One of the best ways to find new content ideas: write what you want to read

Coming up with new topic ideas is one of the hardest parts of content marketing. When you're trying to keep up with a hectic schedule of regular publishing, you're always under the pump to find new ideas.

As Austin Kleon says, "A cliched piece of writing advice is to "write what you know," but really, this is terrible advice."

I'm constantly looking for new ideas, and often find myself browsing RSS feeds or apps like Prismatic, looking for inspiration. Although this practice doesn't usually work, it does remind me of one of the best ways to find new ideas: writing what I want to read. Which Austin just so happens to suggest as an alternative to "write what you know".

Not write what you know. Write what you like. — Austin Kleon

Write what you want to read

This approach works especially well if you're the ideal reader for your blog. Here's a good way to know if that's you:

  • Do you read other blogs on the same topic as yours?
  • Would you read your blog if you didn't write it?
  • Do you write content for your blog about things that interest you?
  • Do you enjoy what you learn when researching/writing for your blog?

If you're the ideal reader for your blog, you can dogfood your own content. Just like any good product creator, who uses their product themselves to see how it feels to use and how it fits into their lives, getting use out of your own content helps you make it better for your readers.

When you're looking for new ideas to write about, think about the content you want to read. When you browse Twitter or Facebook, what's missing for you? What are you looking for that's not there?

When you read RSS feeds or listen to podcasts, which ones do you gobble up as soon as there's something new, and wish for more of?

Those gaps are a huge boon to your creative process. They're telling you exactly what's missing that you can create.

Fill in those gaps yourself by writing the content you want to read. If there's already some out there but you want more, try digging deeper into the same topics. Fill in the gaps you're feeling and you'll be filling in the gaps your readers have noticed, too.

This is basically fan fiction for content marketing. But what's wrong with that? If you love what you're reading and want more, go make it yourself.

As author Ava Jae says, writing what you don't want to read "is almost guaranteed to lead to this:"

  • A slow, agonizing writing process that your heart isn’t really into.
  • An even slower, more agonizing editing process that your heart definitely isn’t into.

Sounds painful, right? Not to mention the more you enjoy your work, the more enjoyable it will be for your readers to consume. I almost always get more good feedback from readers on the posts I enjoy writing the most. Somehow my enjoyment naturally comes through and helps the reader get more from the end result.

When I read blogs, I'm always looking for more content related to my work. I want to read about writing, content marketing, and marketing for startups.

But I have trouble finding the right style of content. The web is full of listicles, marketing tips and tricks, and slimy tactics. None of this appeals to me. I'm looking for real stories full of lessons learned and advice from other startup founders. I want authentic content that cares about its readers and doesn't focus on pop-ups, list-building, and linkbacks, but rather writing great content people can learn from, and respecting your audience.

Since I'm constantly looking for more of this content, but I can't find enough of it to satisfy my reading needs, I'm writing it myself. We're focusing on authentic content that's useful and stays away from slimy tricks here at Ghost. That's what I want to read, and we're banking on finding more readers who want the same thing.

What if you're not your ideal audience?

So maybe you're writing for people who aren't the same as you. Sometimes that happens. What do you do then?

You can use this approach just the same, only you'll need to talk to your audience more since you can't rely on your own intuition.

If you know where your audience hangs out online you can see what kind of content they're sharing, what they're saying about the content they read, and what kind of discussions they're having.

Questions are a good pointer that they're struggling to find the answers they need, so pay special attention to those. Reddit and Quora are useful all-purpose networks to find discussions and Q&A threads for your research.

Lately I've been bemoaning the lack of content I'm excited to read. Too much of what I come across is all the same, and doesn't teach me anything.

Rather than wasting that frustration by complaining, this approach lets me lean into it and use my disappointment to fuel my own content ideas engine. By noticing what headlines I click on that don't deliver, and what topics I return to over and over even when I'm not reading much of what I find, I can identify the gaps I'm trying to fill.

Try to take notice of how you feel about the blogs you read, or the posts you see on social networks. If you click on a headline that sounds interesting but find the post is a let down, write it down as a topic idea. Nothing's stopping you from taking that same idea and writing the post you wanted to read.

When everything's a remix, it's more than okay to steal like an artist.

nothing is original by Austin Kleon

On the other hand, as Ava Jae points out, it's also important to read what you want to write. If there's a style, tone, or "genre" of blogging you want to write, read the content by bloggers who are doing it well. You can get just as much inspiration from what's out there as you can from what's not.

The manifesto is this: draw the art you want to see, make the music you want to hear, write the books you want to read. — Austin Kleon

Image credits: Nothing is original via intrepidNOW.