This guest post is by Pratik Dholakiya of E2M Solutions.
You’ve heard it a thousand times. “You need great, original content.” And it’s becoming increasingly obvious that “original” isn’t the same thing as “not plagiarized.”
There’s just one problem. Doing something truly original is hard.
How can you make original ideas happen? The answer comes from an unexpected source: psychological research.
Writer’s block is only half the battle
The solution to writer’s block is simple: keep writing. It doesn’t matter what. Just publish. Just ship.
This is where most bloggers give up. They get stuck on the belief that everything they publish needs to be gold. It won’t be. You need to make writing a habit. That’s all it takes to conquer writer’s block.
But it’s only half the battle.
If your content isn’t new and exciting to your visitors, most of them will leave. And since it’s very difficult for an individual blogger to come across a breaking news story before anybody else, most bloggers end up publishing well written and completely redundant material.
Creativity is the spice you need to keep your blog fresh.
Here’s where you can get it.
Are you afraid of creativity?
Consciously, no. But studies suggest that when we do have a fear of creative ideas, it’s subconscious, and we’re completely blind to the results.
One of these studies, led by researchers from Cornell, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of North Carolina, suggests that when we’re uncertain about the future, we reject creative ideas, even though we want them.
They discovered that if they paid participants by a random lottery, instead of a set fee, they would subconsciously associate creative words with negative words like, “hell,” and “vomit.”
In a second experiment, they found out that if the participants wrote an essay about how “there is only one way to solve a problem,” this also created a sense of uncertainty. Worse still, this caused them to rate ideas as less creative, rather than recognize their fear.
The implications are clear:
- Take actions that make you feel more secure about your future.
- Embrace the mindset that there is more than one solution to every problem.
- Write down all of your ideas when you brainstorm, and be open minded. You might be rejecting creative ideas because they scare you, not because they are actually uncreative.
Are you being too closed … or too open?
A study led by Ella Miron-Spektor of Israel, along with researchers from Harvard and Carnegie, suggests that paradoxical thinking plays a part in creativity.
In one of their experiments, they asked participants to read an article about an experimental new toy, and then they read comments made by “judges” of the product. The judges said one of four things:
- The toy was creative or cheap.
- The toy was creative and cheap.
- The toy was creative but too expensive, because cheap is the opposite of creative.
- The toy was creative and cheap, and those are usually opposites.
Out of the four groups in the experiment, only one group stood out on a creativity test: the last one.
In other words, it wasn’t enough to be open to the idea that something could be creative and cheap at the same time. It also wasn’t enough to realize that creativity and low price were opposites. Creativity was only boosted by recognizing that two things could be somehow different and complimentary at the same time.
What does this mean for you?
- Be open to ideas and concepts that don’t seem directly related to the subject of your blog.
- But don’t be so open that you fall back on “everything is related,” without being able to see the differences at the same time.
Again, you have to be able to see how things can be different and complimentary at the same time, not just one or the other, in order to get a boost in creative thinking. The “idea mashups” that result from this are some of the best blog posts on the web.
I like to think of it like this:
- If you’re too closed, you won’t see interesting connections that result in new ideas.
- If you’re too open, no connection stands out as interesting or new, because “everything is already connected,” so who cares?
Are you in the right mindset?
There is a belief among many intellectuals that in order to be creative, you need to be a tortured soul. But a meta-analysis of studies on the subject revealed that out of 29 experiments, only nine suggested there was any truth to this, and those studies had a flawed design.
In one example demonstrating just the opposite, Alice Isen and others tested the impact of mood on people’s ability to solve a creative problem, called the candle problem. They asked one group of students to watch a funny video before solving the problem, and the other group to watch a math video. Only one in five of the people who watched the math video solved it, but an amazing three out of four solved it if they watched the funny video.
Was this because of laughter, or just a positive mood in general? In another experiment, they gave the participants a decorated bag of candy. The results were similar, but not as dramatic.
It turns out maybe you don’t have to be depressed and self-loathing in order to be creative after all.
Vincent Van Gogh may have cut his ear off, and history does seem to favor the tragic stories about creative people, but the psychology is clear. At least when it comes to everyday creativity, positivity is the answer.
Are you too focused?
This is a weird one, so bear with me. I want to be absolutely clear here. It takes focus and dedication to complete anything you start. If you don’t stay focused on your goals, you’re likely to wander aimlessly for a long time before you get anywhere near where you want to be.
But when it comes to creating the ideas in the first place? In that case, focus may actually be working against you.
In one experiment, participants were asked questions like this:
Two people are born on the same day of the month, on the same year, to the same mother and father, but they are not twins. How is this possible?
The experiment was led by Mareike Wieth and Rose Zacks, and it was based on people’s sleep schedules. Your sleep schedule determines which time of day you are most and least focused (which is not necessarily the same thing as being alert and sleepy).
People who were brought in during their least focused time of day actually did best on these types of creative solving problems.
(If you couldn’t think of it, the answer is that they’re triplets.)
And this isn’t the only experiment to suggest this. Another experiment demonstrated that people who have frontal lobe damage do better on these kinds of problems, and still another suggested that alcohol had the same effect.
Now, I’m not advocating drinking on the job or taking a hammer to your forehead, but we can’t ignore the implications. So here are a few ideas to take advantage of this knowledge:
- The best time to brainstorm is during those “off” times of day when you can’t seem to focus on anything and everything is distracting.
- If you’re struggling with brainstorming, this is probably the best time of day to work on something that requires focus or something more routine, such as reading and research.
- Consider brainstorming during times when you are sleepy.
As a simple example:
- When you can’t read: brainstorm.
- When you can’t brainstorm: read.
- When you have the right combination of knowledge and original ideas: write.
Putting it all together
Here is a sample creativity “plan” that you can borrow from and adjust as you see fit, based on what we’ve learned.
- When you brainstorm, don’t reject any ideas that come to mind. Write them down. You can sift through them later.
- Define the problems you are trying to solve with each blog post, and write at least two different solutions to those problems.
- For each article, pick a “parent” subject, and write down several other subjects, almost at random. Pick the other subjects you find most interesting, and write down how each is similar to and different from your parent subject.
- Research a few different things at the same time, and write a list of reasons why they are the same and why they are different.
- Get yourself in a positive mindset, and make the creative process as fun as possible. Use humor and stick to the subjects that you will enjoy learning and writing about.
- If you simply can’t brainstorm, you’re probably doing it at the wrong time of day. Try reading instead. It’s when you find yourself reading the same sentence over again five times that you should probably get back to brainstorming.
So there you have it: a plan for creating original material, based on solid science. You’ll find that when you have an unlimited number of ideas to work with, the whole writing process gets easier, and your quality levels will start to improve.
Have you tried using methods like these? What else has helped you come up with original content ideas? Tell us in the comments.
Pratik Dholakiya is a Lead SEO Strategist at E2M Solutions, a full service internet marketing company specializing in Organic SEO, PPC, Local Search, Social Media, Reputation Management, Content Marketing and more. He recently started an Interview platform TalkWithLeaders.com where he’ll be interviewing various industry leaders. You can contact him on twitter @DholakiyaPratik or by email.