"Staring doggedly at a keyboard, tapping the desk with your pencil, massaging your temples—all standard side effects of writer’s block, an affliction no copywriter is safe from."
Whether you’re expected to create long-form copy that holds a reader’s attention for over two minutes (no mean feat) or write short, witty one-liners in the quip-saturated world of social, it’s a given there’ll be times when a writer’s mind is blank. It is at this ubiquitous stumbling block that we fall into the snore-fest that is formulaic, predictable copy.
However—fear not—idea generating techniques exist for this very conundrum and are on hand to speedily prompt your creative mind and get those nimble fingers back tip-tapping. It’s imperative to free your mind of the conventional thoughts that occupy it and when you expel the mundane, there’s more room for fresh concepts. The following are some ways to do just that.
1. Let your stream of consciousness flow
When no sensible words come to mind, write down some nonsense. Free-writing requires you to get thoughts—any thoughts—down. Make sure to set aside a five to ten minute timeframe and just write down whatever comes to mind. Disregard typos, grammar and punctuation. This exercise is the equivalent of shaking your hands out before you pick up something heavy.
When the time is up, have a read over what you’ve got. While most of it will be nonsensical waffle, there will also be nuggets of insight so try to circle anything that may be of use or that sparks inspiration. Even if you feel like there’s a dearth of any discovery, it’s a great exercise to stir up the creative mind and uncover the ideas that may be buried deep.
2. SCAMPER like there’s no tomorrow
As most writers know, first drafts are always fairly dodgy and the art of writing is mostly re-writing. Scampering is an idea generation technique that helps generate new ideas through small modifications.
The word itself is an acronym, spelling out: Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate and Reverse. Using these actions verbs, the writer adjusts their initial idea or sentence by reversing the meaning, changing the syntax, swapping our synonyms, adjusting the perspective etc. continuously until they find themselves in a different place.
3. Start with association
If you’re trying to communicate a certain idea, it often helps to very quickly use a word association technique such as listing and mind maps. With the former technique, the writer lists as many words as possible off the top of their mind that relate to the topic. With mind mapping, the writer uses a more graphical way to explore associations by writing down the subject in the center of a page and surrounding it with related words. They then add new ideas, words or feelings spawned from the fresher concepts they just generated.
Make sure to give yourself a time limit and try to be uninhibited. Don’t edit or worry about relevance—there’s no wrong in this exercise. Once you’ve filled a page, identify clusters of interest or recurrent themes and try to derive inspirations from these new concepts.
4: Get topical
Struggling to find a starting point? Think topically! This can vary from looking at Twitter’s top trending hashtags and adapting your content to reflect that (while also drawing a wider reach by engaging with trending topics) to considering the day of the week. Each day comes with its own widely used hashtags e.g. #MotivationMonday, #HumpDay, #ThrowbackThursday etc.
The time of the year in general serves as a great guide to creating relevant content too. Seasonal and weather related hashtags engage a local audience and tap into a collective feeling. Upcoming holidays are also a great source of inspiration e.g. St Patrick’s Day, Halloween, Black Friday so worth considering how they might relate to your product or service.
5: Refuel with research and collaboration
Having to regularly pull creative ideas out of thin air isn’t easy and when you’re working to daily schedules and short deadlines, you need to ensure you have a deep pool of inspiration to pull from. The best way to do this is with regular and varied research. This could mean flipping through a dictionary or a thesaurus, scrolling through relevant social feeds or talking to someone who knows more about the subject than you do.
Nothing is as effective for expanding on an idea like talking to someone else. If you’re chained to a desk, you’ll often find yourself in a thinking rut. Use your colleagues or friends to expand on a concept through conversation. While ideas may not occur straight away, once digested, this research may amalgamate into more references springing to mind in the future.
6: Look to the data
Lastly, and perhaps most obviously, consider the popularity of previous posts. Have a gander at your analytics and see the kind of writing that your audience has best responded to before. With this knowledge, then consider angling your writing to tap into this success.
If you don’t have a wealth of data to reflect on, start creating some; take risks and measure the results. You’ll soon see what works for your audience and what doesn’t and in the long run, these risks will pay off.
Fresh, engaging content is an integral part of marketing your organisation and communicating with your audience. If you’re looking for editorial and content assistance, ALHAUS can help. We offer short-form and long-form writing services, from blog posts to social media. Contact us today to learn how we can help you.