Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Finding Inspiration for Unique Content

Everyone's been--or will be--there. Where? Facing a deadline while grappling with writer's block. Getting past your block requires a bag of tricks.

Trying to Stay Cool


Today I'm sharing my bag of tricks--where I find inspiration along with an example of how I turn that inspiration into an Instagram series or a blog post.

How do you get inspired?
Do you participate in memes?

English teachers and writing coaches always tell students--write what you know. Cliche, but true. But, you don't want a simple rehash of cliches. And, that's not my style. As we count down to the six year anniversary of this blog, I'll be sharing with you insights I've learned along the way.

Getting Inspired by Irving Penn


Surrounding Yourself with Inspiration

I believe the imagination can be sparked by anything; you just have to open yourself up to the possibility and approach the tried and true with a beginner's mind. How you develop your inspiration determines how successful your resulting work will be. For example, if you're regurgitating, also known as summarizing or excerpting other people's content, the work might be a little bland. Now, if you jumped from someone's content to a carefully curated directory of resources or interpret their content in a different medium, the work may stand out. Think of a reproduction of Porky Pig in pen and ink (too similar to the original concept) versus a Porky Pig made out of deli meats (a presentation sure to generate some discussion).

Twelve Unlikely Sources of Inspiration for Bloggers


Unlikely Sources of Inspiration

Here are unlikely places where I've found inspiration for some of my most popular content:

  1. A particularly long or frustrating Internet search (yielded a Digital Washi Tape roundup)
  2. Page design (led to a discussion about a watercolor font I liked)
  3. Internet quizzes (formed the foundation for Going beyond First Impressions when Meeting Bloggers)
  4. Burning Man (a constant source of fascination for many especially when compared to a conference for creatives and designers)
  5. Workshop exercises (Recognizing Who I Am was an excerpt of Lesson 2 from last summer's Find Your Voice Workshop)
  6. Items in your pantry (Basic, Pre-Made Ingredients for Thai Curries and Soups was a laundry list of what's in my pantry along with why)
  7. Popular "mom jeans" fonts (generated a post with Tips for Choosing Fonts that Match Your Personality)
  8. Conference recaps (yielded a thoughtful comparison of Alt Summit's different formats)
  9. Holiday sales (a particularly brutal onslaught of daily don't miss out emails delivered to my inbox resulted in my annual Mindful Consumption Have not Want Challenge)
  10. Internet challenges (inspired my 6 for 4 Have not Want Challenge)
  11. Blog chains and awards, and,
  12. last but not least, Google Analytics (great for Best of content such as this post you're reading with the All Time Most Popular Posts on The Road to The Good Life and what inspired them cleverly disguised as a list of unlikely sources of inspiration.)

None of these posts would have worked or been successful had I not had a unique point of view and had I not made my source of inspiration relatable. I define relatable as including a common problem faced by my readers (you!) along with tips for overcoming that problem coupled with a story of how I faced similar challenges and overcame the same problem.

Selective Participation in Memes

I'm a big believer in writing or creating what you know and doing so from an authentic place. Nowadays, I rarely participate in weekly memes. (One notable exception is Follow Friday on Twitter (#FF) where I highlight people I've chatted with during the week or people who have inspired me or taught me something.) At one point, when I was developing content and wanting to get it in front of people, there wasn't a meme I didn't like, from Tuesday Shoesday to Thursday Purseday to Font Friday. But on my way to my first 500 posts, I realized this content often appeared forced and wasn't connecting with you. (I measure connection by both % of return visitors as well as bounce rate and average time on site.) So I stopped (the last chain I joined was 11 Things You Might not Know about Me), until today.

About two weeks ago, a fellow writer, Laura of Lolalina, asked a group of us if any of would like to talk about our writing process as part of the Writing Process Blog Tour. She had been tagged by another writer and wanted to direct visitors who were interested in how bloggers create to the sites of fellow writers. I quickly signed up. Not, for the new visitors (hi! and welcome!), but because the theme and questions dive deeper into what we're doing and why. It was a great opportunity to step back and think about why I do what I do. These were the questions:

  • What am I working on?
  • How does my work differ from others of its genre?
  • Why do I write what I do?
  • How does my writing process work?

Throughout this post I have answered these questions. You won't find the questions and the answers simply by scanning, and I did this on purpose. Many of us learn by doing, by seeing patterns and forming a hypothesis that links those patterns. If all I did was give a simple canned response, you'd miss out on context. My post length and my prose to imagery ratio differ from other lifestyle blogs. Why do I write this way? SEO? No. When I tried shorter posts my voice and the why for a particular piece of content often failed to come through. I write best when I share a problem and offer solutions and tie it to a personal story. When I read content, I live for the context; it's the context that keeps me coming back to a writer again and again.

Using a Photograph to Drive Inspiration


Example: An Instagram Series Inspired by a Photograph and Pointillism

Depending on the type of content I'm creating, a visual Instagram series, a recipe, or something else, the media I choose for my output differs, but the initial process doesn't. I usually start by flipping through a book or a stack of books.

A series of images I took this past Winter for an Instagram Series I was working on was inspired by a photograph Irving Penn had taken that I'd seen in Still Life: Irving Penn Photographs, 1938-2000(*affiliate link). This particular book was recommended by Justin Hackworth in his November 2012 Using Photography to Build Your Blog Alt Channel Class.

Through the Rain Instagram Series


Penn had shot a model through a window screen. I loved how the screen muted the scene, and I started looking through the screens on our windows, with and without rain, with and without a camera. Had I not seen Penn's photo, I wouldn't have thought to look through our screens, rather than through the unobstructed window pane above the screen. I wouldn't have noticed the way the water clung to the screen and diffused the view beyond. I wouldn't have been reminded of a Georges-Pierre Seurat painting. And I wouldn't have taken the photos (and the video) of water collecting on a screen.

Planning What's Next

For 2014, I set three goals and then identified tactics for achieving those goals. To expand the reach of my brand, I made a conscious effort to do one of the following each month: participate in a collaboration with other bloggers, exchange interviews, guest post, or attend (and possibly speak at) live in person events.

By now you may have guessed I'm not singling out people to share their writing process. Why? Because randomly naming people, without knowing their editorial calendars or their opinion of "chain posts" is a waste of time. For a chain post to drive traffic and to support your brand, it has to be unique and consistent. I love that Laura reached out to writers ahead of time and gave us the opportunity to opt in and plan our participation.

I've got a handful of such projects in the works for the rest of 2014. While I'd love to share specifics, I'm still finalizing details and putting pitches together. The biggest project I'm working on is this migration of this site from Blogger to Squarespace, a project that's been happening behind the scenes for the past two and a half months. If you follow me on social media, you've seen peeks into the new logo and design. I'm especially proud of how far this site has come and where it's going in the next few weeks. I hope you'll stick around and join me for the celebration.

genuinely eden

Credits: All layouts designed by and images taken by Eden Hensley Silverstein for The Road to the Good Life.

This post contains an affiliate link followed by (*affiliate link). I feature products that I own or that I am considering purchasing. I own the book mentioned in this post. All opinions presented are my own.
The Road To The Good Life is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to