My daily writing habit starts with knowing what to write about.
Before I built a content list (more on this later), I thought I could sit down, place my fingers on the keyboard and the ideas would come magically. But the best result of that approach was usually another coffee for me and 30 minutes wasted wondering what to write.
That ended when I built a content list. This post is an outline of how I come up with more than 30 weeks of daily writing ideas. With this list, it's easy to sit down each morning and write.
A few things this content list is not
Building a content list is not a monstrous task with keyword research, carefully plotted audience segments, or considered funnel stages. I don’t set goals and think about how to use each article to accomplish something. That's not the point of each idea and that's not the point of the daily writing habit. Yet.
To make my daily writing habit stick, I had to give myself permission to write without caring about the keywords and search intent. The content list is about making it easy to sit down every morning and write. That it’s. I can look at the list before I go to bed and know what I'm writing as soon as I sit down with my coffee in the morning. That's a pretty awesome feeling!
How I came up with 32 weeks worth of content ideas
You know I’m not doing keyword research or thinking through the impact of each content idea. You may think I’m going about this wrong, but there is structure to this.
These are the questions I answered to build my content list from zero to 32 ideas. If you want to write more, I encourage you to try this with me here. If you’re following along and building a content list, there are prompts below so you can build your own list of writing topics as we go.
Here are the questions and prompts I use to build a content list. You can use these or ask your own.
Note: Maybe it's just me, but writing with pen and paper helps me be more creative. If you get stuck on any question below, try pushing the keyboard away, grab a notebook and your favorite pen (I know you have one ;), and write it down.
Who am I writing for?
I need to know who I’m writing for and how I can help them. I decided to write for marketing managers at Saas companies. It’s work I can talk about and ideas I can share based on the work I do every day.
Prompt -- Who: Write down 3-5 audience ideas and describe each one in as much detail as you can. What is their job? What are they interested in learning and why? Write down as much as you can about each audience.
Remember, this exercise is about building a list of topics you can write about. Don't get hung up on any of these questions. Who do you want to write for? Who have you recently enjoyed working with? Who would you like to work with?
If you're doing this for a business blog, it's 100% fine to have segments and personas in mind. Write those down. The prompts still apply. And it's ok to want to write for "me" - add yourself to the list and write down your job, your interests, and things you'd like to learn more about.
Have fun with this! These people will be your readers.
What are their goals and what struggles do they have?
My focus is people who have jobs like mine and at companies similar to mine. This almost guarantees I can write about things they can relate to because my goals and challenges are probably the same as theirs.
Prompt -- Goals and Challenges: Write down what your readers want to achieve and what keeps them from achieving it. If it’s hard to get in their head, write down your goals and the struggles you have hitting them.
This can include career ambitions, things they want to learn, people they want to meet, places to go, etc.
What can I write about to help them?
At work I have goals around increasing MRR and increasing conversion rates. Most marketing managers have similar targets, so I have topics planned to talk about how we increased MRR and how we track conversion rates.
I can also write experiments we've tried and some we haven’t tried yet. If I write about what I’m planning to do, maybe a reader has tried similar experiments and can tell me about their experience. If a blog post or a video starts a dialog like that, it’s a win.
Prompt -- How to help: Make a list of everything you can help people with. If you get stuck, list out the things you do at work. List the advice you’ve gotten from books or mentors.
Writing has helped me learn a lot about what works and doesn't work when it comes to marketing. Being a part of a small team, and for years working independently, it's not easy to do project retrospectives or postmortems to learn what worked and what didn't. Writing about my successes and failures has helped me learn a ton and I bet it can help you too.
How can I expand on these topics?
The goals and challenges and lessons you just wrote down are all a main topic for a blog post. Just like that, you have a content list! To make it even better and in-depth, you can turn each topic into a blog post outline. Here’s how.
Write a topic at the top of a page and flesh out the subject. Start by writing down the first thing you do when faced with this challenge? Then write down the next step. Keep going to build a step-by-step summary of the topic. Get as detailed as you want.
Prompt -- Expand on each topic: Add each idea you've listed as a bullet point in a document. Hit enter and tab to crate a list and start typing out what else readers might need to know about the idea. If you need a target number, try to write 5-10 steps or subtopics below each writing idea.
This is the step that made my daily writing habit a reality. Each bullet is a section of a blog post and the outlines created at this point serve as writing prompts whenever I sit down to write. Having a simple bullet list of topics makes the process so simple and it also means you have weeks and weeks of daily writing topics (which could lead to months and months of blog posts, videos, podcasts, social posts, and more).
When you review your list of topics and outlines, you know what to write about when you sit down at the keyboard. This takes all the guess work out of “What am I going to write about?”
Keep it simple
I'm a bit of a tools/apps/toys junkie, so of course I would look for the best place to keep my content ideas lists. I wanted to build the perfect content calendar. There are amazing tools out there to organize content and structure plans.
But you really don't need that stuff. Not at this point.