How to Get Article Ideas: An Endless Supply


The moment you see a ray of sun, you know it's something magical.

That single ray has bounced back and forth like a billiards ball and taken well over a 100,000 years to get to earth. But even as you look, there’s another ray, and another. In fact, we get so much energy from the sun, that in one day, it provides more energy than the world’s population could consume in 27 years.

If only we could tap into some of that endless energy when coming up with ideas for an article.

Instead we sit there, transfixed at the screen. We think. We trash around in our seats. We drink copious amounts of coffee. And despite sitting in awesome sunlight, we’re trapped in some dark corner.

So what are we to do? Where do we go to get an endless source of ideas?
I can’t speak for every writer, but I can speak for myself. And I know that dark place very well. There are days, weeks even, when you think you’re never ever going to come up with a single idea worth writing or speaking about (yes, I do podcasts as well).

Stomping, screaming and coffee doesn’t help. So what does?

Three things actually—three brilliant sources of sunshine

Client Questions


Let’s start off with the first ray of sunshine: Reading/Listening

You know how you make coffee, right? You have to have ground coffee, water and a source of heat. Well, that’s input. Without input, you’re staring at an empty mug that isn’t going to fill itself. And the same applies to ideas.

Those ideas are going to swerve right around you, unless you decide to get some input. Actually, not some—quite a lot of input.

You want to soak yourself in input
And the way to do this is reasonably obvious. You turn on the TV, read Facebook and listen to the crappy stuff on the radio, right? Ha, ha, that was a joke. Instead you have to get your nose in a book—a good book.

A book that’s related to your set of topics to begin with. The moment you get stuck in that book, you go through two stages: agreement and disagreement.

Yet, even when you agree, you have your own spin on things. But when you disagree, it’s like your head is about to burst. You have fire coursing up and down your veins. You’re now ready to write.

Except there’s a bit of a problem
Unless we’re jumping on a bus or train, we rarely have time to read—in the morning. And the morning matters. It’s precisely the point in time when your brain has rested and is more likely to remember and process things a lot better than the evening (and for sure, better than the afternoon).

So if you don’t have that time to sunbathe in the written word, you have to turn to audio.

Audio? Ugh, you say. Audio…
And ugh is right. I’m listening to an audiobook right now, and ugh is probably the most suitable description. With a book, I could simply flip pages if the author gets too technical or boring.

A quick scan and I’m on my way. But audio is linear. You’re stuck, not knowing what to fast forward and how much to fast forward. And that’s provided you can remember anything at all. Most of us can’t.

And you shouldn’t
The goal of input is to get ONE idea. O-N-E. That’s it. With a single idea you can bound off into article writing land. And yes, even though you may like your quiet time in the car, or when you’re walking, you also need time to get in input. Or else you get too much quiet, and there’s zero input.

Suddenly you’re thrown back into that dark corner, unsure what to write about. So yes, text is great, audio too. But what about our second ray of sunshine? Ah yes, let’s mosey along to brainstorming.

So how and where do you use brainstorming?

I’m doing a podcast, possibly a book on the “myth of inborn talent”. I could read a ton of books, listen to audio etc. but that may not help me. And clients, well, they wouldn’t be of much help either. There’s no recourse but to do the brainstorming, all by myself.

So you sit in the cafe and list out the topics, the sub-topics and the sub-sub-topics. And suddenly it’s like you’ve opened up a vein. You have a lot you’ve been thinking about and you’ve got a ton of topics to cover.

But what if you don’t end up with a bonanza?
Clients and friends can help—with objections. Given a basic framework, they can come up with objections and then you have to spend your time dismantling those objections.

For example: Let’s say we take on the objection of ‘why one person runs faster than another’ or ‘one person does geometry faster than anyone else in the room’. These are objections and clients and friends are full of these objections.

Yes, you can do your silent brainstorming, but also consider roping in some deeply skeptical friends and clients to bring in your second ray of sunshine. Which of course takes us to our third ray—clients.

Clients? Didn’t we already consider clients?
Sure we did. But you nudged them, didn’t you? In a lot of situations the clients will ask you questions as you’re working with them. I’ve been doing the Article Writing Course since 2006.

Every year the course changes by about 20%. It has more content than ever before. More clarification, even.

But that doesn’t stop the flow of questions
They come thick and fast. And it’s up to you to see them as a pain or a blessing. I get my shopping trolley and stack up the questions. And then, for good measure, I answer them as fast as I possibly can.

This impresses the heck out of clients, but hey, they’re doing me such a great favour, by asking the questions. Without the questions, I have to tax my own brain—and that’s a real pain—that brainstorming bit. With clients, I have the questions served up. All I have to do, is answer them in detail.

But isn’t all of this stuff turning out to be an overload?
Sure, we’re apt to get tired just thinking about it. But let’s look at it simply. You need some reading/listening time. Even 30 minutes of dedicated time is good enough. You then can head to the cafe and wring out your brain, if you like.

And while you’re at it, an e-mail may slide in, or a client may meet you at the cafe. And yes, solve their problem.

Speed is critical, though..
If you wait too long, the outline seems to fall apart and the article turns to mush. So you need to write, and write as quickly as possible. At first, the writing will be a pain (all stuff is a pain when you’re just a “beginner”). In time, you’ll get an article out in about 45 minutes, maybe an hour, provided you stick to your outlines.

I’ve been miserable.I’ve run out of ideas.I’ve found darkness in bright sunlight.

But to get ideas, you need input. Clients, your own brainstorming and most of all, the reading and the audio (ugh as it may be).

Focus on ONE point. Outline it as quickly as possible.Then write.


Sean D'Souza


15+ years ago, fresh out of college with a degree in accounting Sean de Souza joined an advertising agency where he *met* Leo Burnett, a man who had spent his lifetime in the hard trenches of communication and advertising.

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