Ever find yourself struggling with what you should write about next, or needing more details, anecdotes or statistics to illustrate a blog post, white paper or media pitch? Me too. Fortunately, I have a solution.
When I was a reporter, I gathered a lot of string. This does not mean that my desk was cluttered with balls of twine or little pieces of thread. It means I consistently collected interesting facts, anecdotes, statistics, studies, articles and other information. I could later pull from that store of ‘string’ for new story ideas or to add rich detail to existing projects. (There’s a pretty good definition of ‘gathering string’ at Netlingo.)
In fact, this is such a common term and common practice that my editors and I would regularly have conversations about how I was “gathering string” for a big story or upcoming feature.
If you’re responsible for generating a regular stream of content for a blog, newsletter, media pitches or the like, then you should start gathering string, too. Done consistently, it will give you more content ideas, more links and more research ready to go when you sit down to write.
So how do you do gather string? Make these three easy steps a habit:
1. Expose yourself to a steady stream of relevant content from other sources. For me, this means I’m constantly scanning RSS feeds and email newsletters related to topics I’m interested in – writing, public relations, social media, content marketing and the like.
2. Store the information you find interesting for future reference. I use Evernote, a free application available for virtually every modern computer, smart phone and tablet; my notes are synced and always available no matter what device I’m using. I can organize material into folders and use tags to categorize it.
3. Periodically review the string you’ve gathered and figure out how to use it. Some of it, inevitably, you won’t use. Some of it will support a line here or there in something you write, or provide supporting statistics or anecdotes. And some of it may serve as inspiration for entire content pieces.
If you want a way to generate more ideas and give your writing more depth and richness, you should try gathering some string.