My promise is to solve all 3 of these problems by the end of this blog post:
- You're not sure what topics to write about
- You're not sure how to find the topics you're credible enough to write about
- You're not sure how to come up with engaging ideas about those topics
To get you there, we're going to use The Endless Idea Generator – one of the core frameworks we use in Ship 30 for 30.
And it has 4 steps:
- Use the 2-Year Test to find your topic ideas
- Add specificity to your topics to match your credibility
- Use the 4A Framework + proven approaches to generate ideas
- Choose 3 ideas to write about over the next 3 days, then get going
BUT – 1 quick rule before we dive in.
During this exercise, do not let yourself start judging the quality of your ideas.
The goal here is to generate a ton of raw materials, knowing you won't write about 90% of them.
After this exercise, you will emerge with crystal clear clarity for the next few days of writing, which is all you need to get started.
Strap in – let's go.
Step 1: The 2 Year Test
Finding the general topics you want to write about starts with asking yourself 1 simple question:
"What are all of the problems I've solved and topics I've learned about over the last 2 years?"
Why 2 years?
One of the biggest mistakes beginner writers make is thinking they have to be an "expert" to write about something.
But this is wrong.
The truth is, people don't want to learn from experts.
They prefer to learn from those just a few steps ahead of them on the same path.
And once you realize this, it's a huge creative unlock.
So answer the question and brain dump every problem you've solved and topic you've learned in the last 2 years.
Get them all out there with no judgment.
I did this exercise last week and here was my list:
With all of this raw material out there, I consolidated them into a handful of buckets.
- Digital writing
- Balancing side projects with a full-time job
- Running, building, and selling a digital course and community
- My journey losing 100lbs in 4 years
- Beginner audience building
- Digital leverage
- General growth frameworks
- Managing your personal finances in your 20s
- Designing a life operating system (habits/frameworks/routines)
Now you should have a long list of topics, just like mine.
Turns out you have plenty to write about!
From here, your goal is to narrow it down to just 3 buckets.
And to do that, scan through that list of topics.
Which of them jumped right off the page when you wrote them down?
Lean into those topics and latch on – that's your sweet spot to write about.
To keep the example going, I emerged with 3 buckets:
- How to build a writing habit
- All things journaling and asking high-quality questions
- General golden nugget growth frameworks
You should have your 3 buckets as well.
Now, onto the next step.
Step 2: Adding specificity
Remember how I said you don't have to be an expert?
That was only half-true.
You do need to be an expert in a topic to write about it - but you simply need to tweak the topic by adding specificity to match your level of credibility.
Recall the 2-year Test. These are all of the problems you've solved in the last 2 years.
Now, you're going to take your topics and add a level of specificity that makes the audience you're writing to the same person you were 2 years ago before you solved the problem.
Pause for a second and stare at that, it's important.
You are adding a level of specificity to your topic that makes your target audience the person you were 2 years ago.
An example will help drive this home - here's how my 3 topics evolved:
- How to build a writing habit for complete beginner writers
- Journaling for ambitious entrepreneurs who aren't yet journaling but know they should be
- General golden nuggets of wisdom for ambitious 20-somethings who are interested in personal growth
Can you see how I cut out a huge number of people with my additions of specificity?
That’s the point.
This helps me generate ideas specifically to solve the problems of my target audience.
To get specific, here are some levers you can pull:
- By industry (X for healthcare startups)
- By demographic (X for middle-aged women)
- By physical location (X for Chicago)
- By digital platform (X for Twitter)
- By price (X for free)
- By distribution (X but delivery)
- By problem (X but w/o Y)
I encourage you to dial these up and down until you feel uncomfortably specific, then add one more level.
That's when you know you've gotten specific enough.
Now you've got your topics, here's where it gets fun.
Step 3: Using the 4A Framework to write headlines
Your next step is to take your topics and run them through the 4A Framework to generate headlines and ideas to write about. I'll introduce you to the 4A framework, then show you some examples how I used it.
You can express each of your topics in 4 ways:
- Actionable (here's how)
- Analytical (here are the numbers)
- Aspirational (yes, you can)
- Anthropological (here's why)
These are actionable, implementable pieces of content.
The reader should gain some new insight or instruction they didn't have beforehand.
- Ultimate guides
Take your core idea and help the reader put it into practice.
These are breakdowns involving numbers, frameworks, and processes.
Take your core idea and support it with numbers and analysis.
- Industry trends
- Surprising numbers
- Why your idea works
Help the reader unlock a new way of thinking.
These are stories of how you or others put your core idea into practice.
- Underrated traits
- How to get started
Help the reader understand the benefits they unlock when they see the world through this new lens.
These are things that speak to universal human nature.
- Why others are wrong
- How you've been misled
Create a sense of urgency for the reader to fully embrace your core idea or be forever left behind.
Here's what my page looked like after I went through this exercise.
As you can see, I had quite a few ideas here - 24 to be exact (just for this first bucket, and I repeated this for all 3 buckets I generated which brought me over 100).
Here were a few examples using my "Building a daily writing habit for beginner writers" bucket:
- X mistakes to avoid when building a daily writing habit (actionable)
- Why making it to Day X is the key to building a writing habit (analytical)
- 3 lessons I learned from writing for 600 days in a row (aspirational)
- The #1 reason people stop writing shortly after starting (anthropological)
Remember – no judgment during this phase. Get all of your ideas out there, because we want as much raw material as possible for the last step: choosing 3 ideas.
Step 4: Choosing 3 ideas and getting going
You’re sitting there with a ton of ideas on the page - and now you have the problem of potentially too many ideas to write about - which is better than having nothing to write about.
But many writers will fall into the analysis paralysis trap here.
Here’s how to overcome it.
Pick 3 ideas. That's it.
Your next 3 days of content.
The 3 ideas that most resonated with you from that list.
And that's all you're allowed to take away from these ideas (for now)
Because here's what's going to happen.
When you start writing about your first idea (that idea that jumped right off the page), it's going to feel effortless.
And in the process of writing, more ideas are going to jump into your head.
When you hit publish on this idea, the market feedback is going to generate even more ideas (if you’re paying attention to the questions, critiques, engagement, resonance, etc.)
This is the main point of the EIG - to get you started writing about ideas that resonate with you.
And once you're getting them out there consistently, it will be dead obvious what you should write about next.
So take your 3 ideas and get going! The rest will take care of itself.
Pulling it all together
Alrighty – there's a lot here!
Here's everything you need to do:
- Do this by hand to break out of your regular environment
- Start with a massive 2-year test brain dump
- Grab the 2-3 buckets that resonated most with you
- Tailor the specificity to match your level of credibility
- Use the 4A framework to generate ideas
- Pick 3 ideas, then get going and iterate from there
So did I keep my promise?
Once you do this exercise you should have:
- A narrowed list of topics you are confident to write about
- Hundreds of potential ideas
- Clarity for the next 3 days
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