How do you approach a topic creatively without straying too far from the needs of your audience? It’s all too easy to lose your focus and end up with a dreaded revision request—which makes it tempting to just fall back on formulaic writing that fits the rubric, gets your post accepted and move on.
But, that gets boring. It also makes your job harder, because it can become increasingly difficult to inject life into articles on the same topics over and over again. While it isn’t always easy to find a creative angle that works, the following tricks can help spur your creativity and know where to draw the line.
1. Rule out the straightforward approach.
Pretend for a moment that you aren’t allowed to approach the keywords in a straightforward fashion. One of the easiest ways to get creative is to add an intersecting industry to your angle. Your article has to synthesize both industries cohesively and logically—it can’t focus on just the primary vertical.
For example, if the keywords are “air conditioning services,” and the vertical is “HVAC,” tell yourself that you have to write an article that also includes another subject, such as health.
Why place an additional rule on yourself? Think of what happens when you write a limerick or piece of haiku. The additional limitations actually force you to get creative in order to fit something clever or interesting into the required format.
Since you aren’t allowed to take a straightforward approach, obvious topics like “Should You Replace Your Air Conditioning?” and “3 AC Maintenance Tips” are out. Knowing what you aren’t going to write is the first step to finding a creative approach.
2. Find your audience.
The next step is to find a specific reader. Pick an audience of one, and write for that person alone. Your reader helps define your article and drives your ideation with his or her unique concerns, so aim for a persona that you can clearly picture.
I base my readers on mental caricatures—people with exaggerated personalities and quirks. Here are some questions I run through when I’m brainstorming:
- Who is this person to me? Is it my neighbor, my best friend, or somebody I met by chance?
- What does this person do for a living? Is she disabled? Does she teach art classes? Is he a graphic designer?
- Where does this person live? Is it in a one story home, a large ranch house, or an urban apartment?
- What is this person’s hobby? Does my reader bake cookies, rescue stray animals, or collect vinyl records?
- Who is important to this person? Does she have grandchildren? Is she newly single? Is he in a committed relationship?
- What does this person value? Comfort? Creative expression? The environment?
- What problems does this person have? Does she have health problems? Is she forgetful? Does he have unpaid parking tickets?
I come up with people that are easy to picture and give them titles that reflect the caricatures I’ve created, like the “eccentric best friend,” the “elderly widowed neighbor,” or the “imaginary hipster dude.” The more specific and creative your target audience, the more unique the whole article will be.
3. Angle in on your keywords.
Once you have an audience and an intersecting industry in mind, focus on the keywords and figure out what is important about this topic to your imaginary reader. Use the information from your caricature to guide you.
For example, your elderly neighbor may suffer from Lupus. An article that builds on this topic but still fits the keywords “air conditioning” and verticals “HVAC” and “Health” could be “Make Your Home More Lupus-Friendly.” The key is making sure your chosen angle clearly ties in to the primary keywords and vertical. If the connection is too tangential, the content will be of less value to the client and you may have to revise.
You can use the same trick on essentially any keywords. Take a general topic like “dentist” and use your audience to narrow your ideation and find an angled approach.
Your eccentric best friend’s favorite holiday can provoke a piece like “How can I get fangs for my Halloween costume?” Your elderly neighbor may worry about how vitamin deficiencies are affecting her mouth. The hipster dude, naturally, wants to know how to achieve dental health using the coolest (and most obscure) products.
The more aware you are of your target audience, the more clearly you can identify their wants and needs, which is what ultimately sets your content apart.
4. Keep referring back to your vertical.
This is where many writers stumble off topic when trying to take a creative angle. When you have strong, interesting information about two or more different industries (or verticals) that intersect, the line between what’s on topic and important and what’s important but off topic can get a little harder to see. Keeping the primary industry in mind can help.
Think of the vertical as an umbrella . As you write, ask yourself if every point you are making, all the information that you’re offering, clearly and directly falls under the umbrella of your primary industry. Whether the information is interesting or not, if you can’t say why each sentence is important for your imaginary reader to know in the context of your vertical, then it’s probably off topic.
For example, consider the keywords “criminal attorney” in the industry “law.” Your imaginary hipster dude may want to ironically discuss his potential criminal liability for killing a zombie, so confine your answers to that subject. The discussion of whether or not the promoters of the weekend zombie walk he participated in should pay the hospital bill for his sprained ankle belongs in a different article, on personal injuries.
Use your imaginary reader to guide you. They can gently pull you back on track if you wander off topic. If you start giving your reader information that’s too far out of bounds, they will be there to say, “Yes, very interesting. But how does this help me?” and bring your focus back.
Push yourself by ruling out the obvious approach to each keyword and use reader personas and intersecting industries to add creativity to your piece. As you refer back to the core industry and keywords, your article will stay on point and your readers will be left with a much more interesting and valuable article!
Tell us about your creative process! How do you find unique approaches while staying on topic?