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How to Nurture Your Creativity

This guest post is by Ali Luke, from The Creativity Toolbox.

How creative are you? A lot of bloggers feel that they’re not very creative people. Perhaps they come from a technical background. Perhaps they’ve never picked up a paintbrush in their life, and think that means they’re not creative. Perhaps they see creativity as something for other people.

The truth is, if you’re blogging—or even planning a blog—then you’re already much more creative than a lot of folks.
As a blogger, you’re not just creating content (though that’s the biggest area where you’ll be exercising your creative muscles).

Right from the start, you’re also creating:

  • the brand for your blog
  • your business plan and blogging strategy.

And if you’re bootstrapping your blog (almost all of us are, when we start out), you may well be creating:

  • your logo and site header
  • the look and feel of your blog (the fonts and colors you choose, for instance).

If you’re a little further along with blogging, you’ll be looking at creating extras like:

  • a regular email newsletter
  • ebooks
  • audio programs
  • physical books
  • membership content.

All that involves a lot of focused thinking, hard work, and a few sparks of inspiration.

Why creativity is so important for bloggers

When you visit a new blog, what encourages you to stick around? I’d guess it’s the quality of the content and the overall design.

If the posts are original and well-written, the blog looks good, and the topics fit together, then you’ll probably read on.

But if the posts comprise scrappy content, or long quotes from other people’s blogs, you’ll be gone within seconds. If the blog’s design looks like something from 1995, you probably won’t stay long. And if there’s no sense of cohesion—no plan or brand—then even if the content is good, you’ll probably not want to read yet another post about that cute thing the blogger’s cat did.

Your blog will succeed or fail on the strength of your creativity.

Blogs start to fail when bloggers:

  • get burnt out and carry on posting substandard content out of a sense of obligation
  • get tired and just post links to other people’s content
  • get bored and stop posting for weeks on end.

You don’t have to be wacky and weird in your creativity. It’s fine if your style is quite straight-laced, or casual and laid back, rather than humorous. You don’t have to have a complex metaphor or a really neat hook for every single post.

But you do need to create. Which means crafting your blog posts, not dashing them off. It takes energy, focus and dedication.

How to be creative—all the time

A lot of the folks I talk to seem a bit scared of creativity. They’re convinced that it’s something mystical or magical, like a bolt of lightning from the heavens.

The reality is that we’re all naturally creative. Not convinced? Think about your dreams: we’re all capable of making up wonderful stories and vivid pictures in our minds.

It’s important, though, to nurture your creativity—especially as you go further and further with your blogging. You might well feel hugely excited and motivated when you’re getting started with your blog, only to gradually lose that sense of inspiration and run out of steam. There’s nothing wrong with you—you just haven’t been focused on keeping your creativity bubbling away.

Write on topics you care about

This is crucial for me, and for many of the bloggers I talk to. You’ll find it tough to write consistently on a topic which bores you.

Sure, celebrity blogs might be big business. But if you couldn’t care less who’s sleeping with whom, then you’re better off writing about something else. Comic books, fine art, food, personal finance—whatever interests you.

If you’ve got a blog on a topic in which you’ve lost interest, see if you can find a particular angle that gives you a way back in. Maybe you’re fed up with writing about the technical specifications of the latest gadgets, but you could easily create a series on the innovative use of technology in the developing world.

Keeping learning more

Whenever I go to a conference, like BlogWorld, I come back with a bunch of ideas. There’s something invigorating about learning new things—and it often gets me back into a creative mood if I’ve been in a bit of a rut.

Of course, you don’t need to go to conferences to learn (though if you can make it to South by South West or BlogWorld, they’re well worth the investment). There’s a huge amount of learning material available for bloggers, including:

I’d suggest setting aside one hour, twice a week, just for learning. That might mean listening to an audio program, reading a section of an ebook, or browsing through blog archives. Use a notebook or blank document on your computer to jot down your thoughts.

Write down all your ideas

Ever had a great idea when you were out walking, on the bus, or watching TV?

Often, ideas don’t crop up when you’re at your computer. They’re sparked off by something which you see or do, and they pop into your head at the oddest moments.

It’s so easy for those ideas to slip away, or to end up half-remembered. If you’ve got a notebook in your bag, you can just scribble them down—you may even find yourself outlining a whole blog post or an entirely new strategy.

In fact, any time that you’re fleshing out an idea, try writing it down. It’s often easier to think things through when you start to put them into a physical form, rather than trying to hold everything in your head.

Don’t force yourself to create

Some days, you don’t want to sit down at the computer and write. But you drag yourself there anyway. You open up a document and stare at it for a bit. You resist the urge to check email, or play on Twitter.

You make yourself write.

You think you’re doing the right thing—after all, isn’t this what all the productivity experts would advise?
So after a couple of miserable hours, when you’ve finally managed a half-hearted post, you shove it onto your blog and go and do something fun.

You don’t get as many comments as usual. You don’t get retweets or links. And the next day, you feel even more fed up. But you sit down to write anyway…

I’m hoping you can see why this is a mistake. Creativity isn’t something you can force. Sure, you can probably apply a bit of self-discipline when you need to get the dishes done or clear your emails—but writing blog posts takes energy, and a certain amount of enthusiasm.

A number of the bloggers I talked to at BlogWorld said that they’d rather not write a post at all if they’re really not inspired—and I agree with them.

Don’t force yourself to create. Give yourself a regular time and place to write, but if you’re really not in the mood, take a break and do something else instead.

When you need inspiration

Sometimes, you’re keen to write, but you’re just not sure where to start. You want to write a blog post, or come up with an ebook outline, or get a brilliant headline for your latest piece—but that creative spark needs lighting first.

Here are four easy ways to find that inspiration.

Start with an image

If you use images for your posts, you probably write the post first and choose the image afterwards, right?

When you’re stuck, head over to Flickr, looking for a great image, then write the post to go with it.

As soon as you start looking at an image, your brain will begin to make connections and see possibilities. The picture you choose doesn’t have to have any obvious relationship to your blog’s niche—in fact, a seemingly-unconnected image will usually work best for sparking your creativity.

Brainstorm on paper

Staring at a blank Word document or the text box in WordPress?

Grab a piece of paper and a pen, and start jotting down ideas. If you’ve no clue where to begin, write down your blog’s name or topic in the center, or use your list of categories.

Don’t judge your ideas at this stage—write them all down, however unoriginal or boring they might seem. You’ll find that the ideas start flowing after a few minutes, and often a weak idea can lead to a great one.

Read news articles in your area

This works better for some niches than others, but often a news report can bring you a new idea. If you’re writing about health and fitness, you might look into some of the latest scientific research. If you cover techy topics, there’ll always be something new to write about.

Even evergreen content can be inspired by a news article. A report on average happiness levels, for instance, could lead to a thoughtful post on why we’re less happy today than in the past—despite generally having a better quality of life than people living 50 years ago.

Do something else entirely

When you’re waiting for an idea to develop, try getting away from your computer. Go for a walk, take a shower, tidy your office—anything that doesn’t require much mental effort. The thoughts you’ve been playing around with will continue to develop, and you’ll often find that a great idea comes effortlessly into your mind.

Just don’t forget your notebook so you can write it down…

What could you do, today, to bring the best of your creativity to your blogging?

Along with Thursday Bram, Ali Luke created The Creativity Toolbox—a set of three action-focused guides and seven powerful interviews with creative practitioners and experts. Want a huge creativity boost? Check it out…

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Comments

  1. Good tips. I normally look out for the design of a blog as well as content @ first visit.

  2. Becky says:

    Great ideas, thanks!

  3. I go nowhere without my notebook and what you say is true:

    Not only can the idea slip away completely, but it can be half remembered, too, which is also sad.

    There’s only 3 rules to blogging:

    1. Take a notebook with you wherever you go

    2. Take a notebook with you wherever you go

    3. Take a notebook with you wherever you go

    Any questions?

    • Ali Luke says:

      Hahah, great tips, Bamboo! I’d counter that there’s a leeeetle bit more to blogging than that, though ;-)

  4. I tell my readers every Monday, “Creativity is a muscle. Use it!” Great suggestions here for getting those juices flowing.

  5. Hi Ali,
    I find mixing up my content works for me, one day I will make a video, and transcribe it, that can give me 2 blog posts in one hit.
    I visit a lot of other blogs, bloggers can always give you inspiration. Not to copy, but maybe a different angle on something they have written about.
    Reading articles in your niche can help for ideas if you are stuck.
    I agree tho, don’t be tempted to write for the sake of writing.
    Blog design can be tweaked as you go.
    Pete

    • Ali Luke says:

      Thanks, Pete! It’s definitely good to bring in another angle on a different blogger’s writing – means you can link back to their post and generate some conversation.

  6. Tobey says:

    It’s true that creativity works at odd times – one cannot force it. Indeed, if your creativity runs a little dry at times, it’s best to incubate, rather than writing a half-hearted post. Sometimes, however, you just need to write anything – or free flow as it’s known.

    Thanks for the tips and reminders, Ali.

    • Ali Luke says:

      Thanks, Tobey! And you’re right, sometimes just sitting down and writing – even if it’s just free-flow work – can get you back into the mood to create.

  7. To me Creativity is about Common Sense..

    Something that is so clear that most people cannot see because of routine activities and boxed mind..

    Hence, spontaneous activities as mentioned above and meditations couple of times a week should be able to help us in nurturing our creativity..

  8. This was EXCELLENT information about blogging. Very inspiring and helpful. I am always looking to keep my content appealing.

    Thanks for this article!

  9. Another great post.

    I totally agree with your post here.

    As a creative web designer first then a blogger I’ve learned to harness my creativity and I can translate that into blogging.

    • Ali Luke says:

      Thanks, Grant! Glad your creativity’s working well for you. I guess Rebecca (above) would say that you’ve trained your creative muscle well. :-)

  10. I’ve learned a lot of these by trial and error. Over the past about year now, I’ve changed niches five times. Now, though, I’ve been in the same niche for a few months, and am having no problems cranking out content, so I think I’ve finally found my ideal niche.

    I agree too with that you need to keep learning, but it can also become a distraction. For a long time, I spent hours and hours browsing through the archives of ProBlogger and CopyBlogger. While I certainly gained some useful insights, I think if I had spent less time reading about it and more time doing it, I would have a much more successful blog now.

    Writing down all my ideas is something that I find really helpful. In fact, I usually come up with ideas when I have free time, so I can usually write a post or record a video right then and there. If not, though, I use a WordPress calendar plugin promoted on CopyBlogger. It’s really helped me stick to a content creating schedule as of the last few weeks.

    I think the advice “don’t force yourself to create,” may not be the most sound. Although if you can’t think of anything, I agree, that won’t happen if you follow the above step. I’ve created some of my best posts by just sitting down and writing. Definitely don’t force yourself to post anything, and be very careful with that, but I’ve found if I just sit down to write (because I’m now so passionate about my topic (and was about a previous topic but the niche wasn’t big enough)) that I don’t really have a problem creating content the majority of the time.

    Thanks for the tips, hopefully they’ll help me stay on track :)

    • Ali Luke says:

      Thanks, Daniel. Great point about not spending too long reading … I did just the same when I started out (I got VERY familiar with the ProBlogger “Beginners” page and all the links from it!) On the plus side, you probably saved yourself from some newbie mistakes. :-)

      Good to have an alternative view on “don’t force yourself to create”. It’s a tough one: like you, I sometimes *do* end up with good content if I sit down and make myself get going, but often I find that I produce rather mediocre posts. I guess this is a case of different tips working for different people!

  11. RandyNose says:

    Thanks.

    There’s some days when I have 20 things that I could Blog about, and others that I’m trying to not be mired down by some negativity that’s part of normal life. And can’t think of a thing. – What I’m trying to do, is also make a post or two that I am working on, and keep as a draft to come back to when I either have better ideas, or more time to finish them off.

    Right now, I’m thinking that I ought to move everything to just one blog, and keep things separated by categories, and see how that goes, rather then two or three blogs that are separate aspects of me, and my interested. – I’ve noticed that most of the people that I seem to respect in the blogging world have a main blog for who they are, with categories separating their topics.

    And I also need to set aside some time to read Darren’s book about blogging before I get to gung-ho, eh?

    • Ali Luke says:

      Tricky one – sometimes it helps to have more than one blog, if you’re covering very different niches (like Darren does with Problogger & DPS) and sometimes it’s better to pull it into one place. How diverse are your categories?

      I blog quite widely on my own site, Aliventures – about fiction, freelancing and life/personal development – but those topics do (just about!) tie together.

  12. vipin says:

    It is true. I have started many blog and many of them failed. mostly because I didnt know what to write about. The problem is that I have lot of ideas when I just sit idle. But when I open the editor.Boom!! all ideas are either gone or I failed at expressing myself.
    Finally I have started a new blog.But I think this time I am serious. Thats why I spend some money and bought a new domain name..:)

  13. dotCOMreport says:

    I agree that you shouldn’t force yourself to write: not on your blog anyway. You should keep writing, even if you don’t feel like doing so. Write, write, write. Just don’t post it until you produce something creative.

  14. Moving my blogging-self into my jewellery workshop helps a lot, I find. I love it in there and feel surrounded by inspiration!

  15. StormDriver says:

    Nice points, Luke. Another important aspect regarding blogging and creativity is that one shouldn’t put all the eggs in a single basket unless you can really afford it. Many people start blogging thinking that one day (and that they must come soon) they will turn into a profitable activity. Some people are good at being creative under pressure but most feel constrained when they are always running against different odds like time and money. You cannot be creative if there is always this sword hanging upon your neck.

    Blogging must be a fun activity initially to see you through the difficult phase and that means have an alternative mean of income while you work on your blog.

    Creativity also stems from stepping out of the box and exploring your topics that are, maybe not touching upon your core subject, somehow are related.

    • Ali Luke says:

      Cheers! And great point about not tying your creativity to your income. It’s definitely tough to write (or do any sort of creative work) when you know that’s where the bills are coming from.

      I usually recommend having an emergency fund, coupled with a variety of income streams – freelance work can be a good one, as while it takes creativity, it pays consistently, unlike blogging for advertising/affiliate/sales revenue.

  16. Jasmine says:

    Great idea about using paper. A lot of times I get burnt out from sitting in front of the computer, so I grab my favorite notebook and head to a local cafe. Sometimes I write new posts by hand, and other times I keep a list of post ideas. I also feel like sometimes I’m going through exceptionally creative periods of time, and then I’ll write a lot of posts and schedule them a couple of days apart.

    For me, writing regularly is important too. Even if it’s just journaling, I find it a lot harder to write if I go 3 days or more without. Great article :)

  17. Vivek Parmar says:

    being a creative one is must. unique content and full promotion of that content doesn’t stop you from achieving high traffic and you can easily make money online.

  18. Thanks Ali.

    I use many of your suggestions. Especially like the starting with a picture. I find this helps me the most.

    The creativity giant hangs over me all the time. For better and worse. It gives me some good ideas, but also distracts me by leading me off topic.

    Best wishes.

    • Ali Luke says:

      Thanks Mary! Yeah, tangents are a danger for a lot of bloggers (creativity gone too far, maybe) – I find it helps to have somewhere to capture those. (Usually my Journal software open on the computer.) Alternatively, I’ll sometimes start writing what I think is one post and eventually split it into two.

  19. Greg Heil says:

    The advice in this post is pure gold! Being consistently creative is truly a talent that requires some practice to perfect. I personally keep a notebook dedicated to my ideas, thoughts, and to-do lists handy at all times in case I have a moment of inspiration. Also, writing in that notebook helps me to organize my creativity into a coherent posting strategy that shapes my blog over the coming weeks.

    Thanks again for this post!

  20. Monique Rio says:

    “Don’t force yourself to create”. I disagree. Everything I’ve read about creativity, and specifically writing, says you need to get your butt in the chair and write.

    From Stephen Pressfield’s War of Art:

    “Someone once asked Somerset Maugham if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration. “I write only when inspiration strikes,” he replied. “Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”

    That’s a pro.

    In terms of Resistance, Maugham was saying, “I despise Resistance; I will not let it faze me; I will sit down and do my work.”

    Maugham reckoned another, deeper truth: that by performing the mundane physical act of sitting down and starting to work, he set in motion a mysterious but infallible sequence of events that would produce inspiration, as surely as if the goddess had synchronized her watch with his.

    He knew if he built it, she would come. ”

    This problem is discussed in Robert Fritz’s “The Path of Least Resistance” too. What’s described in this post is what Fritz calls, “Structural Conflict”.

    Tension 1: I don’t want to write –> Resolution 1: Don’t write.
    Tension 2: I want to have a great blog post –> Resolution 2: Write.
    The resolutions, “write” and “don’t write”, are mutually exclusive.

    The solution isn’t to quit and wait till you feel better, it’s to choose which is more important to you: creating a great blog post or not writing. When you’ve decided, focus on what you want, feel how great the result will be, and then look at where you are now and compare the two. Let the discrepancy between what you want and where you are now move you to do whatever, be it writing or not writing.

    This works. My vision for my blog is compelling enough that reminding myself of it, and comparing my vision to where I want to be, inspires me to write and even do more uncomfortable things like talking to other people about my blog.

    I played the “I’m not inspired now, so I’ll until I am to start writing” game too. It didn’t work.

  21. Ali, thanks for the great post and all the ideas, really appreciate it! I think we all have different levels of motivation when it comes to writing, different techniques work for different folks (thus why you gave a variety of suggestions). I can make all sorts of excuses and end up not writing for a week or more, what Monique is saying, and what many authors teach us. So, for me, I do a combo of 2 things: 1) Just write – Like Julia Cameron of Artists Way recommends, I make myself write daily, early in the AM, just to get all the gibberish thoughts getting in the way of writing real content out of my head. I might not post what I write. And yet sometimes after the gibberish comes the ideas. But we all know when we have a good post, there is an excitement and a flow….When it is a good post, I can’t wait to write it down. 2) Just be – Yes, I carry a small notebook everywhere! And I have my voice recorder ready to go in my car. Ideas pop up when we are out of that analytical mind and just doing, being. I write about ecotherapy (nature therapy), yoga, being zen, so when I need inspiration for the ideas, I dive into doing the things that I write about. I love how that works!

  22. A walk helps get me going again.

    I write things down when they pop into my head…if I’m home, I actually put everything into a new post, then save the draft. When I’m stuck for something to say, I check out these posts that are 1/2 way created!

    I also use the recording or the memo feature on my Blackberry to record ideas if I’m away from home.

  23. Robin says:

    I used to follow these routines in ma life and i was really feeling focused and more creative while what ever i go on ma blog.

  24. Rita says:

    I write for consumers so I always have lots of topic ideas.

    Rita blogging at The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide

  25. Sometimes the problem for me is too much creativity. I cannot select the specific item I want to work with. I want to do everything at the same time. I guess this article will help me to seat down and organize my ideas.