Stumped for Ideas? Go Back to the Future for Inspiration

Typewriter with a blank page, empty coffee cup, and crumpled page on desk

For some writers, staring at a blank screen can be intimidating. We’re always trying to stay at the vanguard of relevancy, but sometimes new ideas won’t flow. Instead of getting frustrated, why not take a look into your past to find a wealth of inspiration for the future? And, in doing so, you may find a way to help build your readers’ trust in your thoughts, ideas, and beliefs. 

In general, I believe blogs are high-risk/high-reward propositions. I very rarely advocate for them on corporate sites, unless you’re willing to make a long-term investment in creating content. That can take multiple forms: a team pulling content together with regular meetings and schedules; it can be a ghost writer creating content for multiple people; and it can be as simple as creating a calendar and assigning one post a year to different people.

The solutions seem easy in theory. In practice, they’re much harder. 

Unless it’s a dedicated part of your job, content creation is often put off to the last minute. And that can cause additional stress and frustration. So whilst the third option seems to be the least burdensome, it can actually be the least effective -- people who don’t write content regularly often struggle with it, it requires someone to manage the content and ensure deadlines are hit, and the process rarely works smoothly.

Having dedicated resources, in one form or another, is usually the best solution. However, even if you have the time and resources, it can be challenging to find something new to write about. The solution? Sometimes you have to stop chasing the new and shiny and polish off some old thoughts.

On this Echidna blog alone, I’ve written hundreds of posts. We revisit themes, topics, and ideas all the time, building upon our previous thoughts with new experiences. And, honestly, in only makes sense to do so. Why?

The World Doesn’t Stop Turning

What I thought and believed six years ago aren’t exactly the same feelings I have today. The world hasn’t stayed the same, technology has evolved, and user patterns have adapted to meet new realities. For example, six years ago, mobile wasn’t nearly as ubiquitous as it is today -- so if you’re still working on a framework that focuses on desktop, you’re missing out on what users actually are doing today.

I started my career in the print world, cutting out my content, pasting it onto layout sheets, and shipping it off in a box to a printer for publication the next day. That seems almost quaint by today’s publishing standards -- and if I adhered to the old “above-the-fold” mentality that we had 20+ years ago, I’d be doing our clients a disservice. You need to adjust and adapt. 

That said…

The Foundations are Still Foundational

Go back over my writing -- both here at Echidna and personal. You’ll find themes that run throughout:

Those foundational elements are still in place today. The foundation hasn’t changed -- just the tactics supporting them have grown and evolved. If anything, the industry has moved towards these foundations, eschewing the idea that companies know their customers’ needs better than the customers do, and embracing user research and focused writing. 

Some Things Should Never Change

So why not just go back and edit old pieces with new information? Well, there are few reasons:

It’s wrong. Just horribly, ethically, and professionally wrong.

Allow me to explain again -- it’s wrong. Even though web content is able to be updated, it’s important to respect the original content as a source of truth. Editing old content is disingenuous and artificially creates a sense of expertise that isn’t earned. I could edit old pieces with today’s knowledge, but that’s rendering that old piece false. I mean, I could go back and edit sports predictions with today’s knowledge and look like a soothsayer, but it wouldn’t be true.

Instead, reputation and expertise is earned. Do I hold true to the same beliefs I had five, 10, 20 years ago? Not entirely? But, as mentioned, the foundation is there. My thoughts and beliefs have been updated by experience, increased knowledge, and growth. 

I don’t delete Tweets, I don’t edit or delete old posts… That’s what builds trust. If you fancy yourself as any sort of thought leader or expert, you need to maintain that sense of honesty and transparency. I’ll stand behind anything I have written in the past and know that today’s beliefs likely will adjust in the future.

Opportunity to Share Growth - and Build Trust

And that’s where inspiration from past content comes in. There are likely dozens of touchpoints that can be the source of expanded ideas on older beliefs.

Six years ago, I was writing content strategy advice for smaller clients. As we have grown and expanded, those clients have grown in scope as well. Are the content needs for a small business the same as those of an enterprise-level client? Not at all -- the foundations are similar, but the scope, politics, and pressures are completely different. 

So, yes, I could go back and edit an old piece. Or I can use that inspiration to show how things have changed -- and, of course, where there are parallels. Build upon your knowledge, show how you’ve improved your strategies and tactics over the past years, and even link back to that old piece of content as a touchstone.

Let your readers experience the journey with you. Let them see the growth. Let them see how what you’re talking about isn’t just theoretical knowledge, but rather hard-earned experience based on real-world situations.

And if you were wrong about something, point it out! Unless you’re repeating the same mistakes over and over, it’s worthwhile to show your growth. Explain how you came to a faulty hypothesis and how experience has changed those views. I’m very careful not to spout off without some proof -- in any of my writing. But I’m not infallible. I’m sure there are some ideas or beliefs I held that, with the benefit of hindsight -- may not have been the right ones. Use these opportunities to show how you’ve learned. 

The Times, They Did a-Change

The things we believed five, 10, 20 years ago shouldn’t still be 100 per cent applicable today. There’s new technologies, there are new laws (compare and contrast accessible web design practices from 2009 and 2019 -- you’ll see a difference). There are new behaviours by new generations of users. There are new needs for older generations of users. 

So how have you adapted? How have you changed? That’s where the value is. Experience matters. Revisit that old content and tackle the same topics using a 2019 lens. You will find, hopefully, some foundational similarities, but there will be changes. 

There’s a wealth of content inspiration right in your history. Sometimes to go forward, you need to look back and build upon the lessons you’ve learned. You want me to trust your expertise? That trust needs to be earned, so show me your growth, your progression, and your history. 

As a writer, it’ll make your life easier. As a reader, it will make your content -- and the authority upon which it is written -- that much more trustworthy.

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