Inspiration is grossly overrated
I'm often asked how, after 27 years in “art and copy”, I can get up in the morning and just create on demand. And for such “boring” topics as concrete, computer software and gum surgery. “How do you find the inspiration?” I have news for them: I don't.
Being creative is a discipline. Years ago I was a runner. I'd get up every single morning and run 10K. There was no need to get into my special “space”, so I'd feel “inspired.” I had made the commitment to run every day, so I did. My muscles were conditioned and my body knew what to do. In the same way, the creative mind is like a muscle. If you blog every day before bed, so the post can go live first thing in the morning, your mind will rise to the occasion.
Your subconscious mind will soon learn to discover content material and generate blog topics throughout the day, and night, and you will need to have a place to jot down those ideas. I often awaken with ideas for several client posts. Your notebook or tablet will probably take up permanent residence on the nightstand.
Tools and systems
One of the most important disciplines you will need to develop as a business blogger is becoming a collector of ideas, inspiration and source material. You can't rely on your memory to bring back a flood of ideas when you sit down at the computer.
Note-taking and clipping can become messy in a hurry. Overwhelmed, frustrated creatives are rarely productive, so choosing a system that works for you is essential. Successful bloggers have come up with a variety of systems for note-taking and the clipping and storage of source material. Some are physical, others virtual and some are a combination of the two.
For many, a Moleskine notebook and a shoebox for clippings have served them well for decades. They feel more creative with pen in hand and like to spread out their clippings on the floor or bed. 3×5″ index cards and Post-It notes often supplement the trusty notebook. Other advantages to a physical creative/storage system are the ability to flip through notes and materials external to the computer, rather than toggling between source materials and the writing app. The primary disadvantages to an analog solution are the space required by the filing system, separation of text and source material and total lack of a search feature.
Evernote now offers the Evernote Smart Notebook solution that enables users to photograph pages of a special edition Moleskine journal, with a mobile device and their Page Camera feature, instantly digitizing the material and uploading it to Evernote.
Another hybrid solution is the Livescribe SmartPen, which also digitizes the text and uploads to Evernote. Evernote has some powerful features for writers, allowing them to tag and categorize information. For people who like to sketch and doodle, there's the Wacom Inkling, a solution that works with Photoshop, Illustrator and Autodesk's Sketchbook Pro, but does not digitize text.
Some writers still feel most creative, listening to the tap-tap of a manual typewriter. Ribbons are becoming very hard to find and repair locations for the old Underwood are more or less nonexistent, but there are purists that perform best with the typewriter workflow. The Fuji SnapScan is a great way to digitize those typed pages for your blog; just drop the stack of pages in the chute and press the button.
Fully digital alternatives to the typewriter are available, both for the laptop and tablet. Some solutions, like Clean Writer, Ulysses/Daedalus, Byword, iA Writer Pro, Omm Writer and WriteRoom will sync between your computer and tablet. They offer a distraction-free virtual clean sheet of paper to type on.
If you're already comfortable with Microsoft Word, most blog platforms now allow you to paste text directly into the TinyMCE editor, with the use of a special button, and will ‘clean' the embedded text formatting for you.
Some writers prefer typing directly in WordPress, using draft mode. Mobile platforms offer paid and free apps for WordPress purists.
I recently spoke with a blogger that uses Dragon Dictation and ‘writes' his blog post while driving to work. He has his iPhone mounted in a windshield bracket and feels more comfortable chatting with his readers while driving. The audio file is uploaded for voice-to-text transcription when he gets to the office.
Clipping and printing documents manually is still popular, but for many, saving documents to PDF has become the preferred digital replacement. To save an exact visual copy of a page, the PDFit Firefox add-on works great. To preserve active links, stand-alone apps like Web2PDF for Mac are very effective.
A series of nested folders on the computer helps organize the many PDF documents, downloaded video files and images by topic. Tagging/organization software, like Ironic Software's Leap for Mac can speed up the sorting and tagging of clipped resource materials, adding enhanced search functionality when it's time to write. (OS X Mavericks, for the Mac, will include tagging right in the operating system when it's released this fall.)
Evernote's Web Clipper has become very popular, whether you clip from a computer or mobile device. (Web Clipper tends to remove most of the imagery from documents, which to me, can alter the context of the content I'm clipping.) Evernote also offers tagging and enhanced search.
Going 100% Digital
One of the challenges of going fully digital is that you lose the ability to read your notebook and clippings beside the computer, while typing on the screen. There are however several workarounds to toggling between windows or workspaces.
If you write at a desktop, consider going dual-head, adding a second monitor. You can view your source materials in one monitor, while working in the other. If you're mobile, using a tablet in combination with a laptop provides the same functionality.
Another professional writing solution is available, allowing you to view source materials and index cards while writing, all within a single interface. Literature & Latte's Scrivener 2 is available for both the Mac and PC.
Which is Right for You?
In working with our own writers, and coaching many client bloggers, I have concluded that there is no system that's best for everyone.
So what do I use? I do my clipping in PDF format, with Web2PDF on a Mac. During the week, my computer's desktop loads up with PDFs, MP4 video files and JPG images. Saturday morning, I open my desktop in Leap, reopening each file. I'll skim some, read others completely, then carefully tag and file each document in the appropriate folder. If I write at my desktop, I'll use Ulysses in the left monitor of my Mac, with my reference materials in the right monitor. Often, I'll print out a few PDFs and head out to Starbucks, to get away from the distractions of the office. When I'm mobile, I'll use Daedalus Touch on an iPad 4 equipped with a Zagg Keys keyboard. Daedalus syncs with Ulysses, via Dropbox. That's what works for me. But that may change…
What's right for you? If you currently write notes in a notebook, include sketches and doodles and carry a Day-Timer, an analog/digital hybrid solution is probably best for you. If you feel more creative on a typewriter, you may also love one of the no-frills typing tools like Ulysses. What's important is that you come up with a system that works and then build your workflow around it.
There is a danger in becoming a tool junky (been there, done that), trying new apps as a means of avoiding the job at hand.
Sound Mind and Body
Not many of us have the luxury of writing in a secluded mountain cabin, and then only when inspiration strikes. The creative mind is like a muscle; it becomes more efficient with regular exercise. And while we may need to get out five blog posts this week, dozens of social mentions and useful blog comments, it does help to get out and enjoy nature. Your backpack is your friend :-).
Expose yourself to great writing. Absorb the writing of great bloggers. Write often. Then write even more. Make “working out” on the keyboard part of your creative process every day.
Take care of both mind and body. Get enough sleep. Eat nutritious raw food. Engage in physical exercise as well. Make the time to be quiet, to rebuild your creative energy and charge the batteries.
Develop routines and rituals that serve you. The human mind responds on queue to rituals. One of my clients brews the perfect cup of Earl Grey tea in a Brown Betty teapot, then retires to his den to craft his blog post before bed. After that, inspiration comes naturally. Another client claims to do his best writing after a righteous romp with the misses, followed by a Cohiba cigar, while sitting in bed with his iPad mini. Some people will get up at 6:00am to have a post ready to go online for 8:30. They pull their source material the night before. When they wake up, they pull an espresso and their mind knows it's time to write… right on queue. Others, like Winston Churchill and Oscar Wilde, have done their best work after a whisky, or two, or three. There's a reason one of the finest Irish pot still whiskeys is named Writers Tears.
I prefer the blogging approach of Rand Fishkin, in the early years of SEOmoz, writing Sunday through Thursday nights, for posting first thing in the mornings Monday through Friday. I find that taking my Husky for a walk along the beach before I write gets me into the creative frame of mind.
Henri Matisse is credited with saying that creativity takes courage. Admitting that we require tools, systems, habits and rituals to ignite our creativity may also require a measure of courage.
I would enjoy hearing about the tools you have found work best, the balance between physical and digital solutions you've arrived at and the routines and rituals that keep you on track. Look forward to reading your comments…