How to use word association to brainstorm blog post ideas like a pro (even if you’re a beginner)

By Brittany Taylor

Sometimes, I don’t know what I was thinking.

Seriously.

Sometimes, I dig up old prompts and brainstorms, peer at my scrawl, and wonder what I meant by that stream of words. Sometimes, I feel like I must have been scribbling in a fever haze—that’s how out-there my ideas can feel.

When I’m facing a dead-end, I turn to the language I used in that initial brainstorm. I break the phrases and sentences down to their essentials. I reach for word association to help me tease meaning out of the smeared ink.

You can do the same thing, no matter how long you've been writing or blogging. Let me show you how.

action plan

Exactly how to use word association to brainstorm blog posts

You don’t have to be a wordsmith to do this. You don’t need a top-notch vocabulary. You don’t need to be a Jeopardy wiz or obsessed with Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

All word association requires is curiosity and openness. The more you use it as a brainstorming tool, the more expansive and innovative your ideas will become. Here are three steps to follow:

Step 1. Follow the threads that you create for yourself. The first rule of improv is to say, “yes and.” Do that with your brainstorming! Accept your weird word associations and push them farther.

Step 2. Experiment with different paths. Don’t be afraid to retrace your steps. With word association, there are no wrong answers. Some are just more interesting than others.

Step 3. Embrace the most interesting possibilities. They might be more obscure or more difficult to see through to completion, but by project’s end, you’ll have a product that’s insightful, original, and uniquely you.

Ready to start turning writing prompts and old, incomprehensible brainstorms into content that serves your brand? Read on to watch word association brainstorming in action.

Example #1. Your most gullible moment ever

The stand-out word here is “gullible.” Gullible makes me think of honesty, of trickery, of naivete. It also makes me think of jokes and laughter, of good-hearted happiness.

But “gullible” isn’t the only word in the prompt.

You could use “most,” which makes me want to go down a superlatives path, ala a high school yearbook.

You could use “moment,” which feels singular, significant, and special. My childhood next-door neighbors had a Whitney Houston album, so her song, “One Moment in Time,” sticks out in my brain. You could also jump from “moment” to “turning point,” and write about a milestone or hurdle your readers are working towards or through.

You could use “ever,” which makes me think about fairy tales’ “happily ever after.” Perhaps you could take it in a Snow White direction. Is there something vengeful or dangerous your customers need to avoid? Or, maybe you lean more towards Sleeping Beauty, with a focus on rescuing your audience from a particular peril.

Take a peek at these blog post ideas I’ve come up with using this word association brainstorming technique:

  • Travel blogs: 52 destinations most likely to make you want to move; 7 disasters every couple experiences when traveling together—and how to get through them without breaking up; 13 forest hikes that will make you feel like you’re walking through a fairy tale
  • Beauty blogs: 5 products most likely to cause a breakout (and what to do when the worst happens); The right way to help your kids explore makeup; Want to glow like Tiana? My top-3 highlighter picks for dark chocolate skin tones
  • Pet blogs: Is your pet happy? Here’s how to tell; House training is tough! Here are 10 signs your pup is turning the corner; What your favorite Disney princess can tell you about the pet you’re best-suited to

Example #2. A Friday-night ritual that's not-NSFW

I love the idea of rituals, but I don’t have a single one, much less a Friday-night ritual that’s not-NSFW (or not safe for work). For me to make this writing prompt work, I don’t have a personal story to turn to. I have to look elsewhere, and word association is an easy first step.

Let’s start with “Friday.” It’s the last day of the week, which brings a feeling of giddiness and relief. Friday afternoon can mean cutting corners, leaving early, treating yourself. It’s also the first day of the weekend, which means the start of freedom, of fun, of self-care, peace, and pleasure. Or, maybe it represents a shift from work responsibilities to domestic duties.

Now, let’s turn to “ritual.” It’s a word with so many different spiritual references that’ll vary depending on your religious background. You could use this word as a gateway toward a specific belief system, like Christianity or Islam. You could lead you down a more mystical or witchy path. Or, you could take a completely secular approach and focus on the routine aspect of a ritual.

Finally, we get to the fun one, “NSFW.” This acronym is all about taboos, which lets you have a little fun with contradictions and unpopular opinions.

Ready to see these words associations turned into blog post ideas? Here we go:

  • Pop culture blogs: 15 iconic reality show rituals; Start a new Friday-night Netflix and chill tradition! Here are the best binge-worthy shows and movie franchises to watch after the work week; 56 songs we love to hate
  • Wedding blogs: 12 inexpensive ways to treat yourself that will let you forget the wedding planning insanity; How to build moments of peace and solitude into your wedding day schedule; 13 witchy rituals that won’t freak out your conservative family members
  • Wellness blogs: How to create a pre-workout ritual that will make you look forward to going to the gym; Unpopular opinion: You should stop wasting money on trending workout classes; 3 ways to connect your fitness regimen with your spiritual beliefs

Example #3. The sugary cereal your mom never let you eat for breakfast

This is the prompt that spurred me to write this blog post today. I pulled the prompt live on Instagram this morning...and I blanked. When I wrote my list of 56 blogging prompts (it’s No. 15 here), I thought it was a zany, creative idea. When I pulled it out of my grab bag, I thought it was just plain zany.

If you don’t want to tell a story about the sugary cereal your mom never let you eat for breakfast, which was legitimately all I could reach for on my live story, word association cracks this baby wide open. Let’s take a look:

With “sugary,” I leap in a few different directions: towards energy and buzz, towards sweetness and kindness, and towards gluttony, luxury, and an “extra” sensibility.

“Cereal” makes me run to its homophone, “serial.” I want to ponder ideas for different series of blog posts. A trio is always better than a duo, and the more you can tack on, the better.

The word “mom” makes me think of the character traits I associate with my mom: kindness, sass, whimsy, humor, off-color, generous, hospitable, thoughtful. In a more universal sense, moms and motherhood evokes a sense of duty, respect, and tradition. You could also take the word in a more ambiguous direction and consider different states of being or transitional periods, like pregnancy, during which you’re becoming someone new.

Let’s wrap this one up with “breakfast.” Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, it speaks of vitality and essentials. It can be sweet or savory, which could inspire you to think in terms of dualities, like good and evil. It’s something that changes depending on where you are or what your background is. For example, an English breakfast is different from an Irish breakfast.

Here are a handful of blog post ideas drawn from these word associations:

  • DIY blogs: How to reignite your excitement for an old project; The 12 most expensive crafting brands (and how to tell if you’re getting a good deal on them); New to crewel? Here’s what you need in your kit to get started
  • Lifestyle blogs: 52 ways to be a kinder, gentler person; What you need to know before you move from an apartment to a condo; Are you a leader or a follower? Here’s how to tackle life depending on which type of person you are
  • Food blogs: 8 savory touches that will make your favorite desserts pop; What to pair with greasy food to keep your meal balanced, not gluttonous; Cook like a chef! Restaurant secrets for top-notch grilling (post #1), sauteeing (post #2), and frying (post #3)

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- Brittany Taylor