Are You Throwing Away Your
Best Content Ideas?

trash can

Imagine this, if you will.

An old woman, near the end of her life. Shivering in a fleabag apartment without heat in the winter. Walking four miles each way to the food bank, to carry home unmarked cans of mystery meat. Not even a cat to keep her company, because cat food is expensive.

Then one day she dies, and the neighbors find $2.7 million wadded up in her mattress.

It’s a natural human impulse to hold on to what we have. We figure we can handle whatever discomforts we might be facing now, and who knows how bad it could get down the line? So we hoard, saving up our riches for some mythical later time.

What does this have to do with writing?

Everyone who writes faces this at some point. We come up with a powerful idea, something we think will capture a lot of attention. This is the kind of content we know we need to grow our blog and our business.

So of course we can’t waste it on our measly 300 subscribers (or 100, or 12). We start scheming about how we can make it a guest post on Lifehacker, or convince Seth Godin to link to it. We scribble our great idea on a Post-it so we remember to write it up when we hit some magic number of subscribers–500 or 1000 or 10,000.

The Post-it gets dusty. We never hit that magic number. Because we took our best content ideas and stuffed them into a mattress. We didn’t think our small audience was good enough for amazing content, so we never got a larger audience.

The muse is spiteful

Your muse is a fascinating creature, but she is not necessarily very nice. If she sends you a killer idea and you don’t do anything with it, she can get downright mean. She’d rather go play cards with the boys in the basement than think of more great stuff to send you, because you blew her off last time.

Your muse doesn’t care if you’re a flake about your mortgage or your job or that 10 pounds you’re trying to lose. But if you’re a flake about your writing, she’ll turn a cold, cold shoulder. She’s volatile and she has a damned bad temper. So frankly, you need to humor her a little.

(If this sounds like a drag, sorry. Welcome to the life of a person who creates something out of nothing. You always figured there had to be a catch–well, this is it.)

When your muse sends you an amazing idea, you have to do something with it. If at all possible, sit down and write the idea up as soon as it comes to you. If that’s not an option, at least capture the idea and scribble down any details you find exciting. If you can do it, think of a couple of good subheads. Then schedule a time when you can flesh it out.

Ideas go stale quickly. Get to your keyboard and get that post written as soon as you can manage it.

How to get the most value out of your best post ideas

Instead of saving your best ideas for later, get the most out of them today. Don’t just create one cornerstone post–squeeze some extra value out of it.

Create a series. Spend a few minutes mind-mapping, and come up with 5 or 7 spin-off ideas based on that original post. A series is a tremendous traffic builder, even more so when it starts with a strong concept. You might try putting a well-selected, relevant keyword phrase in the title of each post to start collecting search engine traffic.

Create a Squidoo lens. Rework your main points and build a Squidoo lens (a very simple Web page) around them. Work your keyword phrase into the lens title and first paragraph. Link to your post or your series, using that same keyword phrase. Squidoo lenses tend to rank very well in Google. Web searchers can easily discover you there and, if your content is good enough, will follow you to your blog. Remember that you can include an RSS feed to your blog in any Squidoo lenses you create.

Expand it as a free eBook and offer it as a bonus for subscribing to your blog or email list. Be sure to put the blog’s URL in the footer of the eBook, so when it gets passed along, new readers know where to find you. You don’t even necessarily have to expand it–I created a PDF of my 50 Things Your Customers Wish You Knew post, which keeps popping up in unexpected places and funneling traffic back to me.

Offer it as a guest post . . . this week. A lot of us get hung up on pitching guest posts to the biggest sites in the blogosphere. We get all worked up trying to figure out how to attract the attention of the big guys.

That’s all good and well, but when you’re just starting out, don’t overlook guest posting opportunities that are closer to your blog in size. As a rule of thumb, look for blogs with anything from the same number of subscribers you have to 2-3 times your numbers. To keep procrastination from doing you in, write the post first, then figure out who to pitch it to. You can always tweak it to suit your host blog’s readership. Keep offering it to bloggers in your topic until someone bites.

Hoarding ideas is the same as throwing them away

Sometimes you’ll have magnificent ideas that are too far off topic, or too personal to share with the big wide world. Or, even worse, they’re perfect for that next project you have planned, and you don’t want to waste them on the project you’re working on now.

Write them up anyway, even if they never get posted. You don’t have to post every great idea you have, and you probably shouldn’t. But you can’t hoard your best stuff, either.

Your reputation is being built based on what you’re doing now. Grandiose schemes for what you’ll create when you have a gorgeous new blog theme, a wise and loving mentor, enough time to work on your true life’s work are just that . . . schemes.

Your imagination is part of your greatest wealth, but imagination without action is a drug that will waste away the best part of your life. Don’t save the best for later. You might not get any later. Put your best, most glorious work out now, and your spiteful muse will turn into a trustworthy ally.

About the Author: Sonia Simone is an Associate Editor of Copyblogger and the founder of Remarkable Communication.

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Reader Comments (75)

  1. says

    This is super. Great tips for actually using all those great ideas I let go everyday, thinking I’ll save it for later or something better. So much wasted content… Thanks!
    — Maria Reyes-McDavis

  2. says

    This is really good advice – thank you for the article. I hadn’t thought about scribbling down a few subheads in my recording process. I’m pretty good about capturing the raw idea, but without the subhead notes I often forget what my scribblings actually meant in my head at the time.

    And thanks for the advice on blog size to target. I’ve had a few health and fitness posts on larger blogs, but rarely do I target blogs of my size. That is going to change. Thanks!

  3. says

    Excellent post! I was having trouble getting to sleep last night because I had not one, but TWO separate blog post ideas brewing in my head. Got to get them down on paper…

  4. Vince Williams says

    Great post, Sonia.

    One quibble– no one could possibly stuff $2.7 million in cash into a mattress.;-)

  5. says

    People run out of ideas only when they run out of breath. Just write, it’s a bottomless well. Make every day your best. If you’re not constantly giving your best, then you’re not improving, and if your not improving, what’s the point?

  6. says

    Sonia, Nice post, It applies to everything and not just blogs. It applies to a wannbe entrepreneur who is waiting for an opportunity. Often, opportunity is now.

  7. says

    I think I hear my muse laughing in the background some where.

    What was that guest post for copyblogger she gave me a couple of weeks ago? Something about love.

  8. says

    Great reminders, especially about the Muse’s temperament, and to borrow/paraphrase from one of Darren’s earlier posts, that’s the great thing about the drafts feature…you can at least outline those ideas when they hit you for reworking and posting.

  9. says

    Actually, i am hoarding alot of articles and ideas today since i dont know if i can still post new ideas if i give it in one shot still thanks for your post and i might go for a research about this for one month.

    I will try to see if which is better hoarding ideas or giving them out in one shot.

  10. Teddy Towncrier says

    The preamble story grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.

    Great ideas! Thanks!

    Squiddo here I come.

  11. says

    Sonia, I can’t agree with you more that keeping your own ideas close to home is an instinct that all of us (or at least myself) have.

    I think the key is to get over the hurdle of “this content can only help me.” Once you realize that a guest post can benefit both parties, as well as form some great relationships, sharing becomes much easier. :)

    It’s easier said than done, but i’m definitely going to give this mentality a try!

  12. says

    Sonia — This is right on! I’ve also lost great ideas because I didn’t jot them down when the flash hit me, and then couldn’t remember later.

    I’m off to put one of my moldering ideas into print.

    Thanks for the wake-up!


  13. says

    “Hoarding ideas is the same as throwing them away.”

    I’m going to put THAT on a post-it right next to my computer!

  14. says

    @Vince, heh. I did think about that briefly, but poetry won over practicality. For storytelling purposes, let’s say they were 30s-issued 1000-dollar bills. :)

    @Harish, I agree. The more you give (not spend, necessarily, but give), the more you get. It’s scary but exhilarating.

    @Ron, she’ll forgive ya. Eventually. Go write it up. :)

    @John Young, great way to frame it–“this content can only help me.” Nice.

  15. says

    This is such a great post – going to link to you from my own blog section on Writing for the Web. Thanks for reminding all of us that all our great ideas are no good if we don’t share them!

  16. says

    I’m a big believer in publishing your current BEST stuff FIRST. NOW.

    Here’s the rub… To attract those 500 subscribers, you’re going to need to publish stellar material again and again and again NOW… Once you have achieved 500 subscribers – you’re going to need to continue to post stellar material to KEEP them on board.

    The truth is you need to write superlative material every time. When you’re a small blog. When you’re a medium blog. And when you’re a gigantic blog…

    Got great stuff? Publish it NOW.

    A great blog post is a terrible thing to waste.

  17. says

    It’s easy to forget, too, that it’s fine to repeat yourself. In fact, we have to repeat ourselves. Not excessively, but there’s nothing wrong with returning to certain strong ideas again and again. Sometimes the 10th time you riff on an idea is the time you really nail it.

  18. says

    That’s the story of my life. I’m still figuring out a way not to waste ideas. I’ve tried to walk around with a voice recorder but it haven’t worked out. I felt kind of silly talking to no one in the middle of the street, for example.

  19. says

    Matt, do you think comments like that are polite? Do you think they make you look cool? Do you think they make people like you?

    Seth doesn’t need to pay us. Sonia does everything she advises in this post, and her only motivation is to share.

  20. says

    Oops, guess I forgot to tell Brian about the GIGANTIC CHECK I got from Seth Godin.

    Hmm, the impulse to write something snarky is nigh irresistible. But no, Matt, I wrote about Squidoo because I’ve found it to be a quite handy little tool that gives nice rewards on one’s time. Especially if you actually put decent content into them.

  21. says

    Hey, hey..

    No offense or critisism intended.

    The direct link to Seth’s blog and the first time I have seen Squidoo mentioned outside of Seth’s Blog, both in the same article, raised my interest.

    It was a serious, honest question. I’m not a copywriter and so probably misworded it. But come on Brian, you have just made some pretty offensive remarks to someone that you do not know based on your own misunderstandings…

    Does not make me want to stick around.

  22. says

    Well Matt, you own your words. If you didn’t mean to be rude, then I accept your explanation and apology.

    But that doesn’t change the fact that “did Seth pay you” is not at all a polite way to ask a question. On it’s face, your intentions did not seem innocent at all, so I’m not sure I was at fault in “misunderstanding.”

  23. says

    we can’t waste it on our measly 300 subscribers (or 100, or 12)

    It’s funny ’cause I was juggling exactly with this kind of thinking this week. My blog is pretty new, and I have a post that I want to write for quite a while, I have between 7 & 10 readers, and I was thinking about waiting to write it because I don’t have– like copyblogger 41066 subscribers…

    Well I just want to say that I really like the quality content I found here (thanks Brian, Sonia Simone, James Chartran, & all the contributers).

    I have been hanging here for about 2 months now, and it’s my first comment.

  24. says

    This is a great post and so true.

    When I started blogging and being active on forums I was unselfish enough to just give every secret I had…every nugget of information…freely and without reservation.

    For a while it seemed like no one was taking any notice…even when I was sharing genuine secrets that had been tested in the real world and produced real results…often quite startling results.

    But then after a couple of years I noticed a trend.

    People were starting to call me a “copywriting gun” or a “marketing great”.

    My wife really hates that one and it’s appeared several times now!

    Your suggestions about getting multiple use from your content are excellent.

    And I have to just confirm what you’re telling people to do here really does work.

    I remember quite a while back the first time I spent a full month actively sharing valuable information on every blog and forum I could (including my own blog) for a full month…

    That month of activity brought in over $20,000 in business.

    It pays to be generous

    Kindest regards,
    Andrew Cavanagh

  25. says

    Oh great, Chartrand starts with the funny talk again.

    I have it on good authority that he wears women’s underpants.

    And I don’t mean just on the weekends.


  26. says

    He’s French, they have different rules. Vive la difference and all that.

    That is great to hear, Jean–and good luck!

    I love it, Andrew! It does take awhile to get rolling, and there’s that little voice that says, Am I being a chump? But then the thing gets some momentum, and you can’t stop it.

  27. says

    Brian. Dude.


    I’m at a loss for words. That was way too funny. Now see what you did? You found the one and only way to get me to poke my head out and comment.

  28. says

    Sonia, this was great.

    It serves as motivation to get the most important ideas I have to share out there now, not later.

    Personally, I’ve been struggling with how much to share, how soon with this brand new site linked – especially because at its core, there are a limited number of key ideas that I can share.

    And being afraid of doing that without any immediate payoff is scary.

    But knowing that it will serve as motivation to my spiteful muse is motivation enough for me.

    So are you going to Disney World?

  29. says

    If you share all your great content, does not mean you cannot build on it in other ways. We may blog on a great idea, but that doesn’t mean we don’t follow up as we build on it – in another blog, dedicated on a webpage, a podcast, etc.

  30. says

    Well said! I am sure that I am not the only one who has made that mistake of not getting an idea down quickly enough and losing it. But then there are those nights when I should have gone to bed hours ago but I can’t keep my fingers still as they dash arond the keyboard. i’ve just started to get into the habit of making lists of ideas, and i am looking forward to seeing where my blog is at a month or three months from now with regular updating.

  31. says

    I’ve actually been thinking about this a lot lately as I’ve just launched a new website. Your thoughts make perfect sense so I’ll be unleashing those posts a bit earlier 😉

  32. says

    Sage advice on what we forget and sometimes take for granted. Thank you for the remember wake up call.


  33. says

    Great advice.

    I write down all my blog ideas in one word document and I try to treat them as a to do list and so far have been successfully crossing them off as I go along on what has been my 3 month blog adventure… which I intend to make a life-long adventure. :)

    You reminded me however, my blogs that I don’t feel fit with my current direction need to be written NOW so I can pitch them to other sites and stop delaying that.

    Also I liked the final comparison to imagination being like a drug… reminded me of how my mother has told me talent without direction is just a waste.

  34. says

    Great post! A lot of people censor their content with the idea that “my readers/veiwers don’t want to read about this”. There is a market for everything…somewhere somebody is looking for your information, your idea! Write it down, take action, and support others with quality information. Someone will find it important and 1 begets 2 and so on.

  35. ldonovan says

    Thanks for the great post! I always had trouble with getting the ideas that are jumping around in my head into words. I have a tendency to ramble and that was when I was using Adwords alone, now I use Adwords with Glyphius and I get straight to the point, sort of!

  36. says

    Excellent post, I can totally grok “Write them up anyway, even if they never get posted”.

    I have a note with a bunch of kewords for a mood I was in a few weeks back, but never got around to writing a coherent post.

    It’s still there, waiting for me to come back to it, but the thrill is gonne, I’ve moved on …

    Strike while the iron’s hot! 😉

  37. says

    When I have an idea, but don’t have time to work on it, I open my blog editor and create a new entry. I add the title and a few words. Sometimes I outline it as well.

    When it’s time to write something, if I don’t have a fresh idea, I check the unpublished articles. I’ll fiddle with a few, maybe drop in a picture or some other partial content, write afew phrases. After a while one of these nascent posts will reach critical mass, and I’ll finish it. Sometimes I’ll finish two or three, and I’ll have my week’s work ready to go.

  38. says

    I carry a notebook around with me most of the time for just this sort of reason, and not just for writing ideas for future articles/posts, my best business ideas come to me when doing something completely unrelated, like shopping for groceries – if I don’t write it down there and then it’s lost forever. Certainly when it’s the allotted time to write and you sit down with a blank page in front of you, it’s a lot easier when you have twenty ideas to start with already written down, and what you do write ends up being a lot more inspired as a result.

  39. says

    Fantastic post. I stumbled upon it while doing some research on “hoarding ideas” as I was inspired by a DailyOM post this a.m. about hoarding vs sharing. Not only did you post give me some ideas for my also shined a light on how I hold off on being prolific as I wait for inspiration…better to just write today!

  40. says

    Excellent post! I was having trouble getting to sleep last night because I had not one, but TWO separate blog post ideas brewing in my head. Got to get them down on paper…

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