5 Places To Find Content Inspiration In A Dreary Office
Wouldn’t it be nice to write exactly where, when and how you wanted to? Imagine you could write the way Truman Capote did. In his interview with The Paris Review in 1957, he makes the author’s life sound downright leisurely. “I am a completely horizontal author. I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in […]
Wouldn’t it be nice to write exactly where, when and how you wanted to?
Imagine you could write the way Truman Capote did. In his interview with The Paris Review in 1957, he makes the author’s life sound downright leisurely.
“I am a completely horizontal author. I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy. I’ve got to be puffing and sipping. As the afternoon wears on, I shift from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis.”
While freelance writers might enjoy this kind of luxury, most in-house writers don’t. Best case, they can escape from the office to a coffee shop or library to focus once in a while. Worst case, they’re stuck in a corporate cubicle or otherwise dreary place.
No matter. Content inspiration can come from the unlikeliest of places — including that dreary office.
1. Bulletin Board
The company bulletin board is a buffet of content. You’ll find faded comic strips, Weight Watchers meeting notices, posters about wage and hour laws, passive aggressive notes about the dirty dishes in the sink… you get the idea.
Read everything. Then consider how each item could inspire better writing:
- Persuasion: Imagine that you could post a notice about any meeting. What do you really wish your colleagues would get together once a week and talk about? Write the “headline” of your notice. Then practice persuasive writing to get them to show up.
- Dialogue: Use the dialogue in the comic strip as dialogue between characters in serious story. How does that change how you perceive that conversation?
- Clarity: Find the most confusing sentences from those government-required posters. How could you say the same thing, only more clearly and concisely? Rewrite them.
- Verve: Take the passive out of the passive aggressive notes about dirty dishes. What strong verbs get the point across better than cute rhymes?
2. Out The Window
The worst office view I ever had was the side of the head of the person in the cubicle across from me. The best had a bank of windows that overlooked train tracks and a historical landmark.
Wait. I can do better than that.
The worst office view I ever had was the greasy, coal black comb-over of the man sitting across from me. The best had a bank of windows that overlooked a train yard lit up with neon pink and green graffiti.
How often do you use color in your writing — literal color? Use it to practice these elements of your writing:
- Description: Describe what you see in your dreary office with as many colors as possible. You’ll probably find more variety than you thought, even if the whole office is painted white.
- Emotion: The power of color to evoke emotion is a technique that songwriters have used for years. Consider these songs — all featuring variations of the same color — and how you feel when you listen to each one. Experiment with what exact words you use to describe colors in your writing.
Raspberry Beret by Prince
She wore a raspberry beret
The kind you find in a second hand store
And if it was warm she wouldn’t wear much more
I think I love her
Hold me close and hold me fast
The magic spell you cast
This is la vie en rose
When you kiss me, heaven sighs
And though I close my eyes
I see la vie en rose
I was stopped at a red light just yesterday
Beside a young girl in a cabriolet
And her eyes were green
And I was in an old scene
I was back in that red rag top
On the day she stopped
3. Conversations With Clients
There may be a telephone or email script that you stick to when you’re first getting to know your clients. Over time, however, as you develop relationships, you could draw on clients for content inspiration.
Don’t think just case studies, either. You never know when someone’s personal story will spark an idea. You need two things to elicit those: curiosity and a genuine interest in others. Here are some questions to consider asking, when it’s appropriate, and the writing skills you’ll exercise:
- Format: “How did you get into this business?” Whether by accident or by intention, there’s a story there. Can you condense it into an interesting timeline format? Is a narrative a better choice?
- Originality: “What were you like in high school?” People like to relive glory days or talk about how much better they are now. Write their story without depending on cliches, stereotypes or “jock” or “nerd” tropes.
- Discernment: “What’s on your mind these days?” Often people make a quick joke, then move on to the “real” answer. The truth is, that quick joke is the real answer. That’s what to keep talking about. How can you explore what’s on their mind in something you write?
4. Coffee Pot
Ok, ok. So it turns out (at least according to the scientific studies du jour) that caffeine isn’t so great for creativity. Caffeine encourages our brains to focus and concentrate. And deep concentration isn’t the route to creativity. What is? A wandering, unfocused mind.
As New Yorker writer Maria Konnikova puts it, “Creative insights and imaginative solutions often occur when we stop working on a particular problem and let our mind move on to something unrelated.”
What’s more, Konnikova writes, we can’t simply shift from one mentally demanding task to another. The more that we allow our minds to wander, the better we’ll fare at being creative.
Then how does the office coffee pot help creativity? You have to walk to it. Stand around for a few minutes chatting with a colleague. Clear your head. Grab a water — every system in your body, including your brain, depends on it. Whatever you do, don’t keep thinking about your creative challenge. Give your mind a break.
By the time you get back to your desk, you may just have unlocked content inspiration.
5. Company Newsletter
There has to be some sort of Dilbert’s Law that the more exclamation points there are in a company newsletter, the less interesting the company newsletter will be. Worse than a boring company newsletter is an irrelevant one, with news that’s weeks or months old.
Still, you can use it for a couple of writing exercises:
- Editing: Pick one short article. Highlight the facts. Now, rewrite the article with the known facts. To some extent, that’s what a good editor can do with a disaster of a story by a freelancer. If you can’t eke an interesting story out of it, could you use a different story structure, such “5 Questions with [Person Here]?”
- Newsiness: Think about something that happened in the past week at work. If you wanted to tell the company about it, what story would you tell? Write that story in 150 words or less.
Bonus! In the Bathroom
See? Content inspiration can happen in the unlikeliest places.