How to Generate Story Ideas When You Have a Mental Block

How to Generate Story Ideas When You Have a Mental Block


You know how frustrating it can be when you’re all tapped out of ideas. Mentally, it feels like you’ve run into a brick wall.

writer's block

Instead of breaking your computer screen, you decide to get another cup of coffee (because maybe you’re not awake enough?), take a walk outside or if you’re anything like me you just log-off and put your head down on the desk.

After a few minutes you realize that the miracle never came, but you still need to generate some press coverage for your clients. The only problem is, you’ve been pitching their new product for weeks to no avail.

Whenever I need to breathe new life into a story, I do a creative exercise where I try to reverse engineer a pitch from a story that has already been published.

The exercise goes like this:

  1. Find a newspaper, magazine or online publication (preferably the pub your client wants to be featured in).
  2. Select and read a story (any story).
  3. Dissect it and come up with 3 to 5 angles you think were used in the original pitch.
  4. Notice the sudden tingly feeling of inspiration.
  5. Write a brand new pitch for your client.
  6. Repeat.

Let’s give it a shot. Copied below is a snippet from Protecting the N.F.L. Brand, a recent story in the New York Times. Usually I’d write a few sentences for each angle but here, I will just do a bullet list of one liners or questions that would be answered in your pitch.

Snippet: [Jamie] Weston-Parouse, 42, was showing a reporter around the league offices on Dec. 29, a day that would begin with 18 teams with a mathematical shot at the playoffs and end with the 12 that would continue on. As the early games played behind her, she described her portfolio as working with the league, licensees, sponsors, broadcast partners and teams to present a cohesive brand image and message, a function that did not exist when she was hired in 2003. She oversees the departments responsible for creative services, brand management discipline, quality control and television advertising. “Everyone jokes that I’m the brand police, but I’m not,” Ms. Weston-Parouse said. “Every employee is responsible for managing the brand.”

Possible angles:

  • Branding the Superbowl.
  • Thought leadership interview/profile on senior executives involved with bringing the Superbowl to NJ/NY.
  • Who is Jamie Weston-Parouse?
  • A day in the life of Jamie Weston-Parouse.
  • Begin teasing plans for local Superbowl activities in the media.

Some of the angles you come up with may seem obvious, but the exercise gets the mind working in a totally different way.

Would something like this work for you? Share your best practices for overcoming a mental block.