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Content Under Pressure

What to Write When Inspiration Goes on Strike

By Susan Kostal

There are times when inspiration strikes (I’ve found that taking a walk or washing dishes helps), and then there are times when inspiration goes on strike. So where do you go to get good writing ideas? Here are some tips to get your creative juices flowing.

What’s in the News?

In the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live, we are poised for Airbnb, Slack, Pinterest, Lyft and Uber to go public, and mint a fresh crop of hundreds if not thousands of millionaires, with a few billionaires on the side. Stories so far have focused on what it will do to the region’s residential real estate market, already the most expensive in the country. But there’s fodder here for more than those with real estate practices. In addition to stories on how to negotiate in frothy markets, what kind of terms sellers may agree to in all-cash deals, and whether to consider relocating to escape taxes, the wealth eruption will have implications for those in estate planning (pieces on the importance of a will and trust), employment law (what terms should companies include in noncompetes, how to incentivize independently wealthy employees), and others. The recent government shutdown similarly provided a host of topics, including employee rights, tenants rights, how to negotiate with creditors, etc. Read the news through this lens: How will this event affect my clients, directly or indirectly? What questions might this raise in their minds?

What’s in Your Analytics?

Go back and look at your posts over the past three years. If you’ve got a developed body of work, roughly half will be time-bound, or about specific events, and half will be more evergreen pieces. What did well in each category? Reprise those pieces with an update, or in a different format. Turn a listicle into a Q&A. Take a popular general piece and tweak it for the industry or sector you are specializing in now. Go deeper, and with more granularity, into topics that did well.

What’s in Your Comments?

If you are publishing on an interactive platform such as LinkedIn, or you hear back from readers of your newsletter, what are they saying? Let their engagement with your content tell you what to write about next. I recently reposted a piece I wrote four years ago for my blog to LinkedIn. Apparently, the topic of the post is a problem that is still not solved. With just a catchy new intro, I got some of my best readership stats in months — and I now know that is still a ripe topic that is perfect for a fresh post. Maybe two.

What’s in Your Competitor’s Blog?

You should always be keeping tabs on what your competitors are publishing. Subscribe to their newsletters, set up alerts, or search what they are putting out on JD Supra, Lexology and the like. Then commit to providing an alternative. Did they do an exhaustive piece on the state’s new privacy regulations? Fine. Let them own that. Don’t replicate it. But long-form isn’t for everyone. Create a checklist or short takeaway on the topic. Help break down bigger issues into digestible chunks. Once you get the hang of this, the possibilities are endless. Know the content landscape and create your niche.

What’s in Your Inbox?

Questions from clients or colleagues are an invaluable resource. Take a moment to consider what topics are coming up in your exchanges. What seems to be tripping up clients and peers? It may not be about the law, specifically. It might be about pricing, client management, how to discuss a billing dispute, or how to handle a miscommunication. This takes more thought, but this kind of review can often generate some of your most insightful pieces.

I hope this is helpful as you sit down to write. Let us know what works for you.

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Susan Kostal Susan Kostal

Trends at Work columnist Susan Kostal is a legal affairs PR, marketing and content strategy consultant. She is a former contributing editor for Attorney at Work and previously wrote a monthly column, Content Under Pressure. Susan has covered legal affairs as a journalist for nearly three decades. You can follow her on Twitter @skostal and view more of her content at

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