I was a creative writing minor in college — I wanted something practical to fall back on in case my journalism career didn’t pan out. I might not have gotten the backup career I was angling for, but the training has served me well in more ways than I can count.

Creative writing teaches you to accept criticism, to distill complex ideas into small packages and to refine a concept again and again until it shines. More than anything else, however, it taught me to brainstorm. A good fiction program is a forced march of creativity. You can’t sit around in a meadow, waiting for the muse to sing in you — you’ve got heartless deadlines to meet. If you want to be a writer, you have to learn to fake it until you make it.

If you’re a professional blogger, I’ll bet that sounds sickeningly familiar. There are days when you feel like you couldn’t write another post about WidgetCorp if your mother’s life depended on it. If you’re really feeling burned out, taking a day off can work wonders for your creative spirit, but that’s not always an option. Sometimes, you’ve got no choice but to cheat the muse out of her wares.

In class, we’d use prompts, little preset writing exercises, to get us started on days when the ideas weren’t flowing easily. There are many different styles of writing prompts, but in my opinion, questions are easily the best tools you have at your disposal for priming the pump of creativity. A good question is a mental hack that circumvents your usual blocks and gets you to think about a problem in a new way.

Next time you’re starved for ideas, try some of these reliable standards.

  • Take a cue from the Jewish Seder. A traditional Passover Seder involves the ritual asking of questions, the most famous of which is, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” That question is at the heart of all story telling. Why is this day (or event or person or product or company or idea) different? What makes what you blog about special? We can become so mired in our work that we lose track of what makes what we do unique. Ask yourself this question to help you rediscover your work.
  • Take a cue from Reddit. The folks at Reddit aren’t boasting when they say their community is the front page of the Internet. A lot of the best Web traditions have their start in that community. Two of their best-loved boards are Ask Me Anything and Explain Like I’m Five. AMA threads can offer readers deep, probing and unfiltered access to someone else’s experiences. ELI5, meanwhile, lets member break down a subject into its most elemental components — sometimes leading even veterans to see a tired subject with fresh eyes. Try challenging yourself to explain some facet of your work with ELI5 simplicity or with AMA candor. Coming up with the answers might just teach you a thing or two about your humdrum day job.
  • Take a cue from the reporter of your dreams. Pretend you’re a reporter from the biggest trade publication in your field. Sit down and interview yourself. Ask yourself all the questions you wish real reporters would take the time to consider. Write out your answers. Now just strip out the questions and you’ve got a whole series of blog posts on little-explored topics in your field.
  • Take a cue from your readers. What are your fans always asking you? What can you do to pull back the curtain? How can you grant your fans special access?

How are you finding blogging inspirations today?

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One Response to “How the right question can help you break out of a blogging rut”

  1. Dom Crincoli says:

    Thoughtful post, Jesse. Thanks for sharing.