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Take Questions – Battling Bloggers Block

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7. Take Questions

This is a basic tip that can help you to identify the needs of your readers – simply ask them.

Once again this isn’t rocket science – but it’s amazing what results when you do it.

Start a Question File – I get questions on most of my blogs every day or two from readers wanting information on the topics I cover. Collect questions like this and put them in a file for one of those days when you can’t come up with a topic to write about.

Call for Questions – If you don’t get asked questions by readers normally give them permission to ask you questions. I tend not to do this much these days because the questions tend to come faster than I can answer them at the best of times – but when I first started blogging I actively sought questions with an ‘ask a question’ link on my blog. Of course if you do this you’d better be willing to answer them. In the early days I also occasionally would go as far as asking specific readers for questions by picking a few from my newsletter and emailing them the offer for me to do a free short consulting job for them as long as I could blog about my answers to their questions.

Ask Your Own Questions – If readers still don’t ask questions – ask some yourself! Some of the best discussions I’ve ever seen on a blog have been the result of the blogger themselves admitting a lack of knowledge on a topic and asking for help.

Creating an environment for questions and answers can really bring your blog alive – especially if you can create a culture where bloggers feel comfortable to ask even the simplest of questions and where bloggers get into the habit of answering the questions of each other instead of just leaving it all up to you.

Read the full Bloggers Block Series

Start with a Need – Battling Bloggers Block

6. Start with a Need

One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given by the person who taught me to public speak many years ago was to identify a need that those who are listening to you might have and to use this as the starting point for a post.

People buy into what you are communicating if they have a felt need that they feel you might be able to help them with.

Starting with a need not only helps your audience or readership but that it can also help in the writing process. I’m much more motivated to write if I’m communicating on something I need to learn about myself or something that I’ve found an answer to.

So when you’re looking for that elusive topic to write about (this is after all often the hardest part of getting past bloggers block) ask yourself some questions to help you get in touch with the needs of readers in your niche:

  • What questions do I get asked most of all?
  • When I first started exploring this topic what was my biggest question or need?
  • What is my biggest current need in the area that I’m blogging about?
  • What words do people come to my blog having typed into search engines (you can get this from most stats packages) and what does this tell me about what people need?

Once you’ve identified the need you’re well on the way to writing a useful original post that should be popular with your readership – if you can find something worthwhile to say about it that is!

Read the rest of the Battling Bloggers Block Series

Combine Two Disconnected Ideas – Battling Bloggers Block

This is part 5 in the Battling Bloggers Block Series

5. Combine Two Disconnected Ideas

Regular readers will know that I like a Tangent – I love to take everyday situations, ideas and experiences that have no relation to blogging and find ways to combine make them illustrate a point.

Some of the best inventions and scientific discoveries come out of this type of thinking – bringing together two ideas that have not previously been connected to form something new and fresh.

Of course this type of thinking doesn’t just happen – it takes practice to be able to see the world this way.

Edward De Bono has many creative thinking techniques that help people develop this type of thinking. I’m not completely sure which of his books I read it in – but I seem to remember him suggesting free thinking brainstorming around a question like:

‘Think of as many uses as possible for a fork’

The challenge was to come up with as many answers as possible (no answer was too silly) in a short period of time. The answers are useless (unless you’re in the cutlery manufacturing business) but the thinking processes are valuable as you begin to learn the power of creative thinking and thinking outside the box when it comes to everyday objects.

This is the type of thinking that was behind some of my older entries on blogging like a goose, talking about blogging and parenting, blogging and marriage, starting the Blogger Idol meme, and blogging and Travelator users and their techniques (among others). Now it might just have been me who enjoyed the challenge of writing these posts – but I found them fun ways to talk about things I’d talked about many times before – with a twist.

Read Other Bloggers – Battling Bloggers Block

This is part 4 in the Battling Bloggers Block Series

4. Read what other Bloggers are Saying

Ok so this one’s not rocket science but it needs to be said. One of the strengths of blogging as a medium is the way that bloggers interact with one another and build upon each others ideas. Here’s five tips for using what others say (and don’t say) for creating original content:

a. Build on the work of others – As a result when I’m looking for inspiration for a new post I quite often look to see what other bloggers are writing about in my niche. What are they learning? What is the hot topic of the moment? What could you add as a fresh perspective on what they are learning? One of my recent popular posts on 13 Tips on Asking other Bloggers for Links came directly from this technique as I bounced off a short post by Robert Scoble. While his point was totally valid – I felt there was more to be said and so built a longer list around his original idea.

b. Look for the gaps in Conversation – Another useful question is to ask – ‘What are other bloggers in my niche NOT writing about?‘ It’s all very well and good to join a conversation – but look for the gaps in conversations also and you might just find yourself starting a whole new line of thought. Asking this question takes a little more discernment but is a skill worth developing as it has the potential to set you apart from the crowd.

c. Look outside your Niche – Don’t just limit yourself to reading bloggers in your own niche either – sometimes it’s when you look outside of your own niche to see what developments are happening elsewhere that innovative ideas comes. The Blogosphere is full many smaller blogging communities, many of which are doing incredibly creative blogging. Go exploring a blog neighborhood you’ve not visited before and you could just stumble upon an idea to bring back to your own.

d. Read Other Bloggers Archives – An area of blogging that frustrates me is that once a post slips off the front page of a blog it seems to lose it’s worth. The problem with dates on blog posts (and I see some positives with it also) is that it can make very relevant posts seem ‘dated’. The fact is that there must be an incredible wealth of knowledge locked away in the archives of some of your favorite blogs. Spend some time scanning them and you’ll probably find hundreds of ideas that you could bounce off with some posts of your own.

e. Credit where Credit is Due – One final thought – as always, be generous with giving credit to the bloggers who inspire your thoughts. While in bouncing off them you might create your own original content – but acknowledging the work of others who have gone before you in the conversation costs you little.

Free Writing – Battling Bloggers Block

3. Free Writing – Just Write – When I run out first sit down to work out what to say for a public speaking gig I often lock myself in a private room and just begin to speak (to myself) randomly on the topic that I’ve been asked to talk about. It feels a bit odd when you first use this technique but it’s amazing how quickly a talk begins to form in your mind as you do it. I find as I do these exercises that the first few minutes is generally pretty gibberish but that in most cases as I write whatever comes out that eventually I hit on an idea that is worth building on.

I also use this same technique with blogging. Some writers call it free writing and argue that it helps exercise your right brain – I’m not sure of the technicalities of it – but I find that it definitely gets the ideas flowing. One of the hardest parts of writing a post can be starting it – and this technique attempts to help with this.

Free writing purists say to start writing whatever comes into your head (any topic) – I do this from time to time but more regularly set myself a broad topic so that if I do stumble onto a good idea that I have some chance of using it on my blog.

It’s amazing to see what flows out of this type of exercise. Some of my best posts ever have been as a result of forcing myself to start writing. Quite often I’ll start writing on one topic and end up on another or will end up publishing only a section of what I write (having deleted the unordered gibber at the start) but on many occasions there is a gem or two in the mix that can be a post (or two) in and of themselves – or at least the beginning of a post.

This is part 3 in the series examining how to beat Bloggers Block

Idea Journals – Battling Bloggers Block

Idea-JournalThis is part 2 in the Battling Bloggers Block Series

2. Keep an idea Journal – I have a little Moleskine notebook (pictured) that I carry everywhere with me. I use it for all kinds of purposes but largely it’s for capturing random thoughts and ideas – often for speaking and blogging.

Idea journals are great in the short term as they are great for recording those impulsive ideas that flow through my mind all day everyday and for creating ‘to do’ lists for immediate action. However I also find them great in the long term and occasionally get my older idea journals out and flick through them to find unused creative ideas that I never go around to implementing.

It’s often when flicking through idea journals in this way that an idea leaps out. In fact the interesting thing I’ve noticed is that it’s often these discarded ideas that simmer away over time and seem to mature into my best posts.

I know I’m a bit old fashioned in writing my ideas down in a book – I know many of you use PDAs and computers to do the same thing – but I’m a bit of a visual kind of guy and like to draw diagrams, arrows between ideas and to doodle while I dream.

How ever you do it – an idea journal can be a valuable tool on many levels for bloggers.

Battling Bloggers Block – Change your Blogging Environment

On the weekend I got ‘speakers block’. I had to do two speaking gigs and a couple of times in my preparation ‘hit the wall’ when it came to creative ideas on how to make my presentations to the next level. Luckily I’ve been speaking in public for around 12 years and have developed a few techniques for breaking through such blockages – many of which are applicable to the dreaded ‘bloggers block’.

So I’ve decided to adapt what I do to break through the dry patches in my speaking to tackle the question of how to battle against bloggers block. I’ve come up with 20+ short tips which I’ll share over the coming week as a series. As I add them one by one on the main blog I’ll also add them to this central page so you can have one place for the complete series. Feel free to chip in in comments as we go with your own bloggers block busting tips.

1. Change your Blogging Environment

Put your Hands in the air and step away from the Computer!

On Saturday when I came to the end of my inspiration I got out of the house for a couple of hours and went for a long walk. I often find that when I change my environment that inspiration comes. I walked down to the main street near our place and sat in the sun for half an hour and ‘people watched’. Somewhere along the way the ideas began to flow.

Getting away from your computer and blog can definitely help but so can blogging from a new location. Some of the places I’ve blogged from in the last few months include:

  • friends houses - I have a mate’s house who I occasionally spend the day at so that we can work in the same room – it’s nice to have the company – even though he’s not a blogger I find our conversations lead me to try new things on my blogs
  • net cafes – I did this for a day recently when my broadband went down
  • public libraries – I did this for a week 18 months back and it totally gave me a new perspective on blogging – once I got past the frustration of having to book a computer and blog in one hour blocks of time
  • other rooms in the house – I have a bit of a daily rhythm now where I move rooms during the day to keep things fresh – bed, office, couch, kitchen table, back yard – wireless is my friend
  • local cafes – I have one cafe that i regularly take my laptop to. They don’t have wifi but I just write there (offline) and upload later. I find it’s a great place to blog without the distractions of incoming email and IM.

Change up your blogging environment and you might just find that it gives you a fresh perspective on blogging that will unleash some blogging creativity.

Blog Hooks – Elements that Draw Readers Back

After my earlier post about linkbaiting I’ve been thinking a lot about ‘hooks’. The idea of a developing a ‘hook’ (or hooks) for your blog is brilliant advice.

I remember talking to a successful song writer a few years ago and he said the same thing – all good songs have some ‘hook’ to them – whether it’s a guitar riff, a memorable lyrical line or one of those melodies that you can’t get out of your head – a hook is what gets people both into the song when they hear it but that also draws them back to it over time.

This is what all successful blogs have also. They have something about them that stands out, that draws you into them in the moment but that also draws you back to them over time.

We are blogging in a context where there are literally millions of blogs, in some niches there are hundreds (if not thousands) of alternatives for people to read. Successful blogs do something that makes them distinct from the rest.

They are not ‘just another blog on ((insert topic here))’ – they are ‘the blog that….((insert ‘hook’ here))’

Blog Hooks can come in all shapes and sizes – they can happen on both a micro level (ie hooks within posts as discussed in the linkbaiting article at performancing) but also on a macro level.

Some of the hooks that draw me into blogs include:

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Linkbaiting with Attack

Nick writes an interesting post on The Art of Linkbaiting or on getting other sites to link to your blog – a necessary part of building traffic on your blog (both in getting direct traffic from the links and in building search engine ranking). Nick writes:

‘In order to bait a link, you need a hook. Hooks come in variety of flavors, some of the more popular would include:

* News hook
* Contrary Hook
* Attack Hook
* Resource Hook
* Humour Hook’

He goes on later in the post to expand upon each of them – with some excellent advice. I’ve especially found the ‘resource’ and ‘news’ hooks to be very powerful in the building of my own blogs.

I would give a word of warning though with the ‘attack’ hook (and even the ‘contrary’ one).

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