Feeling Stuck? 7 Tools for Developing Fresh Story Ideas

by | Mar 16, 2015 | Blogging | 12 comments

As writers, we have a number of jobs. Putting words down on a page is only half of what goes on behind the scenes, right? There’s also the editing, the research, the continuous coffee making and, of course, coming up with ideas.

This last task is one of the most important parts of the writing process because without ideas you have, well, not a lot. If you write regularly, whether that means blog posts, short stories or copy, you know that coming up with consistently brilliant ideas isn’t always easy.

It’s true. While most writers are naturally creative and innovative, we sometimes run out of steam. Tapping away at a keyboard for hours at a time can leave your brain mushy and your ideas lacking a certain luster. Once you’ve finished writing for the day, you have to plan out your ideas for tomorrow (cue head hitting desk), leaving you feeling unmotivated and, at worst, like a bad writer.

Luckily, there are plenty of places you can tap into for writing inspiration when you’re running low on ideas.

1. Buzzsumo

Buzzsumo is great for creating instant “lightbulb” moments for blog posts and articles.

It’s extremely user-friendly — all you have to do is type in a few words about the topic you’re researching. Buzzsumo’s algorithm uses social shares to measure how readers engage with certain topics, pulling in the best-shared posts relating to the keywords you choose.

The downside? Buzzsumo isn’t free. You can use it on a limited basis without paying anything, but if you want to see more than 10 results, you have to cough up $99 a month or more. However, I often find that the initial 10 results are enough to get the cogs moving, so I’ve stuck with the free option.

I used Buzzsumo to come up with an article for The Huffington Post about things you shouldn’t do as a freelancer. After typing in “freelance tips,” I saw top articles like “10 Tips for Surviving as a Freelance Artist,” “Things I Learned the Hard Way,” and “Freelancer Tips for Success.” Since these posts focused on things you should do as a freelancer, I flipped the idea on its head and came up with “69 Things You Should NOT do as a Freelancer”.

2. Quora

While Quora used to be full of weird and random questions, it’s now a great source of inspiration and writing ideas. The site is full of people asking interesting questions that you just might be able to answer!

Quora is free, and is great for finding out what readers really want. Just type in a few keywords and you’ll find yourself inundated with questions you can answer.

I’ve found lots of inspiration on Quora for travel pieces, since there are hundreds of people looking for tips, hacks and itinerary inspiration. I’ve even been inspired by other people’s answers on Quora.

For example, one user responded to a question about working remotely while traveling by saying that most people he knew who quit their jobs to live such a life were outgoing and confident. Now, I quit my job to travel the world, but I’m definitely not confident or outgoing, so I wrote a post highlighting how you don’t have to be confident to travel.

3. Pinterest

Pinterest is no longer just a place to browse through pretty pictures (though I can definitely spend a few hours doing that!). It’s also filled with great articles and tons of article ideas.

Give it a try: Type “writing” into the search bar and check out the results that come back. Narrow them down by using the bar across the top to apply filters like “tips,” “inspiration,” “examples,” etc.

If I click on “tips,” I can see loads of pretty pins with text over images. I see one that offers “Advice for New Writers,” so I might alter this slightly and create a post called “Advice for Shy Writers” based on my experience.

I mainly use Pinterest for short story inspiration, using the highly visual layout to create settings and scenes for my characters. It’s perfect if you’re writing a novel or need to describe a destination for a travel piece, because you’ll find hundreds of examples that inspire your descriptions.

4. Feedly

I’m a big Feedly fan. Every morning I check my feed for new posts from my favourite sites.

The great thing about this tool, besides the fact that it’s free, is that you can personalise your feed to include any topics and blogs you want, and you can separate them out into manageable lists. Writing for a cooking blog? Add a load of foodie sites to your feed. Need some travel article ideas? You know what to do!

To get the most out of Feedly, bring up the search bar in your browser and type in a keyword. You’ll then see other blog posts on that topic all in one place. Handpick your favorite ones, and add those blogs to your feed to stay up-to-date on their new posts — which sets you up for future inspiration.

I have a lot of large travel publications on my Feedly and I noticed that a lot of them were posting articles about “X Free Things to do in” a given city. The destinations they were featuring were fairly generic and well-covered — Lisbon, Barcelona — so I racked my brain to come up with less-commonly-written-about places where readers could benefit from having a selection of free things to do.

I came up with “Free Things to do in Copenhagen.” It’s a notoriously expensive city, plus I already had a post on costs in Copenhagen that does particularly well on Google, so I knew this new post would be a hit.

5. Bloglovin

Like Feedly, Bloglovin is a free RSS reader that allows you to personalise your feed with blogs and sites that interest you. The great thing about this tool is that you can save articles for later, explore new blogs in different diagonals, and follow other users who like the same things as you, which gives you lots of different avenues to go down in search of inspiration.

I follow mostly travel and lifestyle bloggers who post about their daily lives and what goes on behind the scenes of their blogs. I used to post solely about travel, offering tips and narratives about places I’d been.

However, after seeing that some of the most popular posts on Bloglovin were ones that delved into the blogger’s life and turned the spotlight on them, I decided to shake things up. I now have a series on my blog about my life as a freelancer, and these posts are some of the most engaged with on my site.

6. Google Alerts

If you haven’t already set up Google Alerts, stop reading now and go and sign up — it’s free!

Set as many alerts as you like with different keyword variations and topic ideas, like your name or “how to beat writer’s block.” I’d recommend receiving updates once a day; otherwise they can clog up your inbox.

Google Alerts are perfect if you’re writing news articles and blog posts on trending topics. Each day, you’ll have a fresh set of blog posts, articles and news reports featuring the keywords you’re researching waiting patiently in your inbox.

One of my blogs focuses on art around the world, highlighting artists, exhibitions and creative cities. I use Google Alerts to spark recent, relevant ideas as the art world changes so often. For example, the other day my alerts included a news article about “Sofia, Eastern Europe’s Unknown City of Art”, which has inspired me to write a post about some of Europe’s lesser-known arty hotspots.

7. HARO (Help a Reporter Out)

I only signed up for HARO this week after hearing that another blogger I follow tapped into it for inspiration. It’s free, and you get daily emails from reporters and journalists who are looking for sources for articles. The queries are divided into categories, so you can choose which alerts you receive (I’ve signed up for the travel and lifestyle segments).

As I’m a new user of HARO, I haven’t incorporated any of its ideas into my writing yet. However, I can see the huge potential. For example, yesterday there was a call for “Restaurants Not Reachable By Car”, which could become “10 Quirky Hotels in the Middle of Nowhere,” or “5 Mediterranean Beaches Only Accessible by Car”.

Not all of these tools will work for you. Find the ones that work best for your needs and experiment — mix and match ideas from different platforms and follow a selection of different publications. Most of all, have fun opening up new verticals of inspiration at the click of a button!

What’s your favorite tool for writing inspiration? Where do you turn when you need to come up with new ideas?