Seasoned freelancers who create specialized content day in day out may find themselves in a niche rut and struggle to come up with new content ideas.
“After seven years of writing in the same industry, you do often find yourself writing similar articles over again, which can make you feel like you’re in some kind of career Groundhog Day,” says Emily Guy Birken, a personal finance writer and author of End Financial Stress Now. “There have been times when I’ve accepted assignments on a topic that I feel like there is absolutely nothing to squeeze any more out of, and I’ll find myself watching YouTube videos of kittens rather than working.”
So how can you get fresh ideas and inspiration when you feel worn out creatively? I talked to a few veteran freelancing creatives to learn how to keep they keep their work fresh.
If you have the luxury, select projects that are either the most exciting to work on or will provide a good reference, says Boris Benko, an information designer who specializes in infographics and data visualization. Benko, who has been creating infographics since 2001 and creates over 100 a year, knows full well that the burnout struggle is real. To prevent feeling worn down, Benko is selective in the clients and projects he takes on.
Image attribution: Štefan Štefančík
Consider farming out certain tasks so you can channel your efforts on what’s most interesting to you. If you’re a writer, you could hire someone to help with research, image curation, and SEO to let you can focus on the creative aspects. Benko has a junior designer handle some of the production-oriented tasks (i.e., popping elements in, prepping files), while Benko comes up with the visual concepts, layout, and illustrations.
Staying current on what people are writing in the industry helps a ton, says Guy Birken. “I’ve found that there are always some new theories, new research, new federal regulations, and new products out there, as long as you are willing to take the time to read about them.” Subscribe to newsletters and social media feeds from thought leaders and major publications in your niche. You can also poke around by using popular hashtags in the industry you create content in.
If your work is starting to feel stale, incorporate a new angle, approach, or style, says Benko, who has created over 1,500 infographics for about 500 clients in his career. When he first got into information design, Benko started with a more illustrative magazine approach—think realistic, 3-D, and detailed illustrations. Over time, his style evolved to a far more simpler, 2-D style. And these days, to prevent feeling bored, he’ll switch between several styles.
If you’re having a hard time coming up with fresh content ideas, infuse a personal touch, suggests Guy Birken. “I’ll relate the topic back to my own life and it helps me find new and interesting things to say.” For instance, if you’re a new dad, you can try to weave in dad anecdotes into your articles.
Try to look at it from a craft perspective rather than a research perspective, suggests Guy Birken, who has a background in creative writing. “Trying to find interesting ways to describe the issue can make it more fun,” she says. “I may not be able to say anything new about the subject, but I can find new ways to say it with my word choices, and that’s the essence of creative writing.”
While this may sound counterintuitive, taking a deep dive with highly specialized topics (Social Security, anyone?) may help you refresh. Plus, it’ll give you subject matter expertise, which could help you come up with unique angles and inspiration.
That’s what happened for Guy Birken, who has authored several personal finance books on retirement, Social Security, and financial psychology. By spending a significant amount of time and research on particular topics, writing these books gave her a new appreciation for the material in a way that writing shorter articles did not.
To revitalize, Benko goes on little trips to jog his creativity. “To get you through those burn-out phases, try going somewhere for an escape, then start fresh again,” says Benko. You can also switch off those screens and take breaks daily to reboot. “Never underestimate the power of a walk to help stimulate your mind,” says Guy Birken. “If I’m in a terrible rut, getting a little exercise and specifically not thinking about my assignment can help to put me in a new frame of mind once I get back to my computer.”
You can also take advantage of the freelancer perk of being mobile and try working in a different locale. A fresh change of scenery can really help you recharge and come back refreshed. I’ve personally done a two hour a day schedule while on a workcation. I’ll work for two hours, then take the rest of the day off.
If you’re falling into a bit of a niche rut, you can employ some or all of these tactics to come up with new content ideas. Do you have any other tactics or techniques to keep your work fresh? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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