Once an idea hits the word document phase, I’m committed. The piece may not be the one I turn in immediately, but I will work through it until a draft has formed. Anne Lamott is famous for encouraging a crappy first draft. And that is my only goal when information first moves to the Content Idea phase. 

Drafts

After I’ve gotten the first draft out of the way, I move on to writing. This phase may happen immediately after the Content Ideas phase, or it may occur the next day. The thing that works best for me is to have the word document open on my computer. I’ll think about the subject on and off until my designated writing time, or I feel ready to move forward. Since a large part of my work involves writing I have the luxury of carving out writing blocks where I complete articles due soon.

This focused time is most efficient when I am working off of first drafts or content ideas such as bullet point lists with research to support each point. In this phase, it’s common for three versions of the same blog post or article to develop. The document stays in draft mode until I feel it’s close to being finished. If time allows, I will then close the piece and leave it until the next day.

Ready to Edit

When I’m ready to edit my document, the first thing I do is read it through one more time. The distance I’ve had from leaving it alone overnight helps immensely in the editing process. I read it through once without Grammarly, and then I turn on Grammarly and go through the document until it is as good as it is going to get.

Sometimes I will have another set of eyes review the blog article before submitting it. It just depends on the context of why I’ve written it. Thankfully all of my content that goes out on blogs other than my own is reviewed by others before being published. No one is perfect, we all need editors!

Out for Review

Once a document is out for review, meaning I’ve sent it to my editor or the blog administrator where the content will appear once published, it sits in a folder specially designated to remind me what material I have floating around. When I hear back that it is ready to post, I then move the document to one of two folders.

Archived and/or Portfolio

I keep a copy of every blog post I’ve written. Everything published goes into a folder with notes as to when and where the article published. Some people choose to keep a spreadsheet with links to each piece. It is my eventual goal to do this, but I’m not there yet. Most of the content I freelance I won’t be able to track down and document in this manner so the spreadsheet would be an additional record.

The content I’m happiest with I keep in a portfolio folder. This is for quick access when someone asks for examples of my writing. Those pieces all have the web link to where they posted. This step is especially helpful if you hope to freelance because most places will ask for examples of your work when you apply.

Now that you have a little insight into how I gather and keep track of content ideas it will make more sense when I tell you how I was able to complete the Write 31 Days challenge for 2017 successfully. Although I learned of the challenge in 2015, I waited to participate until I had enough content research stored up to write all 31 posts confidently.

Not only was I able to increase my writing output for this short window, but I was able also to complete all assigned work that came in over the course of the month without losing my mind. If you find that you are struggling to find content ideas I encourage you to develop a writing pipeline. If we can help in any way send us a message!

Ideal Reader Persona

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Beth Walker

By Beth Walker

Beth Walker joined the SMA team in 2016. Her daily life currently includes cheering on her husband and sons from the sidelines of multiple athletic events as well as balancing work and writing on her blog Lessons from the Sidelines and contributing to The Glorious Table. She usually has a journal, pen, and a strong cup of coffee close.

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