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A Legendary Copywriter’s Secret to an Unending Stream of Ideas

This guest post is by Josh Sarz of Sagoyism.com.

I’m in love with blogging.

If you’re like me, you marvel that you have your own website. It may not be huge for a lot of people who’ve been in the blogging biz for years, but it’s huge for me.

My first few months of blogging flew by so fast, it seemed like only yesterday when I started writing online.

My first blog was about everything under the sun. Tech, Social Media, Health, Entertainment and turtles were just a few of the topics my first blog covered. I was prolific. Writing two or three blog posts per day was normal for me. I had so much to talk about.

Then came the scourge that a lot of people call writer’s block. I started fearing the blank page. I couldn’t think of anything else to write about. Social Media? I’ve written about it a lot. Entertainment? It was getting really boring really fast. I ran out of ideas.

Sound familiar? I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only one who has experienced this before. Coming up to your blog, facing a blank page and wondering for hours on what to write about. I’m also sure that a lot of people will be experiencing this in the future.

That’s why I’ll be telling you about the secret I learned to getting an unending stream of knowledge and ideas. With this in your creative arsenal, you won’t even have to worry about what to write today, tomorrow and the day after that.

The secret is incubation

This isn’t my idea, by the way. I read about it in a book by legendary copywriter Joseph Sugarman. If you don’t know him, then you should. I’ve learned a massive amount of knowledge from his book. I know you will as well.

Joe talked about how he gets creative ideas for his copy. Want to know one of his secrets? He got off his butt and did something else.

“What’s this ‘incubation’ that you speak of?”, you might ask.

It’s the process of getting your mind out of your work, and giving it time to rest. To make it even more simple, it means you get out of you chair and do something else. Don’t even think about what to write for your blog.

“How am I supposed to know what to write if I don’t think about it?”

I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but it works. It really does. The logic behind it is that your mind is always at work. No matter what you do, whether you’re brewing your favorite coffee, or watching Disney’s Up, or even when you’re out partying, you’re brain is constantly absorbing everything that you see, hear, feel, taste and smell.

So don’t worry if you’re not burying your face in your computer. You’re still working. Trust me.

I’ll tell you the reason as to how this will work for you later. But first, let’s talk about the two kinds of knowledge.

  1. General knowledge: This is simply the basic kind of knowledge that you get from experiencing everything in your life. When you’re watching the Discovery Channel, or seeing how your mom cooked dinner back when you were a kid, or the time when you were learning how to draw your favorite superhero … all this would account to growing your general knowledge.
  2. Specific knowledge: This type of knowledge is what is also called ‘niche’ knowledge. This is the knowledge that you get from studying how to write great copy, or how to perform open-heart surgery, or the specific temperature that cooks the perfect fried chicken.

The difference between the two is: general knowledge comes as you experience the world and what it has to offer, while specific knowledge, on the other hand, is something you learn when you have to study or do a certain amount of research.

Have you guessed what kind of knowledge the incubation process can give you?

The power of general knowledge

This is the backbone of your creativity. While specific knowledge will give you the info you need to be an expert on a topic, general knowledge gives you the ability to be flexible with just about anything.

This is also the driving force behind an unending stream of knowledge and ideas. Growing your experience with a variety of things outside your blog will add up to your creative arsenal.

Never again will you have to worry about what to write. Never again will you worry about how you want to portray your next big idea. Never again will you have to fear the blank page.

Now I’ll tell you how you can use your general knowledge to your advantage.

Putting it all together

We know how important taking time off from your blog is. We also talked about general knowledge, and what it can do for your creativity.

Now let’s put it all together and get those creative juices overflowing. This is another tactic that I’ve learned from Joseph Sugarman’s book. It’s not his idea this time, but it’s brilliant nonetheless.

We’re now going to apply what we’ve learned through our everyday experiences to think of unique ways to write your next post. If you think that you don’t have enough general knowledge to work with, think again.

You know more than you think you do. A lot more. So don’t worry.

The technique that I’m talking about is called Lateral Thinking. It’s a process of solving problems using indirect and creative means, usually with ideas that seem totally unrelated to the main topic.

Joe talked about how Edward de Bono’s device, the “Think Tank”, can help you with your creativity. You pick three random words out of a huge pile, and relate them to your topic.

Now let’s apply this to your blog post. This is where it gets interesting.

You have to write you next post while incorporating those three random words. What a challenge! And a fun one at that. This will force your brain to search your vault of general knowledge. You don’t have to be an expert at these random words, you just need to know how to tie them all in to your topic.

Why is it fun? What does it do to help with my blogging?

  • Your blog post won’t sound dry, so your readers will have a better experience reading your posts.
  • It’s going to attract another type of reader aside from the usual ones, growing your audience in the process.
  • The exercise trains your brain to be more creative, so you’ll get better and better every day, and won’t have to even worry about what to write about.
  • The entire post will generally sound better with a story. People love reading a story. It captures their attention, and if done right, would compel your readers to read your entire post. Not bad.

But wait, isn’t using three unrelated words a bit too had?

I admit, it’s a little shocking to do at first, but it gets easier in time. Don’t worry, because you don’t have to go “by the book” and use three words. You can choose to go use the Easy mode, and just pick out one unrelated word. As you get used to applying this technique when you’re brainstorming, you can move on to Normal mode (two or three words) and then finally to Hard mode.

I used the same technique to brainstorm a topic to write this guest post on Problogger. I only picked two random words (I chickened out of using three), which were “love” and “sleep.”

You don’t need to have your own Think Tank device to do this. Being the lazy guy that I am, I just searched on Google and found a site where I could generate up to eight random words.

Get those ideas flowing like crazy

It’s going to be so easy, I promise. And fun, too. You now know that in order to get an unlimited amount of ideas, all you have to do is stop working and do something else. Go watch some TV, read a book, train your dog how to sniff out firecrackers, go swimming, hang out with your family—do just about anything.

You’ve also learned how to apply lateral thinking when brainstorming ideas for your next blog post. I’ve given you a link to a page where you can get up to eight random words. You now know how to get creative and search the vault in your brain for ideas.

The best thing about this is: it’s totally free, and you can start doing it right this instant. So get out there and do something else. Forget about your blog for a while. When you come back, so fresh and revived, you’ll be ready to take on that blank page.

This is what I’ve learned to do, and it has helped me tons.  I hope it will help you tremendously, as well. But this is just one idea, and there are lots more out there. What do you do to battle the  blank page? Has it worked for you? What else can you add to this topic?

Josh Sarz is a freelance copywriter and the founder of Sagoyism.com where he talks about Copywriting and Content Marketing for the Digital Entrepreneur. Click through to grab the ‘Lowdown on Content Marketing‘ free report right now.

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Comments

  1. Mike Cottam says:

    Thanks for a great post, I really enjoyed your slant on the three word system! I have bookmarked your link and will be using it regularly.

    Thanks again!

    Mike

  2. Marc Ensign says:

    Mitch Joel had a great post that really helped me see things a little differently. Check it out: http://www.twistimage.com/blog/archives/watching-me-blog/index.php

    In his comment to me, he wrote:

    “I don’t believe in writer’s block. Being an infovore and overloading myself with content creates more inspiration than I have time to create. I don’t ruminate. If I’m feeling like nothing inspires, I simply start a new document and just start typing.

    I believe that the more I write and create, the more new and interesting ideas show up.

    I highly recommend two books to think differently about what we think blocks us:

    1. The Accidental Genius by Mark Levy.
    2. Do The Work by Steven Pressfield.

    Read those two, short books and let me know if you’re ever blocked again ;)”

    Good stuff!

    • Josh Sarz says:

      Exactly.

      I used to think, and even fear writer’s block. Along the way I’ve discovered that it can be remedied easily. There are several other ways to beat writer’s block, if it even happens to you in the first place.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Marc.

  3. Heather says:

    The proverbial “blank page” haunts me on a regular basis. Some days I wake up with more words to say than I can effectively share through blogging. I’ve found that using those “off days” to focus on other hobbies or interests helps renew my focus. Loved your input! And now I’m off to check out the random word generator…

  4. Hi Josh,

    Top Tips here man, writer’s block effects us all at some time, but i feel the same as you being away from your computer is the best way to deal with it. I wrote a killer post that went viral once, the idea came from standing on my balcony looking at clouds, then going for a bath. When the post went live it had been viewed 1000 times within 6 hours.

    Just shows that your best content is when your not at the computer…

    Thanks
    David :)

  5. Robin says:

    It’s well documented that a still mind is at its creative peak. If the thinking mind is allowed to run unchecked, thought becomes unproductive.

  6. Justin Mazza says:

    Great points here Josh. It is far more productive to take some time away from your blog, even a few days if you have too. Make your work time seem so scarce that when you do work online you take care of business and not get lost in other things.

  7. This makes a lot of sense my dear. I think we’re so engrossed with work; writing, publishing, researching and reading that we neglect to relax our minds, to produce more. But your post has made it clear. Thank you very much for this post. Clear, practical and easy to digest. I’m heading to your blog to see what you’ve got.

  8. manju says:

    nice as usual, thanks for sharing it with us.

  9. Ishan says:

    Nice post.

    The advice about going and doing something random is really different and I’m going to try it for sure.

  10. Richard Ng says:

    It’s very common for the “blank page” syndome to kicks-in for bloggers and writers. For me, when I faced with such problem, what I did is to randomly take out a book from my bookshelf, flip to a random page and point it to a random word/sentense and built my post on that particular word/sentense. That’s where the creativity come in to corelate the word/sentense with the niche I am writing…

    Cheers!

    • Josh Sarz says:

      Thanks for sharing, Richard. It’s kinda like the random word generator thingy, but in a different way. Have a great day.

  11. Dzulhelmee says:

    Hi Josh

    I’ve been to your blog and your style of writing a post astonished me. Actually, to tell you the truth I’ve been waiting for your post to be posted in Problogger and that day has come. Excellent choice of topic and advise given would certainly be useful to other blogger and readers of Problogger.

    Good luck to you and keep on inspiring people.

  12. WittyBlogger says:

    Good post, Josh. I’d like to add in the point that incubation can also be done after reading off a list of topics and sleeping through the night. The subconscious mind has an uncanny ability to sort out the stuff – you’ll find topic brainstorming far easier in the morning!

    As a copywriter though, I don’t really go with “incubation” because it mostly involves a rushing to meet deadlines for the client. (You normally *have* to come up with something!) One easy fix around that is “research”. Through research, we often tap into the conversation and chatter of our target marketplace as well as the history and stories of the client.

    We’re tapping around the walls… Sieving the mud for that speck of gold… Finding that one, great angle on the topic. (aka the hook, USP, UVP, Big Idea etc)

    If you suffer from writer’s block, the one, fastest solution to get past it is really “research”. By listening to your audience’s needs instead of thinking from the shoes of a “blogger”/”copywriter”, you’d cut away the steps of thinking so hard.

    After all, content or sales copy *should* be written to provide value. It has to come from the mind of the readers, not the mind of the blogger.

    Just my 3 cents. ;)

    -WittyBlogger

    • Josh Sarz says:

      Hey there, WittyBlogger. You have a point. Research really works well. I do tons of research when I’m writing copy for my clients. I also make it a point to set proper deadlines in which I won’t be too pressured to come up with something. After all, it’s in the client’s best interests that the copy your write is worth the money he’s paying you.

  13. Sean Chang says:

    Thanks Josh. Sometimes we have to take a step back in order to move forward. Walking away from the keyboard can really free up the mind to think creatively.

    Another tip I enjoy from Joseph Sugarman is about targeting emotional triggers (e.g. Storytelling, Simplicity,
    Desire to Belong, etc.). Approaching a similar topic by targeting different triggers has often helped me to come up with fresh angles to the content.

    A similar tip I’ve learnt from Michael Drew is to write for different personas. This has also helped me in conquering the blank pages.

    Thanks again for sharing!

    • Josh Sarz says:

      Storytelling is great. People in general are naturally hooked to compelling stories, as opposed to hyped benefits. Sugarman mentioned a little bit about the “Theater of the Mind” in the book I linked to above. I’ve only recently discovered that “Theater of the Mind” is extensively discussed in the book The New Psycho-Cybernetics.

  14. ntathu allen says:

    Yah..off to choose my eight random words. I will write a blog and let you know how I got on. Hugs and thanks.

  15. ntathu allen says:

    Hi Josh…my eight random words are: observation, sword, golf, magician; spike, profit, holiday, madman. Ummmm. I shall incubate and look forward to seeing what comes up. Thank you

  16. Thanks for a great post, I really enjoyed your slant on the three word system! I have bookmarked your link and will be using it regularly.

    Thanks again!

  17. Josh,

    I think we all have those brain cramps sometimes where we can’t figure out what to write. What I like to do is check out what people are asking about in the forums, do some research, and then write a post about it. It’s a great way to stay informed and get some nice traffic.

    Congrats on the guest post.

  18. Pris says:

    Nicely put.

    I have plenty of ‘incubation’ time, as I am only a hobbyist blogger and don’t post frequently. The devil I have to fight is called procrastination. I love to write but despite all my plans, I never seem to find the time to transform my ideas into blog posts on a regular basis.

  19. Anne-Sophie says:

    Great post and I can tell from personal experience that it absolutely works. The less time I spend thinking about my blog the more ideas come to mind. It makes sense. When you’re only sitting in front of your computer trying to come up with new ideas, those will be limited. However, when you go out and experience the world, you’ll automatically soak in tons of impressions and ideas will come flowing to you.

  20. Dragan Palla says:

    Thanks Josh for a great post. I recognized myself in front of white paper with no idea what to write about.
    I’ll definitely try some of the tips you mentioned – not to think about it and doing something else. Well it’s worth a try.

  21. Great advice. The version of incubation which I most prefer, is ti go do something interesting – that always stimulates my creative thought processes!

  22. kandie says:

    Egads! So true. Even when I think I can’t come up with something for a project or story, when I step away eventually an idea tunnels through. Whether I’m mowing the lawn or dropping a niece off at school, something eventually comes to me. Now I don’t feel so bad about those “incubation” periods. ;-) Great post.

  23. Mattastic says:

    I love to write first thing in the morning, just free-writing about anything for a while. Once I hit upon some stumbling blocks, I go for a walk. There’s something about walking that has amazing powers for unclogging those channels between your conscious mind and subconscious.

  24. Excellent topic (and tips!). If I am stuck, I either pull out a photo to write around, or get up and go do something else (not on the computer) for 5 minutes. Either of those things work for me. And don’t even get me started on Pinterest – I can get lost there for hours, and then realize I have a dozen new ideas for articles! :)

  25. Joe Boyle says:

    Our brains are designed to, essentially, “burn out” after extended periods of time. That’s why we sleep – it needs rest. Even while we are sleeping, the brain isn’t completely off, but the point is still valid – it can’t do the same thing for too long. It needs exposure and to be stimulated throughout the day.

    Whenever I can’t think of an idea, I go for a walk. I’ll grab my iPod, put Pink Floyd/The Beatles on, and walk through the local woods. It’s really calming. Ideas bloom instantly.

  26. Wayne says:

    Very good post.

    It is so important to get into the right frame of mind to get your expression flowing freely.

    Writing at a time when you are sad or frustrated makes it very difficult to translate any positive energy on paper. Your tone of annoyance will be converyed so be careful.

    So, be relaxed, be happy and take it easy. Don’t stress too much when posting. It should be fun !

  27. Gjivan says:

    Very informative post Josh!
    Well i am also in a project where i target various niches and merge them on single blog. Mostly in blogosphere, people mention this as a bad idea cz they suggest to target a single niche for which you are passionate to. But still, i am creating and in this process to create a huge bundle of information from various niches and you had also mentioned the same. So, Josh i wanna ask you, were you successful?? I need to know your answer regarding this.
    Another thing, the technique u mentioned here, is about brainstroming. Yes, our mind has collosal amount of information embedded in our subconscious and if we be able to drag them out, we will never be in scarce of information or knowledge. Choosing various unrelated keywords and merging to create a post is a unique idea indeed. This will not only make the post interesting but also original and we know readers want to read more original then extreme professional cz we r connecting them with our blog as being a medium. So, i will definitely use this idea. Thank you once more!!

  28. What an interesting way to find content! I learned something valuable from Brian Clark. Brian recommended writing all of the headlines for a months worth of blogging upfront. Take a few hours to thoughtfully craft/brainstorm the headlines and don’t even try to begin writing the post until you get a full month’s worth of headlines written.

    You know what……it really works. Just like writing a post it takes discipline, and the reward is that by pressing in to write the headlines you end up with tons of topics to write about (just pick one).

    Thanks again for the idea.

  29. You just gave me a ton of new ideas Josh, and a ton of work and new way of thinking as well. I definitely have a niche market to advertise too and your great post just gives me more ammunition for my mind. Thanks a lot for the killer post!

  30. Barbara says:

    Great post! I enjoyed the word generator and now have a basket for words on my desk where I will throw in words on a daily basis :)

    I am fairly new to blogging and your ideas will really help me while I figure it out. Thanks!

  31. Yes!!! I’ve been trying to track the amount of time I spend blogging but I couldn’t figure out how to count all the time I spend “thinking”. My blog is about homemaking, so when I’m homemaking, I get tons of ideas. If all I do is sit at my computer, I don’t get very many ideas. But when I’m cooking and cleaning and writing in my planner – doing all those homemaking things I write about – I get ideas!

    So I limit the amount of time I sit at my computer because that’s not when I get ideas. By the time I sit down at my computer, the article is usually nearly written in my head or in all the crazy notes I’ve been jotting down.