Our front room is full of books. Organised alphabetically and by genre on the black Billy Bookcases so we can find what we want easily.

A visitor was once taken aback and somewhat disturbed by them all. Then they said: “Oh, but you’re a writer. That’s why you’ve got so many books.”

I looked at them with astonishment. “I’ve got lots of books because I love reading. That’s why.”

But I suppose they were right. I’ve been reading since I was small, and writing even before that – dictating stories to my mum about My Little Pony or scrawling shapes on paper.

My love of writing was clearly influenced by my love of reading. Subconsciously, I’ve been inspired to be a writer by the words I’ve read and heard. And I think you can too

When I did my Time Pieces History Project, I wanted to explore the history and meaning of mundane household items and to let myself fall down research rabbit holes to see what else I could learn.

And whether you’re writing for business or for pleasure, if you start paying attention to the words around you, you’ll find some inspiration.

Journalists refer to their “swipe files” – physical collections of newspaper and magazine articles they liked, clipped out and filed away for moments of writer’s block.

Today a swipe file is even easier to create – digital tools mean you can save, organise and find what you need on your phone.

So where should you be looking for that elusive inspiration? Well, I’d say don’t actively look at all! But while you’re starting out, having a few places to go will make it easier.

Where to Look for Writing Inspiration

Your Competitors’ Websites

No, I don’t mean copying your competitors’ content! The opposite, in fact. While you can get ideas for topics to write about, what I’m suggesting is you use your competition to help you think about the language you use to express yourself and how you attract your target audience.

It’s as important to think about who you don’t want to work with as much as who you do. For instance, my friends Andrew and Pete used to talk about ‘suit douches’ – serious businesspeople they don’t want to work with. So they use language to repel those kinds of clients.

Perhaps your competitors have a different approach to you when it comes to how they deliver services. Look at how they communicate that, and think about how you might talk to your customers about what you do.

Your Target Audience

Once you’re clear on who your ideal customers are, you want to find out where they spend time online. Why? So you can learn what matters to them the most. What kind of questions do they have? What do they talk about between themselves?

And what about clients you’ve worked with in the past? Do you send feedback forms to find out what they thought of your service and how you delivered it? All of these are ways to see what sort of information they’d like to see from you. Keep a note of the things you see on social media, and use them to help your content.

Content From Other Industries

This is one of my favourite ideas, which I came across many years ago in a book on marketing. Rather than looking to your own industry and your own peers to get ideas for content, why not look at other fields?

It’s not as strange as it sounds. For example, the concept of lean management, which is used in all industries now, came from the Toyota car factory. There, the Toyota Production System ensured they eliminated waste and achieved the best possible efficiency. In business, lean management is about reducing time-wasting and avoiding tasks that don’t add to the business bottom line.

There are motivational speakers who use their experiences in the armed forces, as a monk or even overcoming childhood trauma to inspire jaded entrepreneurs. If you have a hobby or an interest in sport, is there a technique or system used there that could be successfully applied in your industry?

Finding Writing Inspiration from Advertising

With 24/7 television, smartphones and the internet, we’re surrounded by advertising all day long. Quite often we’ll block adverts from popping up, but they still sneak through – I bet you’ve sat through an unwanted YouTube ad just to get to the content you really want!

However, advertising isn’t all bad. And because it’s so easy for us to block it or ignore it, advertisers are seeking increasingly creative ways to get our attention. And for every irritating promo for an M&S dress you looked at once that now follows you around the internet, there’s also one that tempts you to buy.

When that happens, or even if you just click through for more information, catch yourself doing it and pause for a second. What attracted you about this particular ad? Did you feel that they were speaking directly to you? Save a link or a screenshot and add it to your swipe file.

Online Tools to Inspire You

When you’re completely stuck for content ideas, there are online solutions that can help you find writing inspiration. The best ones will give you real insight into what your customers are looking for, and even use the same words and phrases.

A quick and easy way is to use Google – type in what you offer or your profession (eg ‘blog support’, ‘copywriter’) and let the search engine autofill the answers for you. It often comes up with posts in forums in groups where people are asking for help, which is really useful. You might need to play around with the words you search for, as they might not know they need a ‘content marketer’, for example.

Answer the Public is another good tool, although the free version is now limited to three searches per day. It pulls in all of the things people search for online, and organises them into topics and themes that you can comb through. The paid version tracks new variations on your original query, and alerts you when these happen. There are also free alternatives.

You could also pay attention to the things people ask in any online business groups you’re part of. What questions do they have about your industry? The downside of this, of course, is that you might not spot any relevant posts at the point you need some inspiration. So whenever you see a question you could turn into a blog post, jot it down and save it in your swipe file!

Using AI Tools

Finally, there’s also AI (artificial intelligence) tools. Chat GPT is the best known one, and lots of people are using it to write blogs, social media updates and other content for them. I have to be honest and say that at this point in time, I’ve only dabbled a little bit with AI.

I’ve used it to repurpose old blogs into quotes, which it did well at. However, I had to spend quite a bit of time editing the output, so it probably would have been quicker just to do the repurposing myself! I’m going to explore it more in the next few months.

My concern is that these tools use existing data and content, so you’re not getting anything new. There’s also a risk of inadvertently plagiarising someone else, as well as sharing unverified facts and figures. Don’t just accept on face value anything it gives you!

Do you feel encouraged after reading this post? Can you go and look for inspiration for your writing in someone else’s words? I hope so, and I’d love to hear how you get on! You might also find this blog helpful. And if you want to plan your next four blogs in less than an hour, try this.