One of the most important and sometimes difficult things to do when building a blog is to find a steady flow of things to write about. My approach has evolved over the last year or so, and here’s how I do it now.
First, you have to figure out what you’re writing about and to whom you are writing. This is the broad, but not too broad part of my Steps for Good Blogging. It’s important, I think, to note that the content and focus of many blogs evolve over time. Newsome.Org was a very different place when I started blogging than it is today. Another good example of blog evolution is A Consuming Experience, which evolved into a must-read blog via a change in focus and content.
For purposes of this post, I’m going to assume you’re on your way to defining your focus, content and breadth and just talk about how to find ideas to write about.
The very fact that you have a blog online means that you intend for someone to read it. Maybe the world, maybe Scoble or maybe just your family. Regardless, that means you have to write about something your intended audience (whoever that may be) is interested in. This is part of the stuff I talked at Stowe Boyd about the other day. I say at because we never quite made it to Stowe’s Rule 2, though we did sort of demonstrate my corollary to his Rule 2.
So the trick to finding something good to write about is a three step process:
1) Find something that interests you;
2) Which is relevant to the focus of your blog; and
3) Which would be interesting to your target audience.
Of course you also have to have something to add and add it in a compelling way, but that’s a topic for another day. This is just about finding topics.
I mine for topics in 5 major ways, and here they are:
These are the best posts as well as the hardest to do well. An original idea post is more likely to be one of Stowe’s big ideas (see I am still talking to the back of his head, but that’s OK), which I call the 10/90 Post (since I believe 10% of your posts will get you 90% of your links).
Other original content, while less likely to be a 10/90 Post, is easier to come up with. For example, you could do a series, like I am doing with Scoblefeeds and Web 2.0 Wars. You can do a bunch of installments of your series at a time and save drafts to publish later when you don’t have a fresh idea. For example, I have 11 draft posts right now that I can pull up and post if I get busy or temporarily uninspired.
But original ideas, especially the non-series, big idea kind, are hard to do, and you can’t try one every day because if you try too much and fail, readers will lose interest.
Joining the Discussion
As I have said before, the first place I read every morning is Memeorandum, followed by some of the other meme trackers, including now, the Newsome.Org Megite page (whose slogan ought to be “All Doc all the Time,” but that’s not such a bad thing). My Megite page pulls related content from blogs not in my blogroll, which is a good way to find new voices.
If I see something on one of these pages that I have thought about a little, sometimes I’ll add my two cents in a post. I have a couple of informal rules about this. First, if I don’t have anything meaningful to add, I’ll take a pass. I respect my presence on the meme tracker pages and don’t want to clutter them up with posts by me that say only “I agree” or “that’s nuts,” etc. Second, if there are already discussion links I read them and, if possible, address some of them too. Meme tracker pages are supposed to be about clustered conversation, not one big post and a bunch of immediate “me too’s.” A lot of people don’t do this, and I think that makes the topic pods less interesting than they would otherwise be.
Once I read Memeorandum and a few others, I generally have at least one idea on my mental list for something to write about that day.
My RSS Feeds
The next thing I do is read my RSS feeds. I almost always find something interesting via reading my RSS feeds. Often, I will add my thoughts via a comment on another blog, but sometimes I add a post here with a link to the other blog.
I generally get an idea or two for my mental topic list via my RSS feeds.
Reading My My Yahoo Page
I have defended the good old portal site several times here, and I still use My Yahoo every day. The recent changes to the interface make it even easier to add all kinds of content to your page, including via RSS feeds. I don’t use My Yahoo for blog feeds, however, I use it for news feeds (meaning feeds from the AP, Reuters, MSNBC, some newspapers and a bunch of tech-related publications). Because I only want headlines, I configure my page to show just the headlines, but you can configure it to show a blurb from the article, if that’s your preference. You can also add podcasts that can be streamed directly from your My Yahoo page.
As I’ve said before, My Yahoo is my de facto newspaper, and I find a lot of good stuff to write about there. For example, that’s where I found the Amazon story I wrote about yesterday.
Another way I find things to write about are via emails from readers and other bloggers. Let me assure you of one thing I learned from my prior gigs as a column writer for a newspaper: writers are always looking for something to write about. I don’t care if you’re the blogger writing your first post, Darren Rowse or Marc Canter, there are times when you wish you had something new to write about.
Emails used wisely can and will result in coverage.
I don’t get as many emails as I’d like from new bloggers telling me about a story they have written, but I welcome them when I get them. The chances of me using suggested stories has only increased with my Second Opinion series, which I hope some other bloggers will also adopt.
Picking the right topics is a big step in the climb up bloggers hill. Everyone struggles with writer’s block from time to time, and sometimes it’s better just to write nothing for a while. But if you set up a system to mine for ideas and topics, you’ll have a better chance of coming up with good things to write about.