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
- 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:
- free blog posts here on ProBlogger, as well as on other blogs like Daily Blog Tips, Copyblogger, and Men with Pens
- free podcasts such as BlogCastFM
- ebooks and other downloadables like 31 Days to Build a Better Blog (I don’t think anyone could work through that and not come up with dozens of new ideas!)
- online courses like Getting Started Blogging (which is free) or The ProBlogger Academy.
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…