Let me tell you the one thing I know for sure: “What should I write about?” is a question all writers face, most or all of the time.
I also know waiting for inspiration to strike is not a solution. Finding a workable, effective way to get inspired is the primary step.
We are all aware that writing is done in isolation, but the material has to be collected from outside the confines of your workstation. Ideas can come from interactions with people, being out-and-about, and all forms of media.
I like writing. Period. I love the craft so much that I try and look for inspiration all around me.
The topics I cover are varied, and often I find inspiration while out and about, for example while taking public transit. An advertisement posted on the bus for a writing course gave me an idea to develop and write an article about how these courses can guide you to try and explore something new in writing.
Reading books and watching TV shows related to a topic you are working on helps too.
I had a deadline to submit a blog on exercise and health. The idea simply refused to pay me a visit. I tried yoga poses, a walk in the park, a gym session.
I got the boost I needed after reading a few magazines related to healthy living.
I am a compulsive news consumer. The first hour or so of each day is dedicated to browsing headlines followed by reading a few of the articles. I call it the golden hour because these are great sources for topics.
Try to find your source, make a note of the ideas that come forth, and use them for pitching.
Be observant all the time.
You might find this route a bit offbeat, but it works for me—watching movies and soaps gives me a whole bunch of topics. Not just about cinema, but human interest, business angles, culture, art, fashion, music, and more.
I focus on things I feel strongly about. Writing, for instance. I like being in the know about writing and everything connected to it. That includes understanding different types of articles (e.g., newspaper articles, academic articles, etc.) and techniques used for each followed by writing about them.
Changes taking place in the industry help me stay on my toes.
Developing a new topic is very inspiring to me because no two topics are the same. Each contains the potential to be developed differently. I like the challenge of developing an idea into a well-rounded article.
Try something very simple: Step away from your desk for a few minutes, and take a walk around the room. If you have magazines or books lying around, browse for half a minute or so with the intention of collecting ideas.
There are times when I take one single word that pops out of a magazine and start working on a sentence. I make a group of random words, and in a few minutes, I have a paragraph.
Chances are, either while writing or after the paragraph is done, you will definitely have an idea or two to work on.
For example, if the word that caught your attention was “pillow,” what could you write about? What does a pillow represent?
Rest, comfort, even luxury, and what I can see here is an article about sleep deprivation or a pillow that works like magic for your neck pain.
After finding that breakthrough word, it truly is just a matter of putting a few more words together to conquer your mental block.
There are many times when an idea enters subtly, and all one needs is to be hungry for that idea, paying attention, and being open to receive it when it knocks.
Once that is achieved, try to get comfortable with the idea, and work on what you want to say.
You have an idea (assuming pillow is your topic) ready, and it is time to put pen to paper. The first thing I do with an idea is to think of an angle. For example, 1: What Type of Pillow Is Best for Neck Pain? 2: How Does the Shape of a Pillow Affect Comfort Levels? etc.
Research is very, very important for this. Reading articles that align with the voice and tone you are planning will help you steer clear of duplication. The trick here is to not get influenced but to stay focused on what to avoid.
Let’s explore the pillow idea a bit more. Say you found a very comfortable pillow.You will now need to cover some basic questions. Where did you get that pillow from? Is it a known brand? What are the features that make it comfortable? Working on questions like these will lead you toward gathering more information for your article.
Keeping with the pillow idea, say you want to write about “How the Shape of a Pillow Can Affect Our Comfort Levels.” Remember the emphasis here is on the shape of the pillow, so focus on that feature, and talk about the different shapes followed by mentioning the fabric, stuffing, etc.
Now comes this question: Is it going to be a blog post or are you planning to write a review? Maybe your article will even provide content to publications or websites.
You are in command; therefore, plan what platform you want to share and who your target readers are.
Writers need to keep improving their craft, and practice definitely helps here. But it cannot be achieved in a vacuum; therefore, combining your reading and writing is essential because it can lead you toward your niche and help you to express yourself even better.
Perhaps you like reading about designer clothes but prefer writing about relationships instead. In that case, make sure to include some reading material on relationships.
Some preferred reading topics in popular culture are relationships, fashion, social media trends, beauty, food, and travel.
However, these are very general topics.
Take fashion, for instance. It can be fashionable to wear those trendy designer shoes, or dine in that exclusive restaurant, or own a beach house.
If you are fond of following trends, besides designer clothes, shoes, etc., you can also write about design trends in home architecture, interiors, etc.
Right from the colors for your walls, to the shape of the bathtub, followed by the material of the vanities you choose for the bathroom depends on what’s trendy and in style.
It’s not just the interiors; architects from around the globe present latest designs that cater to their clients’ architectural ambitions.
I have a friend who writes about the latest global trends in architecture and home design.
Assuming you want to pursue writing on social media, to create your niche, read about a topic of your liking in that same stream.
It does not matter what stream you want to follow, but it is important you have the knowledge to write about it. So, read as much as you can!
Be assured, your reading and browsing habits will eventually nudge you into your slot.
While still in high school, I would read books and magazines on famous people because I was curious to know how they lived. One summer vacation while watching a TV show, I had the idea of approaching an editor of a daily publication.
I was given an appointment to meet this editor, and all I had with me was a journal that contained handwritten notes of things that inspired me about celebrities. After exchanging pleasantries, I presented at least 15 renowned names that I had researched and read about. Thanks to my love for reading about the lifestyles of the rich and famous, my first assignment was to interview a celebrity.
Bear this in mind, topics are meant to open the floodgates. You should then dig deeper and figure out why and how you want to cover a particular topic.
Once you find your go-to topics, taking time to break them down into smaller categories helps a lot.
Suppose you are interested in writing about an event in your neighborhood, focusing on five different performances and performers.
To make it simple, ask yourself questions like these to help you arrive at a decision of what exactly you would like to write about the event.
Here is another way to look at your topics.
Let’s say you love writing about food. So then is your article going to be about eating food or cooking it? Are you interested in reviewing restaurants or specific dishes only? If you are planning on zeroing in on nutrition as a niche, will you focus on macro and micronutrients? Food connected to health and diet, or food trends? Or will you write on spices, their uses, origins, and medicinal properties?
As a writer you have to learn to keep chipping away at a topic until you find your core, the niche you want to develop and pursue.
Interactions with other writers can help you figure this one out.
During one of my interactions with a writer at a workshop, I came to know there are many food writers who specialize in writing about spices of the world. The writer also spoke about writing recipes and creating dishes using these spices. That’s a package of niches I would have never thought about on my own.
Topics for stories more or less remain the same—the angle, and approach that you plan on taking should vary.
Consider “we all love avocado” as your theme. But if you talk to 15 people, you will get that many different reasons why they all love avocados. One could say it’s because they contain fiber; another because of its anti-aging properties. Someone could say they love it because it has the ability to prevent cancer. Or simply because they love the taste of avocados.
Now, it all depends on what angle you want to take and develop. Angles are the key in keeping the reader’s interest alive.
The category has been identified, you’ve figured out your niche, and your inspiration quotient is high.
It is now time to collect information. This includes meeting (in person or virtually) with experts on the subject and talking with them.
While seeking information for the 10 best pasta sauce recipes, suppose you learn about a special organic ingredient used by a chef you interviewed.
Because this chef is doing something “different,” how you use this information is crucial.
Delve deeper and think more about that special ingredient. Try and understand why other chefs haven’t thought of it or are avoiding it. Perhaps that information has the strength to be developed into a full-length article.
Do you see what just happened? You were collecting information for one article, and now you have material to develop two.
Now that you have the essential tools, start constructing your idea.
Put down all the knowledge you have gathered. Arrange the material in such a manner that it gets a flow, a certain form.
At the end of this exercise, you will have your first draft, also known as “the ugly first draft” or TUFD.
As soon as I complete my draft, I like to read it because the ideas are still fresh, and chances are I can organize it while going over it. I make a note of things I need to add or delete, and then I usually leave the draft alone after that.
Let’s call it the “cooling period.”
Revisit the draft later and tweak it and prune it, and at the end of this exercise, you will have the desired article you set out to write.
Practice plays an important role. The more you write, the more you will know the importance of digging key information out of the mountain of facts and interviews you have collected.
We live in an amazing world, filled with wonders to be explored and shared, and no matter what media platform we write for, the core of this craft will remain the same.
Start by journaling your observations. Once you have a few, pick one or two that have the potential to become a full-length piece. Write. No matter what, set up a routine, and even on days when you draw a blank, write anything you fancy.
Make a ritual of adding regularly to your reading list. There is no such thing as “I have read enough and more,” because nothing can replace the value of reading. It helps you in every possible way, including building your vocabulary. Remember, reading not only helps with your research, but it is a great source of inspiration too.
The idea here is to not lose touch with your writing. Pick all that you think will provide support to your writing, and stay motivated and on track.
Ranga lives in Mississauga and is a freelance journalist. She has worked as a feature story writer for daily newspapers and contributed for websites and magazines. She is also a published fiction writer. Ranga is currently working on her certificate for Writing For The Web from School of Continuing Studies University of Toronto.