Drinking from the Information Fire Hose: Using the Internet to Power Your Posts
"But what should I write about?" I'm asked that over and over again, and sometimes when I suggest topics I even get "Oh, no one would want to read about that." No, you're right, I suggested it because I want to see you write really bad stuff (sarcasm).
In seriousness, getting that spark of inspiration is something that is hard to explain. The bolt from the blue does happen, just not often. I get most of my ideas from other people who intersect with me. Sometimes it's an electronic intersection; sometimes it's in real life (IRL). The key I've found is when you become inspired, don't dismiss it. Run with it for a bit in your head, on paper, or electronically. Just see where it takes you.
Now, let's get to those intersection points.
I can't speak for everyone's friends, but I am lucky enough to be surrounded by some of the most brilliant, creative, and scary-smart people I've ever known. Looking at the things they create, share, and link to always gets something going in my head.
I talk more specifically about building your online community in Chapter 4, "Building Community," but within your community there are always people who send you interesting links and such directly. Many of them inspire you with a comment they leave on your blog. The real great stuff from you often comes from all the other "stuff" they do online. Bloggers call all that stuff, when it is all put together, a lifestream . I cover building a blog from your lifestream in Chapter 10, "Creating a Lifestreaming Blog." For now, just visualize a website where everything someone puts online can be read—pictures, shared playlists, shared links, posts, and updates from Twitter. Yes, that's a lot of information.
Let's start small though. My two favorite ways to get inspiration from the community (and just small segments of larger lifestreams) are Twitter and Shared items from Google Reader.
Twitter is a microblogging service where people share "tweets" of 140 characters or fewer with people who follow them (like being friends on Facebook) and read the tweets of the people they follow. I follow and am followed by several thousand people right now.
I read the tweets from the people I follow in an application called TweetDeck (www.tweetdeck.com) that enables me to segment people into groups (like Friends, News, and Folks) so I can read more and not miss something that is important to me (see Figure 3.7).
Figure 3.7 Organizing tweets using TweetDeck.
So along with the wit and news my friends share, I also get updates from sources like CNN, CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), and a myriad of tech websites. Combined, this makes for a lot of potential inspiration, but it doesn't end there. Google Reader is the leading RSS reader and has a function where you can share articles you like as a public list. Like Twitter, people follow your shared items list and vice versa. The larger and more diverse the number of people you follow, the more varied kinds of articles you will see. Figure 3.8 gives you a look at a small portion of the shared items I've received in one day.
Figure 3.8 A look at my shared items in Google Reader for one day.
It doesn't matter what time of day or night, what the topic is, and so on, the community of people I follow and who follow me as well are a constant source of inspiration and support. So, if your community doesn't inspire you, come visit mine, we'd love to meet you.
Contrary to popular belief, geeks do have lives and do venture outside. Fine, geeks often carry laptops, cameras, iPhones/Blackberries, but they're out in the "real" world. As you would expect, the real world can always provide something to write about. Going to a conference, a store, the local coffee place, and even walking down the street can provide you with much needed fodder. If you aren't inspired by real life, you need to get out more.
Geeks like to share what they know and have learned. To do this, they like to hang out together and generally geek out. In Vancouver, they have regular meetups for bloggers and people interested in PR and social media, and photowalks to just wander around and take pictures. There are even Tweetups, which are meetups organized through Twitter. Often, meetups are purely social, just time after work in a pub. But meetups, like Third Tuesday, bring in guest speakers to talk about blogging, social media, and society. These semi-structured social times are only part of the inspiration the real world brings.
- The world around you is inspiring—remember to open your eyes.
How about a good or bad encounter with someone at a store? Did you get awesome, over-the-top service or something that makes you want to never go there again? How about just something you see on the street that strikes you funny. Take a picture of it with your cell phone if you can, and use that as the seed of a post.
The world around you is inspiring—remember to open your eyes.
Chapter 4 goes more in depth with comments, but here is a short bit on how comments inspire me and my writing. As a reminder, part of blog posts and blogging is the capability of people to leave comments on the posts you've written. These comments can be everything from "That was awesome" to "You're completely wrong!" to "Yes, but have you thought about this angle..." and all of these can be sources of inspiration for your writing.
Sometimes there is nothing more inspiring than people reading your post and taking it in a whole new direction. It's very gratifying to me when someone reads what I wrote and then sees something else in the post that is more interesting than what I wrote. When that happens, and it will, build on it by writing a follow-up post. You might even think about asking the commenter to contribute to the post. This kind of writing symbiosis is one of the greatest parts of blogging. When your readers feel that they are also contributors to your blog, it only serves to strengthen your larger community. You also start to build a loyal following who will cheer you on when you get that book deal!
Great comments like that are amazing gifts. Don't waste them!