How to Brainstorm Ideas for Writing

Before I got into the habit of writing and publishing on a schedule I couldn’t figure out how to brainstorm ideas. It was pretty hard in fact, to the point where I felt regular terror when I sat down to write.

Brainstorm ideas

The blank page would stare at me, judging. Sometimes there would be so much pressure I would crumple under it, give up and watch television instead. And after enough time of that happening I would skip the pretending to write part altogether and go straight to television.

But this didn’t make me feel good about myself so after allowing the self-pity to continue for an awkward amount of time I pulled up my socks and learned how to brainstorm ideas for writing. And I’m pleased to say it’s something you can do too.

How to Brainstorm Ideas for Writing

This is a little exercise I picked up over the years and since making it work for me I have never sat down wondering what to write. Writing is no longer a terrifying experience but something I look forward to and find pleasure in. I hope my brainstorm ideas and/or method helps you.

First, you need to know who your ideal reader is. This may seem like a strange step for brainstorming ideas for writing but trust me, this is a key step. Even if it’s a loose definition, think about the person (real or fictional) who would most be interested in reading your work.

Answer these questions

  • What does your ideal reader tend to focus on?
  • On social media, what does your ideal reader like sharing about?
  • From what you can gather, what is your ideal reader most need/want/desire?

Once you know the answers to those initial questions answer this one: what problem are you solving for your ideal reader through your writing?

Through thinking about your ideal reader you should have a few words and phrases jotted down. Take a look and add a few more words to the page. This time, write down everything you’d like to write about one day. It can be vague or specific, long or short. Just jot down as much as you can think of in a five-minute period.

Look at the list you came up with and compare it to your first one—are you seeing any good brainstorming ideas? Are you seeing some common threads? Find four topics that match both what you want to write about and what your ideal reader is struggling with. Once you find four, write them down.

This last step is the most fun

Decide how much you’re going to write and break down your topics into sub-categories. For example, if I have four main topics and I decide I want to write one blog post per week, then I need 52 sub-categories. That is around 13 ideas per topic. While this seems like a lot I don’t need more than a word or short phrase at this point. I’ll list a few of my brainstorm ideas for the next few blog posts below as an example of what I mean.

  • How to brainstorm blog posts (that’s this post, by the way)
  • Keywords
  • Places to find freelance jobs
  • Prescriptive non-fiction
  • Where to get free stock photos

But what if you can’t think of sub-categories? Or what if you have a few ideas but can’t get to 13? Here are a few suggestions for finding topic ideas.

Brainstorm ideas for coming up with sub-categories

  • Pay attention to questions people ask you. If you hear a question you think your ideal reader would ask, write it down
  • If you’re in any online networking groups, take a look around and see the types of questions being asked and the conversations happening. Again, if you see something your ideal reader might be interested in, write it down
  • Go through your emails and see what types of topics the people you follow are addressing. Anything interesting in there? Is there a new angle or spin you can put on the topic and to help your ideal reader in some way?
  • Pick a topic from your list of “I’d like to write about this one day” ideas. Maybe it’s not a top four topic but it might make a perfect sub-category!

If you try these ideas and are still super stuck, here’s a helpful seven-step method to come up with brainstorm ideas fast.

This is the main way I come up with brainstorm ideas whenever I’m working on something new. I’ll condense the steps here for a quick reminder.

Steps for finding brainstorm ideas

  1. First, I put myself in the shoes of my ideal reader and think about what s/he would like to read
  2. Second, I write a quick list of everything I’m interested in writing about one day
  3. Third, I compare the first two lists and see where they intersect. I look for four main topics from this process
  4. Fourth, I brainstorm sub-categories to fit under the four main topics by looking at what people are already asking about, by watching what other people are talking about and by writing about things I think my ideal reader will resonate with

Have you tried this method before? I’d love to compare notes!

Before I got into the habit of writing and publishing on a schedule I couldn't figure out how to brainstorm ideas. Sitting down to write became terrifying.

Other articles on this subject

How to Create a Writing Schedule | 3 Steps

When you’re ready to write a book and you know the genre and how many words it will be, your next step is to create a writing schedule.

Create a Writing Schedule

A lot of people skip this step and launch into writing their book. And I get it, you’re enthusiastic. You want to dive right in. Whee! But if you are serious about finishing your book (not just starting) then take a minute to create a writing schedule. You won’t regret it.

I’m skipping past a couple important pieces of the book writing process, researching and outlining. Make sure you also build in time for this but know it’s not part of the book writing part—it’s extra.

How to create a writing schedule

When you create a writing schedule you’re building a strategy to ensure writing becomes integrated into your lifestyle so you reach your larger goals. This strategy prepares you for days you don’t feel like writing or for illness or for whatever else life throws at you.

Step one: decide when you want to complete your first draft. Your first draft won’t be your final product, but getting this first draft done is one of the biggest steps in the book-writing process. Pick a specific date and write it down.

Step two: Figure out how many words per day you can write. You’ll hear about people who can write thousands of words per day and expect you can do the same. Don’t assume. The average amount of words you can write per day or in one sitting is different for everyone so learn what works best for you and build your schedule around it. Once you know this number, write it down.

Step three: Build a realistic writing schedule. To write a book you need blocks of focused time. How much do you have available? What do you need to put in place to protect it? When you make time to write in your day-to-day schedule there’s a much better chance of it happening. So make time. Block it out in your calendar. Put it in your schedule. Say you’re unavailable during writing time. And make sure it’s sustainable so you stick with it.

Want these tips for yourself? Download the printable below.

Once you have your end date, your average daily word count and your writing schedule decided it’s time to work backwards. Start with the end in mind and break up your book into monthly, then weekly, then daily goals. Build in time for the unexpected—remember, we’re working with reality here and life happens even when we’re writing a book.

By taking time to create a writing schedule you change your internal dialogue from “Someday I’ll write a book,” to “By THIS DATE I’ll write a book.” That’s a huge difference. And by breaking down this massive project into small, daily steps, it won’t be so overwhelming. Each day you’ll sit at your writing station with purpose and you’ll write. And by your deadline, if you’ve planned it well, you’ll finish your book.

By taking time to create a writing schedule you change your internal dialogue from "Someday I'll write a book," to "By THIS DATE I'll write a book." That's a huge difference.

Create strategies so you stick to your schedule. There will be days you don’t feel like writing. Find ways to write anyway.

This training is part of the Writer’s Breakfast Workshops happening October 13 and October 27, 2018. Join in!

Marketing Ideas for Writers Who Hate Marketing

It’s not like I haven’t written about marketing ideas or argued why writers need to pay attention to marketing before but it just seems to keep coming up.

Easy Marketing Ideas for Writers

So here we are again.

By the way, I talk about marketing and give out marketing ideas all the time because I believe in its power to transform people’s careers and businesses.

But what if you’re the type of writer who just wants to write and have people read it? You don’t want to bother with the muss and fuss of marketing. Or maybe you’re the type of writer who thinks marketing means selling out. Are you someone who thinks marketing makes you one of those pushy sales people who alienates friends and family?

Let’s get something straight: marketing doesn’t have to be like that. So when I hear excuses like I’m too busy to do marketing or I don’t need to do marketing or I don’t have the money to invest in marketing I think…you don’t get it. None of those things are valid.

If you’re saying any of these things here’s what you mean: you don’t want to do marketing. Marketing doesn’t have to take a lot of time and it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. And it’s fine if you don’t want to do marketing. But don’t expect people to find you. “If you write it they will come” isn’t a thing. It doesn’t work like that.

End of tough love part. Beginning of marketing ideas part.

I wanted to give writers who hate marketing (or are afraid of it) a few easy marketing ideas for easing in. I do hope these help.

  • Learn how to incorporate your writing into casual conversation. There is a way to talk about who you are and what you do without coming across as promotional or insincere. Figure this out and you won’t even realize you’re marketing
  • Focus on the benefits your writing offers others. This is one of those amazing marketing things I love teaching people. Stop talking about YOU and YOUR work. Flip it around and talk about its impact. People don’t care about what you do, they care about the benefit they’ll get from working with you or reading your work
  • Talk about your writing on social media. Consider your social media platforms as places where you can attract new readers. Talk about your writing in a natural way, like you do with your friends, and see who you can inspire

Just a reminder, these days if you’re a writer hoping to become an author, you need to do your own marketing. And you need to do it long before your book comes out. No matter if you’re self-publishing or traditional publishing, you are the driver of the marketing vehicle. If you want to sell books/get an agent/get a book deal/people to read your writing you have to accept marketing as a part of your life.

It's not like I haven't written about marketing ideas or argued why writers need to pay attention to marketing before but it just seems to keep coming up.

Other marketing ideas for writers

Benefits of Having a Literary Agent

A literary agent represents writers and authors and is equal parts opportunity finder, deal negotiator and career advisor. While it’s not required to have a literary agent to get a traditional book deal, most writers recommend having one.

Since they’re up-to-date with the latest book publishing trends and have in-depth market knowledge, literary agents are positioned to handle the business end of writing—allowing you to focus on the writing end of writing.

Benefits of Having a Literary Agent

I met an author who told me how he got a book deal without an agent. I’m glad to meet someone who had a positive publishing experience this way but I have questions. Why did he skip this step? What made him want to pursue traditional publishing on his own? Would he do it again for his next book?

Here are a few ways having a literary agent benefits a writer

Legitimate agents work on commission so they don’t get paid unless you do. Talk about common interests! You can rest assured they have your best interests at heart.

Literary agents have a strong knowledge of the publishing business and have access to major publishing houses. They know they right people working in the right places and can get those doors open quicker than you can.

They read a lot and know what sells. Literary agents know good writing, they know the market and they know what editors are looking for. They know what you need to do to get a book deal.

Think of a literary agent as a connector. They connect authors with the appropriate publisher, negotiate the best deals possible and mediate any issues between the writer and editor that may arise during the book publishing process.

If you want a literary agent take some time researching the different ones out there and make a list of ones you think are a good fit for you and your writing. You find a literary agent through querying your book. While there aren’t really “types” of literary agents they all have different areas of expertise and preferred genre.

it's not required to have a literary agent to get a traditional book deal

Obtaining a literary agent isn’t necessary if you’re self-publishing a book. You may consider hiring a publicist or business coach, but these are different roles than what a literary agent plays.

Other posts you’ll find helpful

Evergreen Content Ideas for Writers

One of the hardest thing about being a working freelance writer is coming up with content for your personal website and digital platforms, which is why you need an evergreen content strategy. Trust me on this, it will change your life.

Evergreen Content Ideas for Bloggers

Writers who want to build an online platform know they should be producing content online, maybe a blog or something similar. And in theory it makes sense—a blog is an excellent way to showcase your skills as a writer and advertise your services. In reality things are a bit trickier. What do you write about? And how do you balance writing for yourself/your site with writing for clients?

This is where an evergreen content strategy comes in

Evergreen content can be described as the foundation of your blog—and this surprises many people for a couple reasons. First, because it’s hard to comprehend how timeless articles can stay relevant over time and second because hardly anyone has heard of evergreen content.

How can evergreen content be a foundation when I’ve never heard of it before!?

I know! But I’ll explain everything and you’ll never wonder what to write about on your website again.

First I’ll talk about what evergreen content is, then I’ll explain how to come up with evergreen content ideas in a way you can balance with your freelance writing workload.

What is evergreen content?

“Evergreen” is jargon but the word makes sense—think of evergreen trees, they keep their needles year-round and the needles maintain their green colouring thus, ever-green. Evergreen content works the same way, it stays relevant year-round and answers questions people are asking years after it was written.

Why you should employ an evergreen content marketing strategy is because this timeless, relevant information will deliver a consistent stream of leads to your website month over month. It takes a bit of time and effort to set up but once you have the wheels in motion this approach will allow you to spend your mental energy on your freelance clients while your website works in the background.

How to come up with evergreen content ideas

The best way to come up with ideas is to know your audience. In a freelance writer’s case, your audience is your ideal client. Think about who you serve and what problems they’re trying to solve. Your website or blog content should solve those problems and answer common questions. The more questions you answer the stronger your foundation.

Here’s what you need to do when coming up with evergreen content ideas: get clear on who you’re talking to (your ideal reader) and what you offer (what’s your goal? What are you trying to achieve?), decide what your topics are, and put everything into a calendar template.

To systemize these ideas (and actually get them written) you’ll need to take your ideas and build a content calendar with them.

Of course we could go a lot deeper when talking about creating evergreen content—there’s SEO, keyword research and virality to consider. But for today we’ll stick with the concept of evergreen content and building a strong online foundation as the base of your freelance writing business. When done well it’s a beautiful thing.

One of the hardest thing about being a working freelance writer is coming up with content for your personal website and digital platforms, which is why you need an evergreen content strategy. Trust me on this, it will change your life.

Bonus: here’s a helpful post on what type of posts work best for evergreen content from Thirteen Thoughts.