Keepin’ it Fresh: How to Find Stuff to Talk About

Last weekend, I travelled to Brunswick for my brother’s graduation. It was a weekend filled with speeches, well-wishing, stress, and SO many feelings (mainly from the graduates and their parents). As a passive participant in the festivities, I found myself listening critically to the speeches given by the President, honorary speakers, and students. When you break all of those speeches down, they all had the same message. And, the same message as the speeches given at my own graduation, and probably the same message given to graduates across the country this spring, and all the springs to come. Whoa.

This provoked my own fear of sounding the same as other writers, and having nothing worthwhile to say. Being redundant, or even worse, unoriginal, is a creative mind’s worst fear. How do you ensure that your thoughts and ideas maintain a level of exciting and important?

Here are some ideas I’ve collected in my quest to answer this question:

1. Know your niche. You are an expert on something. Not everyone is going to have the same knowledge and expertise on this “something,” so you may want to consider it as a topic. Ideally, your area of expertise overlaps with an area you’re passionate about. When you know and love your subject, it’ll shine through in your work, and makes the information more valuable to your audience.

In addition to knowing your niche, knowing your audience helps with generating new ideas. This article mentions a couple ways to engage your people: answer the questions they have, and give them information they need (even if they don’t know they need it).

2. It’s not necessarily what you say, it’s how you say it. In terms of graduation speeches, the theme is usually something along the lines of “go forth and prosper.” But guess what? There are millions (billions? trillions? infinite??) ways to convey this message.

Everyone has a unique voice, whether they realize it or not. Find out what your voice is, and play into that. Mindy Kaling, for instance, recently gave a speech to Harvard Law graduates that was entertaining and engaging (plus she called them all “nerds”), but still had the same underlying graduation genre message.

3. It’s okay to recycle old stuff, if it’s still relevant. In this video from Marie Forleo, she addresses the content creation dilemma. She brings up an excellent example from O Magazine, showing the same headline on three covers from different years.  I’m pretty sure Oprah isn’t exactly lacking in terms of audience, so it’s probably safe to say people still like reading something they’ve heard before. The headline in question was along the lines of “cleaning your space,” which will remain relevant as long as people have spaces and spaces need cleaning.

So, go ahead and revisit older material. If your people can still benefit from it, you’re not being unoriginal or lame.

4. And, finally, stay inspired, but don’t be too hard on yourself. In my experience, creativity grows more elusive when you try to force it. Some days, you’re just not going to feel it, and that’s normal. If, while trying to generate new material, you find your teeth grinding, eyebrows furrowing, and/or blood pressure spiking, take a step (or several) back. Doing something else for awhile is usually recommended, and you’ll have a fresh mind when you come back to it.


When uninspired, I like to doodle ridiculous scenes in Microsoft Paint.

It also helps to remind yourself, I’m doing this because I love it. The things we love give us high blood pressure sometimes, but that doesn’t mean we should give up on them.

In the end, no one wants to feel like they’re beating a dead horse. The good news: the internet (and the world) changes constantly, and while sometimes this freaks me out, it means there will always be more to talk about.

What’s Your Blogging Motivation?

When I saw the Ramit Sethi quote below, I laughed very hard and very alone in my office for about five minutes:

For 99% of people, starting a blog is a terrible way to make money. You might as well take your money, shred it, spend a year sewing it back together by hand, and then light it on fire. You will still have saved time and heartache.

I laugh because the imagery is amazing. I also laugh because it’s true… which probably is leading you to say, “Why the heck would I even blog then?”

The money you’ll make blogging, or at least the substantial amount of what you’ll make, won’t be actually on your blog but related to your blog. I’ll get into that a bit later on.bloggingmotivation

Here are three motivations for you to blog:

Motivation 1: Blog because you love to write. 

I started a blog for this very reason. You know when people ask you when you are 9 what you are going to be when you grow up? I always wanted to be a writer.

I was told by a couple ‘important’ people that I wasn’t a good enough writer to be published anywhere. So after a few frustrating attempts to charm the uncharmable in the competitive world of writing (apparently my dream is not very unique), I decided I’d start a blog back in 2007 and write. Write to practice writing, write to learn things, write to meet interesting people, write to get better at websites.

From the stats on this website, I see thousands of people are reading what I have to say. And if I would have listened to those couple important people, I wouldn’t be here today saying it.

So if you want to blog because you are tired of the gatekeepers who tell the world what’s good and not good, blogging is a great project for you. Your writing will be known and someday, you may even get paid to write on other websites.

Motivation 2: Blog because you want to get traffic to your business website.

Let’s say you want more people to come to your website. You can pay thousands of dollars a month for Google Ads, slick SEO dudes in India to do mysterious things for you, and other tactics. But honestly the best thing you can do to get traffic to a website is to have a blog.

Search engines love blogs (this graph via Hubspot):


People love blogs:

Bloggers love blogs for obvious reasons (I mean basketball players like to watch other people play basketball too, right?). And as someone who regularly follows about 800 blogs, I would say I’m a more ‘heavy’ blog reader than someone who doesn’t blog at all.

So what am I saying with all this? People read blogs and they drive traffic to your website, which gives you an opportunity to make money if you sell things there.

Motivation 3: Blog because you want to be seen as an expert. 

Have you ever walked around talking about how smart you are about, say, growing plants? How did that go for you? I bet if you actually did that, everyone would think you were kind of a jerkface.

Now what if you had a blog with pictures of your tomato plants being taller than your house with interesting ideas for getting rid of slugs? Now that’s much better isn’t it? It’s the antibrag: you just put awesomeness out there and let people find it.

See with a blog, people can see how and if you know your stuff. And since it’s out there working for you 24-7, the blog is introducing people to you that you have never met.

Just last night, I went to a gathering. The friend I went with said that one of the party hosts (who I had never met) has always wanted to meet me. “Like you’re famous or something.” my friend laughed.

That, my friends, is the ‘blog effect’.

Any substantial money most people will make from blogging is indirect. You’ll be hired to speak at conferences or to write for other websites. You’ll sell products on your website or throw together an ebook that people will pay to download. You’ll be seen an an authority on whatever and be hired by people to help them. Yes, it is money you make because you have a blog but not from the actual blog itself.

If you want to pull off enough advertising revenue to impress your grandparents, that will be a long hard road which you may never get to the end of. The most successful blogger I’ve ‘met’ who admitted the truth to me said they made about $11,000 a year off ad revenue from their very popular blog. A nice chunk but not much above the federal poverty line. If you are making about $100/year off your blog, you are considered in the 90th percentile. This is not to discourage you from blogging… just from blogging for this reason.

What is your motivation? If at least one of the above motivations speaks to you, give it a shot. But if you are tempted by the fruit of another motivation, you might just want to look at another way to use your time.

Is Someone Copying Your Blog?

contentscrapingandyourblogAs a blogger, I’ve long had my eye on content scrapers, which are people who steal content from your website and, with little or no changes, put it on theirs.

Search engines love blogs so in an effort to get fresh website content that people are looking for, content scrapers hope to take the work that someone else put into writing and use it for their own gain.

I used to pay attention to this when I was a daily blogger but have since stopped, in small part because it made me mad that someone copied my work but in larger part because I realized the people who were doing it were desperate and probably not going to get very far. I have bigger fish to fry.

Matt noticed a few weeks ago that some websites, when he copied a snippet from them, added a URL back to the original post. Of course, I hadn’t noticed this so I immediately looked into it.

Here’s an example of what I mean.

Let’s say I go on the Time’s website and find this article:


And in this article I found something I wanted to save, somewhere. I highlight and copy the text:



When I go to paste that text, here is what happens:

If you want some insight into why the Department of Justice put a gate hold on the merger between American Airlines and US Airways, here’s a number to ponder: 13 million seats—gone. That’s how many airplane seats have disappeared over the past year—seats removed from the system by the airlines as they reduce capacity.

Read more:,9171,2150624,00.html#ixzz2dw7wHcn4

As you see, the quote is preserved but an attribution link with tracking code is automatically added.

I thought this was kind of neat so I installed Tynt on my site.

Something I didn’t think of when I did this was the fact Tynt could now track when content left my site:



Now as you see most people who copied text from this site (26 this week) just deleted the tracking link when they copy… but 6 didn’t and people got to my site from it. Interesting.

What’s my most copied article you ask? Here it is: (At least 2-3 copies a week, who knew it was that good?)

So what’s my point in all this? If you write online, there is a pretty good chance someone is using your content (at best, getting information and attributing and at worst, stealing). But there are tools that can allow you to not only measure this but to make it a little more annoying to do so.

Have you created a pdf or some other piece of content people can download? Put your watermark on the bottom then have some fun like my friend Peter did:


If you really want to go after an offender, this blog post is a pretty detailed how to:

This blog post, however, is more to tell you that it can be an amusing past time to watch where your ideas go… and that I’m going to keep my eye on Tynt for awhile longer.

How To Be A Prolific Blogger

When I say prolific bloggers, we might think of people like Seth Godin or Heather Armstrong.

These people blog full time and have thousands of people reading every word they say, the moment they say it.

Being a famous blogger is that part recognition for a talent, part interaction with adoring fans (and not so adoring ones I’m sure). It’s what we all kind of want to be when we start blogging: fame without the paparazzi.

Being Seth or Heather though is kind of like being John Mayer or Etta James. These people have reached the top of their field and are making lots of money excelling. But there are only x number of people who get here and it’s part work, part timing, and part luck.

I know plenty of working musicians who are not household names with million dollar contracts. There is plenty of room between destitute wannabe and internationally known rock star.

And many prolific bloggers  fit in an in between category. Not famous. Prolific.

While not everyone who blogs can be famous, I encourage everyone who blogs to at least try to be prolific. I try. I might not always get there but I try.

What are my guidelines for trying to be prolific, you ask?

  • Is what I’m saying new? There are a million blog posts about, say, the birth of the royal baby. I’m not going to regurgitate the same basic information that’s on every news site if I have a lifestyle blog. A comparison of the royal baby to Kim Kardashian’s new baby? Or an interview with my friends Mike and Lynne who had their baby at the same time as the royal baby about how the coverage affected their birth? That’s giving the royal baby story a new angle. If you are a blogger, you are not trying to be The New York Times or CNN (unless you are breaking a crazy story you have firsthand knowledge of, in which case go for it!). You are trying to say something new. So make it new, somehow. If you can’t, there might not be enough of a story there.
  • Is what I’m saying helpful? The other thing I try to do, even if I am writing some silly first-person story,  is have some message or universal truth. I ask myself, can a stranger learn something from this? If the answer is no, there is always some framing I can do. The story about my father’s birthday can be tied to Youtube (they have the same birthday) and how much the internet has changed in such a short time since he passed. See, it’s still a personal story but it’s one a stranger who didn’t know my father can now read and get something out of.
  • Would I link to this blog post? This question implies the blog post is interesting, not completely self centered,  and also that it follows the ‘rules’ blogs have. The first two ideas there are self explanatory but what do I mean by blogging rules? I mean writing a blog in the style of a blog. Blogs people link to are as much about good formatting as subject. I’m kind of long winded for a blogger but I try to help my reader out with bold text for the important parts and at least one image per post to keep things fun and kicky.
    Kicky (from

    Kicky (from

    See I told you I could show you fun and kicky on this blog. 🙂

  • Is someone not like me reading this? So I don’t like overalls or Family Guy (actually I feel like more than dislike I just don’t ‘get’ either of those two things). There are other things I feel ‘meh’ about. But by writing negative blog posts about either, all I’m doing is making fans of those things angry or making the people who think ‘who cares?’ go elsewhere to be entertained. By thinking of people not like myself, I am thinking about not being 1) negative or 2) inaccessible. Inaccessible meaning trying to be too intellectual, using too many cultural references without explanation, and other things that make people read your stuff and not ‘get’ it. If someone with completely opposite religious/political/overall-wearing beliefs can read my blog, that’s a good thing.

I use these questions as an informal checklist I ask myself before I press publish on each blog.

Is there anything else you feel prolific bloggers do that I might not have included in my list? If so please share in the comments!

8 Tips to Improve Your Business Writing Online and Off

This guest post is courtesy of Catherine W McKinney, who took part in the 30 Days of Blogging challenge we held in March. Catherine is a writer, always looking for a good story. She is the author of the ebook “Finn MacCool and the Woman”, tales of cats invading her home. You can visit her blog, like her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter if you want to keep in touch.

catherineWM_cmToday communications run from in person, to telephone, to email, to blogs, to social media. And don’t forget traditional letter writing.

There are newsletters and articles to be written.

The very definition of business writing has changed, expanded, basically exploded during the past decade.

Most of what you learned in school does not apply to all this new media writing. So you wonder, what form should I write in; what tone; what style?

It’s less confusing than you think, and much more approachable.

Today formal business writing has been replaced by the conversational tone, the conversational style. In other words, if you can say it, you can write it.

Here are 8 tips to help you improve your writing:

1 Make the writing easy to understand. Don’t use professional jargon. You want to encourage dialogue not send me running for the exit. Allow your personality to shine through, the personality you showed during the job interview.

2 Be interesting. You want to hold my attention for a least a minute. Give me a reason to continue reading. Add some energy, some life to your writing. When appropriate make me laugh.

3 Be clear. You want your writing to be easy to absorb and answer all questions. Obscurity if your enemy. If I don’t understand what you are trying to say, I am not going to finish reading or seek any other contact with you.

4 Be logical. Provide the right amount of supportive information without overwhelming. Progress through your information step by step. Help me appreciate your expertise.

5 Be concise. Don’t waste my time. Stick to the point. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs. Chunk information together for me so I don’t have to go looking for the next thing I need to know.

6 Keep the message obvious. Remember the reader is the important person in this written conversation. Don’t hide the message, tell me why I should care. Tell me how it benefits me or my team or my business. Tell me how it will improve my life, answer my question.

7 Be purpose obvious. Stick to the topic. Allow the writing to be persuasive. Don’t hide what I should do next or what else I may need to know. Tell me.

8 Be easy to read aloud. Your writing needs flow, it needs rhythm. It needs to reflect how you speak, how you present yourself, your ideas. By reading your writing out loud you will easily spot rough patches, thoughts which are disconnected, sentences which don’t work. Reading out loud helps your editing process.

Whether you are sending an email, blogging, writing up advertising, creating the annual report, sending a thank you note, these 8 tips can help you write better. Better writing leads to better communications. Better communications leads to possibilities beyond your imagination.

It’s all about connecting with clarity, with respect and with a bit of imagination.

30 Days Of Blogging: Setting Myself Up For Success

Starting today, I’m taking 20 people through 30 Days of Blogging, our first ever ‘virtual’ program. The idea is we are going to blog every day. While blogging, we’ll be learning about connecting with other bloggers, marketing our blogs, and more. Here is what I am doing to get started on this. (And if you are a Type A control freak who wants to get ready to blog daily for a month too, here’s what you can do to think ahead.)

Me and my first blog notebook, which I still have. Get something like this for you to write blog ideas, put clippings from magazines, or otherwise collect inspiration for your blog (a virtual version of this is cool too).

Me and my first blog notebook, which I still have. Get something like this for you to write blog ideas, put clippings from magazines, or otherwise collect inspiration for your blog (a virtual version of this is cool too).

Access information in an accessible place

Most people don’t start blogging because they feel like maintaining a website then fall in love with the writing part… it’s usually the other way around.

To keep yourself from saying ‘Ahh!’ too much, make yourself a computer document (or put on a regular piece of paper) the website address where you log into your blog, your username and password, and the link to your blog itself. If you are a bit forgetful, in this same place have a step-by-step on how to write an blog entry, upload a photo, etc. You will probably refer to this a lot the first couple weeks but won’t need it much after that since you’ll be in the habit. (My mom keeps a small notebook on her desk when she learns a new computer trick. And here at Breaking Even we make how-to documents for ourselves as much as for our clients. In other words, even if you aren’t blogging, this isn’t a bad idea to do!)

For now, keep your technology frustration to its lowest possible point by understanding how to sign into your blog and write entries.

Dedicated place/time to write daily

This is kind of a stupid one but trust me, this is key at the beginning. As you get addicted (in a good way) to writing your blog, you won’t need the motivation. But finding 1/2 hour a day that you can write and a spot you feel like plopping in for that moment in time is key. For this blog challenge, I plan on doing it at 7 am every morning (I’m up at 5:30 so by then I feel awake and everything). Nighttime or your lunch hour at work might be better times for you. But make an appointment with yourself and don’t let anything get in its way. This is just 30 days.

A list of ideas for when you are stuck

You will think of blog ideas in the weirdest places: in line at the grocery store, while waiting for your friend at a restaurant, lots of others. Keep a notepad with you or write them in your smartphone… but have a central place where they all get put. This central place may be a pretty notebook or a Google Doc called ‘Blog Post Ideas’.  Trust me when I say you will want that nugget on a day when you feel less inspired.

2-3 blog posts ready to go

What, I’m thinking of failure already? Not exactly. There is going to be a day when you blog time is interrupted by something outside of your control. (Darn that life!). It’s good to have a few entries ready to go (most blog software will let you schedule the post to go online on a certain day at a certain time). When I say have the blog entry ready to go, I mean don’t just write it in a word processing program: put it in your blog software, have the image or images you want to use picked out and resized, check the spelling and otherwise have it ready to go. Then all you have to do is click ‘Publish’ (or if it’s scheduled ahead of time for a busy day, do nothing) and your blog will go on.

Alright, are you ready? We are!

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