North X East

3 Rules for Finding Great Post Ideas, and 15 Places to Look for Them

Every blogger faces days when he stares at the screen thinking, “What in the world am I going to write about today?”

One of the keys to successful blogging is how you handle that question: do you turn tail and run, or do you dig deep within you for a great post idea.

A great post starts with a great idea, and every blogger has to learn to find those great ideas somewhere. For myself, I’ve learned a few key habits that have led to some successful post ideas, and I’ve learned to look to a few key places for those post ideas.

3 Rules for Finding Great Post Ideas

Before we get into where to look for great post ideas, let’s look at three rules that will get you those ideas every time:

1. Be observant. Always keep your eyes open. Take a look at the world around you. There are tons of post ideas in your every day life. Look at what you’re reading, what you’re doing, who you’re talking to, what is being discussed around you. An observant blogger never runs out of ideas.

2. Reflect. Take a few minutes every day to reflect on what you’ve observed. I like to do this as I drive, or during one of my runs, or while I’m doing anything repetitive, such as cleaning. I think back on things I’ve noticed, things I’ve done, things I’ve read. And I think about how it all affects me, how it affects others, how I might find useful concepts there, and how I can share these concepts with others. From this daily habit of reflection, hundreds of ideas have been born.

3. Keep an idea list. Of course, having great ideas is useless if you forget about them when the blank screen is staring at you. So you need to get into the habit of writing every idea down, and adding them to a master list of ideas as soon as you can. I have a hot key that I press that opens my idea list, so I can quickly add new ideas as I think of them, or as I read inspiring posts by others. When it comes time to write a post, turn to this list.

15 Places to Look for Great Post Ideas

If you follow those three rules, you’ll always have great ideas for your blog, but in the interest of being even more useful, we’ll look at a few places where you’ll be sure to find great ideas:

1. In your daily routines. When you’re grooming yourself, or eating, or driving, or doing the dozens of little things you do every day, observe what you do and how you do it. I wrote some popular posts on Eating Slowly, Driving Slowly, My Morning Routine, and more, based on looking at what I do every day.

2. In your work. What tasks do you do every day? How do you do them? What issues do you face? Have you come up with interesting and useful ways of dealing with those issues? What knowledge or secrets can you share with people? As you go about your workday, think about everything you do. I bet you can find a dozen good post ideas in one day, if you do that.

3. In your fun. What do you do for fun? Do you have hobbies? Play sports? Write open-source programs? Whatever you do, pay attention. There are tons of great ideas there. And not only pay attention to what you do, but how you do it, and how you have fun. And why.

4. In your relationships. Do you have a spouse or partner? Kids? Other family members or loved ones? Good friends? Your relationships with these people are gold mines of post ideas. Pay attention to how you interact with them, how often, what’s discussed, what issues come up that affect a relationship, what you do, how you do it, problems you face and how you solve them.

5. From people you talk to. Beyond your core group of friends and family, you talk to others throughout the day (sometimes this is done online more than in the physical world). These might be co-workers, people you meet on the street, people you collaborate with, people you work with in various civic organizations, you kids’ teachers, whoever. But these people talk to you about different things, and show you slices of different kinds of lives. Pay attention, and reflect on them.

6. Overheard conversations. Sometimes you’re waiting in the doctor’s office, or having a quiet lunch alone. And the people next to you are having a conversation, perhaps louder than they should. You can’t help but overhear. Well, take advantage of this and jot down some notes. Actual dialogue is great, but even just ideas and topics can also work great.

7. Books and magazines. If you’re like me, you read a lot. A lot. Books, magazines (some of them online), websites, anything you can get your hands on. And in those reading materials are millions and billions of ideas. I’m not saying you should rip them off, but use them as inspiration. Sometimes you can rip them off … just be sure to attribute. “I was reading my favorite Mac magazine yesterday, and they had some great ideas for …”

8. Other blogs. This is a biggie, of course. Many people subscribe to dozens or even hundreds of blogs, just so they can get ideas for posts and stay current on the news in their niche. I only read 10 blogs every day, but I stumble on many more through links from those 10 blogs, and through links people send me. After awhile, you’ll find the blogs that really inspire you. Read those daily. Again, you don’t need to rip them off, but use them as inspiration. Sometimes you can do a reaction post to them, other times you can reference them, and still other times you can pay tribute to them.

9. Problems you have. What problems do you face in your daily life? I mean, on a big scale (where am I going in life? what am I here for?) and on a small scale (this toothpaste tube is so frustrating!). Any problems you face, chances are, others face them too. Reflect on these problems, find solutions, share.

10. Your life’s goals. What do you want to do in life? With work, with your finances, with your hobbies, with your family, with respect to where and how you live? You’re probably not alone in any of these goals. Share your goals, and how you plan to achieve them. Share what you’ve already achieved, and give advice based on how you did that. Do some research, and share that too.

11. Forums and online discussions. There are tons of discussions online, and reading them (without posting) is akin to eavesdropping. And it’s perfectly fine to do that. As long as you don’t waste your time: when you read these discussions, use them to inspire you to write some great posts.

12. Delicious, Digg, Reddit, Netscape. I don’t spend a lot of time on these sites, but when I do, I find all kinds of great reading material. And all of it inspires me to write my own posts. Don’t steal, but do find inspiration.

13. Your old posts. If you’ve been blogging for at least a few months, you’ve probably forgotten some of the stuff you’ve written. Take a few minutes to go back through your archives, back to the earliest days, and see what you spewed on about. Sometimes you can inspire yourself. And sometimes you can revisit an issue, or revamp an old post, and make it even better.

14. Reader comments. I’m saving the best for last. On my site, and on posts I write for other blogs, there are some amazing, intelligent, and quite frankly, attractive readers. More so on Zen Habits and NorthxEast than the other sites, but the readers are great everywhere. And in the comments is a treasure trove of great information, great ideas, great links. Mine these ideas and information, and horde it like it’s canned food and you’re in a post-apocalyptic world. Don’t waste reader comments.

15. Emails. Just as good are reader emails. After reading some of my posts, many readers will scratch their heads in confusion about whatever I’ve spewed on about, and will write to me with (quite justified) questions. I love reader questions. I often write back a detailed reply, and then use the question and my reply as a post (I dress it up a bit so people don’t realize that I’m just copying and pasting my emails into my blog). This post is one example of an idea I got from a reader email.

Liam Cavanagh

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