Need Innovative Topic Ideas? Just Ask!

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Jeff Foster. Please read more about Jeff and WebBizIdeas in the bio footer.

LinkedinAnswers

LinkedinAnswers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Developing good content ideas can be difficult, especially if you’re writing on a regular basis or for a consistent deadline. Whether you’re writing for your business or your own personal enjoyment, it’s important to know where to look for interesting, relevant and timely topics.

The many question-and-answer sites now available online are great resources for both current and future content ideas. If you know what information people are asking for, your blog or publication can become a go-to source for the answers.

Four Great Sites

Among the best of these sites are Yahoo Answers, Answers.com, LinkedIn Answers, and Quora.

Yahoo Answers

To create compelling content on current information, Yahoo Answers is a fantastic resource that’s very easy to use. Start by typing in a keyword or topic in the “Browse Categories” tab to see the questions folks are asking about this subject.

You can check general answers but can also click on the “Most Answers” tab to narrow down the results and organize them by popularity or by specific answers. It’s helpful to create a spreadsheet where you can copy and paste questions that you want to answer so you can organize your content ideas.

Answers.com

This particular site categorizes answers by popularity. Type in a keyword, or go to the bottom of the site to browse through the questions and answers related to that topic.

You’ll also find questions and answers grouped by specific categories, so you don’t have to comb through lots information that’s not related to your topic of interest.

LinkedIn Answers

If you’re writing blogs or articles to promote your business brand, LinkedIn Answers is a particularly good resource because it’s where businesses go to answer specific questions from their current and potential customers.

The information you find here can help you broaden your content ideas. Other industries or even similar businesses in your industry may approach topics in ways that will also work to expand your company’s exposure–if you’re willing to try them. Even unrelated content can help get your own thought processes flowing.

For example, a massage therapist might use the information she finds to develop a health survey for chiropractors or other holistic practitioners. This could get her exposure on other websites and potentially draw in new customers.

Quora

Much like Yahoo Answers, Quora’s information is very organized and informative. The beauty of this site is that it generally focuses on providing the one best answer to each question, so the answers here can be better than those provided by the other sites.

After you type in a question, category or keyword and run your search, you can find more detailed information by clicking on any of the answers that are provided. Or you can attack it the opposite way by selecting a category and drilling down to find specific questions and answers related to your topic.

Using What You Find

Now that you have all these content ideas, it’s time to create! While you can’t plagiarize, you can re-purpose the content and publish it in different ways and make it even better than the original.

Perhaps there could be more details or examples in your content. Maybe you’d draw more attention by using a different format.

For example, if you find great written content, you can turn that into an infographic, a poll, or a survey. Why not contact someone and re-create the information as an interview? Perhaps a case study or an e-book would be the best way to present a particular topic.

The point here is that content doesn’t just have to be a blog or an article. Expand your writing into other formats that will get your readers’ attention and make them want to follow you, comment on you, and recommend you to others.

Once you know how to find solid, on-going topic ideas, you’ll always be able to produce great content that puts you or your business above all the rest.

My First Attempt At Fiction Writing in a Million Years

Writing

Writing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Okay, I am exaggerating.  But only recently have I begun to explore fiction writing. As I started looking into writing for Kindle, I realized I have been completely excluding fiction books.

Fiction has been a dirty word in my vocabulary for practically my whole life. I am not sure why. Maybe it intimidates me because I have to create from a completely imaginary world, not a real one. It seems writers gravitate towards one or the other: fiction or non.

Is it possible to do both?

Why not?

I may have to build up the muscle to participate in that kind of writing. Either way, tapping into this foreign genre is a great way to stimulate all kinds of writing, creative non-fiction or fictional story writing.

I took this prompt from the Writer’s Digest. Here it is: (please be gentle, but honest!)

Prompt: This time, you’re in too deep. Your gambling losses have been mounting and, with a recent ill-advised bet, have put you $50,000 in debt. Your bookie, knowing you don’t have that kind of cash, is willing to wipe your debt clean if you carry out a very dangerous mission for him.

The smell was making my eyes water, but I knew I had to face Carlos in order to avoid the confrontation with Cheri. She was already upset over the $5,000 I lost last month. What would she think if she found out about the debt that was ten times as much? That thought, combined with the sour odor, made my stomach flip. I was desperate.

Pacing back and forth, I glanced into the kitchen. Now, I knew where that stench was coming from. As Carlos walked out of the bedroom, he looked as if he had not slept in a while.

My hands shook as I lit a cigarette. “Listen, Carlos, I wouldn’t ask you, if I wasn’t desperate. I mean, you know, I’ll get money. I’ll do whatever to get out of this mess.”

“Whatever, huh?”

Carlos pulled up a chair real close to me, and reached across to grab a cigarette from my shirt pocket.

As Carlos stared out the window, I could faintly hear the muffled sounds of an argument from the apartment upstairs. I just wish I had the money so I could leave.

Breaking the silence, the man who once lived in a nice apartment in the Lincoln neighborhood, coughed and then spoke.

“I’ll forgive your debt.”

“Great.” Now I could get the hell out of here.

“Yep.”

“Wow! That’s great, Car–“

“Except… Except, you have to do me this one favor.”

“Anything.”

Carlos went on to tell me about how he had bosses, too. His red eyes teared up as he told me that he was also placing risky bets and couldn’t pay his bosses back. They were “less forgiving.” Now his bosses were after him. He had to sell his apartment and move to this dump. But it wasn’t enough.

“Rick, listen. I can get the money. I know a guy who lives in my old neighborhood that has serious cash and jewelry in a safe. Before I moved to this hell hole, I was a good friend to him. At least he thought of me that way. Which means he confided in me about his valuables. Maybe he trusted me. Maybe he was testing me. Either way, I can get to the safe. It’s a lot, man. But I really need your help in this.”

I just stared at him, wanting to run away and just take out a loan from a bank. It was only fifty thousand. It’s not as if it was half a mil or something. Yet somehow, I knew that if I didn’t help Carlos, it would end badly. Carlos may be feeling sorry for himself right now, but he had a vindictive side to him that you don’t want to instigate. I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck rise. I put the cigarette out and stood up.

“Carlos, what are you asking me to do?”

“It’s simple. Are you hungry? I could fix you something to eat.”

“Let’s go out. I want to hear your plan,” I suggested in desperation.

Writing Prompts Based on Death, the Afterlife, and Celebration of Life

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Hannah Conti.  Please read more about Hannah in the footer.

Death continues to be a virtually inexhaustible source of inspiration for writers. The mystery of the afterlife (or lack thereof), the fear of death, ghosts or spirits, spiritual battles, and so on continue as popular literary themes.

These are not subjects to be limited to thrillers and teen-aged vampire books; reconciling oneself with death, loss, and spirituality has been central to many famous writers’ lives and works in general. Memoirs, works on spirituality, dramatic works of fiction, and more can all contain pieces of these somewhat existential themes. Death is not necessarily a “creepy” topic.

In the USA, and many other countries, October 31st has become a commercialized day (or should I say night?) of ghouls and skeletons. Countless Halloween stores pop up all around my town during the month of October. Kids dress up in costumes, consume tons of candy, and perhaps watch a thriller or two. For the more rowdy bunch, pranks may be involved as well as late-night parties. However, Halloween was not always a 24 hour period of plastic masks and sugar highs.

Halloween History

Halloween has its roots in the Celtic pagan traditions of Samhain, an ancient harvest celebration that was joyful as well as somewhat full of fear. The day marked the end of summer and the longer days of winter; it was on that evening of Samhain that the dead were able to mingle with the living. Thus, the custom of masks and disguises became common so the living could “trick” the evil spirits that roamed the earth on that evening.

In the Catholic Church, “All Hallows’ Eve” (“Hallow” meaning saint) meant the spiritual preparation for the feast of All Saints’ day on November 1st. That day is a celebration of the lives of holy men and women who have died: both the formally recognized saints who have been canonized by the Church (papally declared) and the many unknown, Godly people of the world.

November 2nd is also a Catholic Feast day, the feast of “All Souls.” This day is dedicated to praying for the faithfully departed who are currently in Purgatory, being cleansed of all venial sin. In Mexico, Spain, and hispanic countries, this day is called “Día de los Muertos.” Families and friends gather to feast, dance, build family altars, visiting cemeteries, decorating houses with colorful skeletons and banners, and participating in local parades.

Each community has different and unique  traditions for this holiday. However, the Día de los Muertos remains a day to truly celebrate the lives and traditions of the past. With all the dancing and feasting, the day is also very much a celebration of life.

In the Catholic tradition, these feasts of the Church seek to remind Christians of their mortality and the vanity and ephemeral qualities of earthly life. These feasts are lessons that look to the past for inspiration and to the future for heavenly reward.

Writer’s Halloween Inspiration

You may be wondering how this history lesson can inspire writers. I have created a list of ideas that sprang to my mind while reviewing this week’s upcoming events.

1. Create a story that contains a modern-day example of a spiritual battle (your story may or may not involve a particular religion or philosophy). However, create a believable fantasy that focuses on a spiritual war. Who conquers? How do they win? What are the repercussions? For an unusual perspective on spiritual warfare, read C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters.

2. Write a memoir from the perspective of someone who is dead. Is the narrator aware of what is going on Earth, in time? Is the protagonist in heaven, hell, purgatory? Somewhere else? Nowhere? Does the narrator have physical form? Does the protagonist have a message, warning, or assignment to accomplish for the living?
3. Describe a death, funeral, morgue, or wake from a unique perspective: the family dog, the garbage collector, the homeless woman, or the ceiling.
4. Use a physical symbol of death in a story. This can be a skeleton, skull, whatever you can think of. Does this symbol amuse, frighten, or warn the characters? Is it a coincidence or sign from someone/something? Does the thought of death remind the characters to reform their lives or to find as much debauchery? Is the choice satisfying? Perhaps you may want to use some of the color, food, and religious symbolism stemming from the Día de los Muertos or Celtic traditions.
5. Write a story describing the actions of a character that has a strong phobia of something – but do not reveal the subject of the fear until the end of the story (or do not reveal it at all). Help the reader to experience the physical and mental sensations of fear.
6. Examine the duality in the Mexican celebration of the Día de los Muertos, a celebration of life and the lives of the dead. Perhaps you would like to explore the personification of death in Mexico as Santa Muerte. If death is an absence of life, what would a personification of death be like.
7. Write a letter to a (fictional or non-fictional) loved one who has died. Or recount a story that illustrates this loved one’s life philosophy. Is the example a joyful remembrance? A difficult memory to relive? Why?

More Resources:

An excellent resource for learning more about Día de los Muertos in the American Southwest and Mexico.
“Day of the Dead” – by AzCentral website – links and articles.
All Souls Day - by American Catholic website
Church Year - information on Catholic feastdays
Note: all my links in this article are in the public domain/copyright free, but please give proper credit to all sites.

What is Your Point of View as a Writer?

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Hannah Conti.  Please read more about Hannah in the footer.

First, second, third person perspectives. The subjective personal pronoun. The narrative point of view.

Have your eyes glazed over yet? Are you suddenly back in school, sleepily doodling in your notebook as you try to ignore the English teacher droning on and on…?

Lucky for all of us (myself included!), we will not be diagramming sentences or discussing grammar.

Instead, let’s examine the topic of “point of view.” I am not speaking only of one’s positional range of vision, but also of the metaphorical mindset of an individual.

What’s is your point of view?

Goethe once said, “There is nothing insignificant in the world. It all depends on the point of view.” This is especially true from an artist’s standpoint. Through art, the writer or artist has the opportunity to depict another person’s point of view, allowing the viewer to see through the eyes of the artist – or someone else.

For example, look at the artwork on the above picture, entitled “Ballerinas” by Degas.

At first glance, it appears to be a pretty work of Impressionism. The colors of ballet dancers contrast subtly, conveying a delicate femininity and gracefulness.

Notice that all the dancers are not paying the slightest attention to the “viewer” (in this case, the painter Degas). This may have something to do with Degas’ notorious method of studying his models: he snuck into the dressing rooms of the ballerinas to be able to sketch the girls clandestinely. (Look here for more information on Degas.)

In this way, the male painter was able to depict the ballerinas casually stretching and preparing for their formal performance. This image captures a moment of unconscious movement. Degas is famous for painting, sketching, and sculpting women in casual, everyday positions. In this way, Degas elevated the ordinary to a level of beautiful art.

This painting by Degas could tell an innocent story about ballet dancers or it could also communicate a semi-creepy plot about the peeping tom artist. It depends on what knowledge or perspective the viewer brings to the piece.

A Writer Creates Perspective

As a writer, you can also portray ordinary circumstances and characters artistically. You can create sympathy for a character most people would dislike in real life. The way in which you frame your story, changes the viewpoint of your reader. Note that all writing has a unique perspective, even non-fiction.

Writing Prompts to Get You Thinking About Point of View

1.  Write a short story from two different character’s perspectives (both in the first-person or third-person). What does one character notice that the other fails to? Is one character more “truthful” than the other? Let each character portray their personality, flaws, talents, etc. through their description of story.

2. Write a non-fiction piece (or a fictional non-fiction piece) that illustrates how the same information can be twisted depending on how it is presented
. Find inspiration for your piece from history or the newspaper. Examine controversial issues (the recent election is perfect example – see what one candidate says about the other!).

3. Write a scene from a script with only dialogue.
Create two different introductions for the scene that would completely change the meaning of the dialogue of the characters.

4. Write a scene describing a person who is trying to settle an argument.
T he mediator understands both sides of the debate and is trying to pacify the people who are having the dispute.

5. Create a written piece that is written so as to hide the perspective of the narrator until the very last sentence.
For example: the piece can be told by a woman describing h er child. The reader does not find out until the last sentence, however, that the child died years ago and the mother has never fully grasped the finality of the child’s death. Or a painter who has secretly never painted anything. Create your own scenario.

Some art for inspiration:

Note: All photos are rights reserved by Hannah.

Many Ways to Manifest Your Creativity

It is a little late in the month, but here is Creativity Portal’s inspirational writing prompt for March.

You can manifest your creativity in many prolific, bounteous ways.

Prolific Writer

First, let me provide a Dictionary.com definition of “prolific”: producing in large quantities or with great frequency; highly productive: a prolific writer. 

As writers, we are at least a little bit in touch with the right side of our brain. If we did not have a creative spark in us, we would probably not volunteer to write a blog, create a website, and share our thoughts publicly on the World Wide Web. Well, maybe some would.  Or maybe some of us think we are more cunning and creative in our words than we actually are.

Creativity can come in great frequency and in large quantities.  True. Some of the time. As writers, we know this can be an important part of the writing process. Being productive keeps us on target, keeps the creative juices flowing. Being a prolific writing means not allowing yourself to get stagnant. But, it can happen.

Writer’s block to a writer is akin to a runner getting leg cramps.  Or something like that.  Think of it as the loss of the ability to produce creative thoughts, being unable to achieve your goals because of an obstacle.  But, we can pound through it and manage to push past the obstacle even with these “cramps” holding us back.  There are always ways around the obstacle, it just may take some creative thought.  Ah, there are many ways to skin a cat.

Giving Thoughts Freely and Generous

Here is one way how Dictionary.com defines “bounteous”: giving or disposed to give freely; generous; liberal. 

Get out there and share your ideas. Don’t hold back!  Being a writer means bearing your soul sometimes.  At least your thoughts. This is more applicable to blog writers or the writing of a memoir.  We are talking creativity here.  Not much creativity goes into certain writing, like technical writing or a wanted ad. Creative writing should flow and not be blocked. Liberate your creativity!

When we are being creative, we are creating thoughts, images, and ideas.  Right? Makes sense. If we hold back, this creativity may not flow so easy.  Open up the creative flood gates and share these thoughts freely. Be generous!

Sometimes, creativity needs a swift kick in the behind or a manual jump start.  Writing prompts are a great way to manifest writing creativity.  Especially if the prompt does not even make sense to you!  Get out of your comfort zone and spark that creative side.

One last cliché: Think outside the box.

This quote comes from the free calender offered on the Creativity Portal website

Creativity Portal Writing Prompt – Unfolding of Wonder

As we enter the second month of the year already, I will continue to seek out inspiration from Creativity Portal’s monthly quotes. The prompt for February is…

The unfolding of wonder is always near.”

While these words can refer to many things, including nature, science, love, or God, I will relate this to creativity, since that is the focus of this blog.

I will begin by breaking this quote apart into two parts: ‘The Unfolding of Wonder’ and ‘Is Always Near.’

The Unfolding of Wonder

There are things in our each of our lives that can create inspiration. This has been discussed in a variety of posts in this blog. Finding inspiration for creative writing comes in different ways for different people at different times.

Some places of inspiration can come from reading books or other blogs, or looking at some of your own writing. Some find inspiration by writing. Jotting down ideas, thoughts, or even random babble can trigger creative writing.

Other writers find inspiration by being alone in their thoughts, usually right before they try to fall asleep. Reflecting can create some great inspiration.

However you find this inspiration, or wonder, the truth is many times, it can appear suddenly right before us. When you are experiencing the unfolding of wonder, get a pen, or a computer, some writing tool, and bask in the wonder. There is no guarantee when it will come around again.

Which leads into the next part of this quote…

Is Always Near

The unfolding of wonder may not always be predictable. While there are definitely some things that will facilitate inspiration, you certainly can not plan this event, but it is best to be prepared for when it happens. Keepng a writing journal is one good way to do this.

Another factor is that wonder is something we have to open our eyes to see. This not only means in a literal sense, but a figurative sense as well. There are many times we may pass wonder or inspiration by because we are not paying attention. We get caught up in life and forget to notice the little things.

Take time and notice the world around you, appreciate the little things. Take a break from the day to day grind and just absorb the beauty and wonder around you. Turn off the TV and read a book. Enjoy a coffee with friends and family. Many times conversations can provide great inspiration.

I interpret this quote as wonder is all around us, you do not always know when it will spark inspiration, but it is there before you, as long as you keep your eyes and your mind open.

This quote comes from the free calender offered on the Creativity Portal website.