1. Music A short rhythmic phrase, especially one that is repeated in improvisation.2. A clever or inventive commentary or remark
Maybe you don’t know how to play guitar and the closest you’ve come to embodying a rock star persona is beating your friends at Guitar Hero on your Xbox. That’s OK, riffing isn’t just for musicians anymore.
What’s it like to take just a few simple chords and weave them into an unforgettable improvisation? As a writer, you already know. You take the same words and turn them into brand new content every day. But you might be making things harder than they need to be. If you aren’t riffing, you aren’t producing new content like you could.
Writing for a living is about equal parts creativity and efficiency. Putting too much effort into the creative part makes it hard to earn a living, while being overly efficient makes for lousy copy. You want to get good content out the door, and you want to do it quickly, so how do you find the balance? The solution lies in the art of the riff.
Riffing is about taking a concept– yours or others’– and spinning it out into something new, more than once. It’s about getting some momentum so you don’t always have to start from scratch. It’s about delving deeper and finding new ways to explore an idea. Riffing is what being an effective blogger is all about.
1. Start by Curating Great Content
Blogging is an engaging medium. It invites interactivity, commentary and fresh ideas about current events and trends. As one who writes blog posts, you have an obligation to know what’s going on. How else could you provide worthwhile content to your readers?
Every morning over coffee, I spend an hour tapping into relevant news, social media and other blogs to get the “lay of the land,” spark new ideas, and share great ones that deserve attention. I’ll check out some Google alerts I’ve set for specific terms, browse through my Google reader full of blog rss feeds, and perhaps take a peek at Twitter and Google+, and even other places that host interesting discussions like LinkedIn and Quora.
I’ll also spend time updating our Blog Post Ideas section using Scoop.it, one of the best content discovery and curation tools around. We update a total of 15 pages on our site using Scoop.it, which also helps post a lot more social updates than we could reasonably manage without it.
Curating content is more than just sharing what you find, of course. It’s about exercising your good judgement to provide value to your readers, because frankly, you can discover and share good ideas much faster than you can come up with them! Blogging should never feel like a solitary pursuit.
2. Leverage Good Ideas
OK, so you’re getting the swing of putting your readers in touch with the best content you can find. Don’t stop there! Use one or more of your curated pieces to launch a new article. This is where the riffing starts to take shape.
Use one blogger’s story and relate it to your own experience. Take useful advice and build a new list of tips around it. Gather a number of posts together and talk about a trend you see. My morning curation process is just the starting point to riff on new ideas, and I often draft new posts as a direct result of what I find.
MarketingProfs.com uses content curation quite effectively, with a not insignificant portion of their content proudly derived from other sources. Extracting the essence of one of their own curated posts about (what else?) How to Curate Content Your Audience Will Love, you must:
- Remain Curious
- Make Unusual Connections
- Find Content that Excites You
- Keep Your Audience in Mind
See how I did that there? Also curating in my post about curating. Good ideas are good ideas, no matter who published them first. Be the curious writer who culls them out from far and wide.
3. Choose an Angle for Your Post
A while back, we wrote about how to create interesting articles that are relevant to boring products. The post was written to address a challenge particular to ghost writers who are attempting to amuse, entertain and inform readers, when the primary subject matter isn’t so compelling. Unfortunately, writing an uncompelling post is all too easy to do, no matter your subject. You have to help readers connect the dots.
Remember, riffing on an idea is about providing additional value– starting where someone else left off. So think about how the content you’re sharing solves a problem. Put it in context. Make it relevant. Reporting on what others said isn’t curating or riffing– that’s just quoting and linking. Big deal.
4. Be a Contrarian
I don’t know about you, but I rather enjoy arguing a point, especially when I don’t agree with another post, or a general viewpoint that I run across more than once. So don’t just look to riff on a topic that you agree with. Broaden your options to include things that get your goat and feel free to rant for a spell.
Last year, I read a great post called How to be a Contrarian Blogger and Why You Should. Among the more memorable quotes:
Sometimes you have to stick your neck out and say what’s what, if you want to matter or have any kind of impact on the discussion. Sometimes you have to do it in a way that causes a stir. Is that a bad thing? I’m not suggesting you go all Howard Stern or Ann Coulter on us, but I am suggesting that you prod your readers in a way that challenges them, or causes a pang of emotion. The more “charged” a piece of content, the more likely it will be remembered, shared and appreciated, because we’re apt to remember things that trigger an emotional response.
If you play it safe (or lazy) and let the news cycle or more influential sites choose your topics for you, your blog will necessarily remain less important. On the other hand, if you depend upon your own judgment, expertise and insight to curate items for your audience, you have a shot at becoming an influencer in your own right. There is far too much content out there for anyone to find you if you insist on being normal. Make your blog different. Make it matter.
Oh, and did I mention that I wrote that post? Curating my own stuff. Cue guitar solo… here’s the bridge…!
5. Build an Idea Surplus and Multiply Your Posts
Once you get the juices flowing, don’t turn them off. Take just a moment to consider alternative angles, additional points or different opinions that are outside the scope of one post. Rather than providing a thin survey of many points, dig deeper on fewer ideas to hold follow up posts in reserve. Sometimes, the difference between one post and three is only a matter of when you decide to stop writing, or how you segment an epic post into three.
Like I just showed, you can also pull from your own back catalog of content, no matter where it lies. If it’s a guest post, you can be sure the blog owner will be happy for a new link and the referral traffic it can send.
Now, pull out your big hair wig, saddle up in some sequined spandex, and get riffing!