Has this ever happened to you?
It’s late evening and your weekly newsletter, which would normally be queued for delivery on your autoresponder and blog by this time, is still nothing more than the vast white expanse of a blank Word document. Not only haven’t you written a word, you also don’t have the first clue what to write about, or which product you should try to sell.
Although you are usually passionate about your topic – organic vegetable gardening – you begin to wonder what the heck you were thinking when you chose to build a site around a seasonal niche.
Throughout the spring and summer, your income spiked nicely every time you sent out your weekly newsletter. As temperatures started to drop however, so did your subscribers’ interest, sales revenue and the better part of your motivation.
A vision of the repoman coming to get your new truck convinces you to persevere into the wee hours if necessary – but before long the thought occurs that you simply have nothing to say on the subject and now you’re paralyzed with fear.
Well, fear not. Inability to select a topic, last-minute crisis writing and paralysis are all symptoms of writer’s block; something most writers experience at some time or another. With some strategic planning you can prevent writer’s block, spark your imagination and earn commissions in any niche — at any time of year.
The first step is to build a “swipe” file that is chock-full of ideas for future articles and which you can access whenever you are in need of inspiration.
And contrary to what the name may imply, a swipe file is not for copying other authors’ content to publish later, a.k.a ‘plagiarizing’. We just want to collect ideas from their work, such as headlines that grab your attention or unique topic ideas, and then create our own work based on the concept.
You can build a swipe file using an Excel spreadsheet with columns named for primary topic categories, suggested article titles, notes, relevant products and proposed publishing dates. If you have a number of sites on different subjects, create a new worksheet within the file for each topic.
Another method is to draft a post on your blog whenever you get an idea for an article. The post may consist of as little as a title and a few bullet points, but each time you login to your blog’s interface, the draft titles will jog your memory about topics you can develop.
One of my swipe files currently holds 672 entries of both ‘swiped’ titles and a number of fill-in-the-blank title suggestions such as “5 Quick Ways to ________”, “5 Brilliant Strategies for ________” and “How to Conquer _________”. There’s also a long list of emotional trigger words within the workbook. I find both the trigger words and the fill-in-the-blank titles are especially helpful when I already have a topic idea, but need some help crafting a catchy headline.
To start building your own swipe file, consider the suggestions below. Although organic gardening is used as an example, the suggestions apply to any mainstream niche.
Search Article Directories
Article directories such as EzineArticles.com, GoArticles.com and ArticleCity.com are idea goldmines. My search for ‘organic gardening’ at EzineArticles.com resulted in 1540 articles targeted to people of different regions, skill levels and interests. From the results, you could quickly build a list of generic titles such as “Organic Gardening Supplies to Help You Get Started”, “Organic Weed Control” and “How to Grow Organic Tomatoes”.
At Earth’s Biggest Bookstore, I dug deeper into the topic and found Mike McGrath’s book, “You Bet Your Tomatoes: Fun Facts, Tall Tales, and a Handful of Useful Gardening Tips” at the top of the search results. Keyphrases under the main title included ‘compost tea’, ‘sunny windowsill’, ‘Georgia Streak’ and ‘Tomato Head’. If ‘Sunny windowsill’ sparks an idea for an article about indoor tomato gardening, put it directly into your swipe file along with a link to the book.
Use the “Search Inside” feature to scan tables of contents. Sometimes an interesting chapter title will present a unique perspective on a topic. In this case, the first chapter is titled “Picking Your Tomatoes: Do all of these things have funny, rude or mysterious names?” which prompts an idea for an article about the best types of tomatoes to grow indoors.
While you’re at it, swipe the “Listmania!” title ‘The Dirt Diva’s Picks: A List of “Green” Books to Save the Earth!’ as a reminder to put your own Top 5 or 10 list of recommended books together.
Items such the AeroGarden® Indoor Gardening Kit and Felknor’s Topsy Turvy Upside-Down Tomato Planter can be added to the file as potential products to sell.
Dig up what gardeners are saying right now at forums such as GardenWeb.com and HelpfulGardener.com. The latest posts with the most replies are a good indicator of hot topics.
Set up Google Alerts
To get the latest scoop on tomato hybrids, Google will send you email updates of their latest relevant search results. You can elect to receive Alerts once a day, as-it-happens or once a week from news sources, the web, blogs, video or groups; or receive a comprehensive Alert with news from all 5 sources. Sign up at Google.com/alerts.
Read Trade Publications
Now you can finally put those stacks of old magazines to really good use! Subscribe to publications to stay current and don’t forget to check whether your favorite magazine publishes an online version.
Poll Your Readers
Create a weekly survey and ask your readers what topics they would like you to cover. Regularly invite your readers to leave a comment on your blog by asking a question at the end of your post. Answers to such questions as “What’s your biggest gardening challenge?” will provide you with plenty of grist for the mill. The free Democracy polling plugin can be downloaded at http://blog.jalenack.com/archives/democracy/ or use the service at SurveyMonkey.com.
Use Merchant Resources
Review your merchants’ sites and recent newsletters to find out on which topics and products they are currently focusing. And although I usually advise against using merchant copy – because it is so overused by affiliates that your subscribers will question your credibility as an expert when they see it for the 10th time in your newsletter – in a real pinch you could check a merchant’s affiliate interface for a well-written advertorial to publish on your blog. Better yet, use it as a basis to write your own product review.
Repurpose Your Content
If you wrote “Organic Garden To-Do List: March” in 2007, re-publish the piece this year and incorporate any new tips you’ve picked up.
Share Your Experience
What’s happening in your garden right now? Get out there, take some pictures, share your news and don’t forget to throw in some emotion! People are far more likely to respond to ‘Yikes! Giant green horned caterpillars are eating my tomato plants!” than to yet another “Tomato Pest Management” article.
Those are but a few suggestions to get your swipe file started. Try to add to it frequently so that you always have fresh article ideas at hand.
Ideally, it’s best to create a publishing plan and work at least 2 to 3 months in advance. For example, you should be planning for Christmas in September and writing your spring articles in the dead of winter.
Not only does having a swipe file with a plan completely remove the stress of ‘crisis writing’, but it frees you up to react swiftly when there is breaking news within your industry. Best of all, advance planning and preparation gives you the freedom to get out in the garden without looming deadlines to spoil your fun.