The Not-So-Secret Secret Prolific Writers Rely On

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Every corporate blogger or content marketer faces the same horrifying challenge: Generate meaningful ideas and turn those into content. Then do the same thing tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day, and so on.

It’s daunting and exhausting, and it’s enough to make people stop caring about quality and just try to make something — anything — that will appease the demands of your boss or your sales team.

In the world of creating on-demand, every writer battles a common enemy:

That damn blinking cursor.

You know the one. It sits there taunting you when you open up your blogging software, causing you to break out into cold sweats because you don’t know what on this sweet earth to write.

Or maybe you’re really feeling it when you wake up. You might open your laptop, coffee in hand, excited to create something awesome. Who knows? It might go “viral” and get you “syndicated” or drive some “leads” so you can get “promoted” and finally make enough “money” to propose to your “girlfriend” who watches too much “Bachelor” and drives you up a "wall"….erm, uh…I digress.

Writing is hard! Doing it every stinking day is even worse (especially if the day is somehow actually stinky. Then I'd suggest new employment.)

So you, my smelly friend, need an idea pipeline.

What’s an idea pipeline, I pretend you ask as I write this? It's an app that syncs between mobile and desktop. That’s all! Trello, Evernote, Google Drive, and more — they all count. (I use Evernote for personal writing and Trello for teams.)

You use this app to save any and all random thoughts, half-baked paragraphs, working headlines, stats you hear and may want to write about, links that inspire creativity, graphics or videos you wish to embed and share, and so forth. EVERY SINGLE THOUGHT that could be worth writing about, you save. If your idea pipeline were your best friend, she’d tell you to just shut the hell up already. But she’s not. She’s your idea pipeline. Which, incidentally, is a writer's best friend. Only she doesn't want you to shut up -- she wants you to write more, and write better. (Cuz quality, like, matters you guys...)

Great idea pipelines contain two parts:

The first and most obvious half is merely a list of random, singular post ideas: data points you find interesting, half-baked headlines, a paragraph or two you bust out when a free moment presents itself, a link you found, etc. These are used to create one post per idea.

The second half is where some creators go from good to great. I call this half “The Well.” You can dip into The Well over and over without running dry. This section contains ideas for templates, series, or tropes that you can launch repeatedly. So it might read something like this:

  • Answer customer questions
  • Weekly link roundup
  • Embed and react to infographics
  • Meatball Mondays
  • Pinterest Week

These are all things you either suspect or know will resonate. (By the way, let me know if you launch Meatball Mondays? I’m Italian, so…I'm contractually obligated to enjoy that.)

Using templates or recurring segments doesn’t come from the marketing world.

A quick look at any major media outlet will reveal their use of The Well. Take my favorite show of all-time, The Bachel—I MEAN SPORTSCENTER! SportsCenter is my favorite show!

So yeah, take SportsCenter: They’ll have plenty of unique, news-based clips and reports, a few deeper dives into the bigger stories of the day, a few original graphics showing interesting trends, and so on. But they’ll also regularly run a 60-second segment featuring the guys from Pardon the Interruption, or bring in a football analyst for Coors Light Cold Hard Facts, or (everyone’s favorite) count down the top 10 plays of the day -- which becomes the "not top 10" bloopers every Friday. (It's like a Well within The Well. Is that content inception? Cue this sound.)

Back to the marketing world: Moz has become famous for their Whiteboard Fridays video series. At HubSpot, the blog editor Corey Eridon had an idea to do “marketing in 100 words” one Saturday morning and, given some positive feedback, turned it into a recurring thing.

The Well helps you fill gaps in between your individual moments of brilliance or your larger projects which aren’t ready to launch.

They also help audiences anticipate recurring themes that feel special, like they’re in the club.

And if all else fails, there’s always Meatball Mondays...

In my next post, I’ll share some visual examples of a few different styles of idea pipelines, including the one we used at HubSpot to manage a blog that publishes four times per day to over 230,000 subscribers (so it's a spicy one! ...and THAT is my final meatball reference, I promise).

(Update: Here's the next post)

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Posted on April 15, 2014 .