Trying to find content used to be hard for me. Take for example this site. When I first started, I would rattle my brain for hours trying to find something to talk about that I also felt comfortable talking about.
I would set up a particular day and time to work and attempt to pull something “out of my ass.” This worked for the first few times when ideas were festering in my head. Eventually, as all writers do, I ran into a roadblock. And each time, it became increasingly more difficult to figure out what to post.
When I started becoming frustrated with generating content I wondered if I had exhausted everything I had wanted to talk about without running the risk of writing an identical post. I was only down about 15 articles at the time.
I was in awe of those who could come up with a new blog post every day while I was struggling to come up with one per week.
Eventually I realized I was going about it wrong. (Or at least for me it was wrong.) I was emptying a well that was in desperate need of refilling. The problem was I had no idea how to refill this well. If inspiration didn’t hit me, I did nothing. And there was a long, long phase of nothing that transpired.
During the months of nothingness, my “well” filled in a drop at a time. Little tidbits of ideas would come to mind; I never wrote them down somehow thinking if they were important enough I’d remember it. Now I write down EVERY thing. You never know where that magnificent gem is hiding.
It was also in these months I figured out a way to become a “content-generating whore.” Whether you’re a blogger, musical director, television program director, or part of the A&R division for a record label, if the essence of what you do rely on generating content, learning how to find said content is an essential skill.
Question. Why are there those that can visit a city, walk up and down the busiest streets with the most lively boutiques, restaurants, and coffee shops, and tell their friends there’s nothing to do there, and then there are those that find something exciting on every block of that same street?
Here’s my answer…
PAY ATTENTION, DUMMY!
Finding something, means paying attention to something. Somehow, someway, there’s a way to associate what you see, hear, feel, or experience to something tangible. You get what you focus on.
WHERE’S YOUR NOTEBOOK?
First off, you need a place where you can start collecting ideas, inspirations, pictures, sound files, and anything else you may use for future use. I used to keep things in physical notebooks such as those composition notebooks you can buy at Target. I found it limiting whenever I had ideas that required sound, and eventually bought a portable tape recorder (now I just use my phone.) A small camera also comes in handy when you find ideas around you that could only be captured visually (again, I now use my phone).
My go-to tool now is Evernote. It allows me to keep everything I come across (texts, photos, web snippets, audio files, drawings, etc.) in virtual notebooks. Plus I have the app for my iPhone so whenever I spot something interesting I load that up. All the information is saved “in the cloud” so when I get home I also have all the information for me when I log onto my account.
I have a block of time I use for searching for interesting and ‘cool shit.’ This is my discovery time. The majority of this time is at home while surfing the internet, though I can do this all on my phone as well and hence, can be anywhere in the world I want. Learning not to let it become a time suck was a pretty big hurdle but I’ve won, I think.
How do you find “cool shit?” and how do you start?
Well, I’m assuming you already have sites you frequent already. These would be your main hubs for information. For instance, a few of mine are: wired.com, fastcompany.com, and menshealth.com. These are my hubs because the information in these types of sites cater to the masses and will therefore have more variety in terms of topics and scope. Then I have the blogs I follow which tend to be on more niche topics, and lastly sites like StumbleUpon that allow me to just find random posts on… well, anything.
As I do this, I’m adding or removing sites to my list of hubs and blogs, but I try not to have more than 10 variable content hubs and five industry specific blogs per niche. I know you may think that having more stuff to search around with would be beneficial, but I find it tends to slow me down and become overwhelming. Having a manageable amount of information to provide me enough content-ideas is the ideal.
Of course, you could always just bookmark everything you come across, but during a discovery session I’d like to only have to go to a few places versus a few hundred places. This becomes a protocol in filtering the information somewhat.
Offline discovery, on the other hand, is all about the drive and the destination. Enjoying yourself as you’re out and about becomes key as well as being aware of your surroundings. Besides reading newspapers and magazines at coffee shops or bookstores (which is basically in the same camp as my discovery session online), discovery offline is more organic in nature. More spontaneous. If things come up, and seems like a good idea, I jot it down on a piece of paper, or take a picture, record a dictation, or log it on Evernote on my phone.
And that’s it as far as discovery goes. I’ve tried to make things as simple as I can with the amount of complexity in information streaming. Even simplifying becomes an art once you get going at it.
To aid in my discovery session I use several apps/programs/widgets/whatever to get things down and logged for processing info and extracting the “gold” later.
Pocket. (Formerly known as Read It Later) I’ve found this to be super helpful whenever I don’t have enough time to read and process information found online. Instapaper used to be my favorite, but I fell in love with design of this app.
Pulse. My main news aggregator in use on my iPhone and Kindle. I love the sleek design which makes reading enjoyable. Nothing turns me off more than lines and lines of texts for titles. Plug in news sites and blogs. Basically anything with an RSS is easily imported in.
Update: I’m now playing with an app called “Flipboard” for the iPhone, iPad, and Android. It seems very promising and the design is sick. It does everything that Pulse does along with pulling feeds from your Facebook and Twitter accounts, and other social sites. I’m not sure if knowing what my friends like is always a good thing, but it does make my discovery session interesting.
Netvibes. I use this every once in a while. The dashboard aspect appealed to me in getting all the pertinent information I wanted on one screen on my computer. But then I got a bigger screen and all text tends to run together now. I usually use this strictly for blogs. It’s also quicker to click to the main site from here if I ever wanted to leave a comment.
SHUT UP WHEN COLLECTING IDEAS!!
One tip while you’re on this journey for inspiration and idea mongering; tell the left hemisphere of your brain to STFU (shut the f*ck up) for a while. There is no “editing” whilst gathering. Second guessing ideas works against the process of discovery. Who knows if a bad idea will work with another bad idea to create a synergistic good idea? I don’t know. Therefore, it’s best to keep ALL ideas down and process them when you get to the development stage.
So there you have it, a model for going from scarcity to abundance in the world of generating content.
QUESTION: WHAT WAYS DO YOU HAVE FOR FINDING MAGIC TO USE IN YOUR ENDEAVOURS? LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW AND LET’S CONJURE UP MORE WAYS TO GENERATE.
Image: Le tre madri by Funky64