You’ve powered on your laptop. You’ve fired up your word processor. After days, weeks, months, and years, you’ve finally committed to write.
Congratulations! Better late than never, because lots of people never start. For many of them, that distant someday doesn’t ever arrive.
So here you are, sitting at your desk. You’re finally prepared to pounce on that blank page. But there’s one small problem.
“What should I write about?” That’s the question that plagues you today.
It dawns on you that the white space on this empty document is an ocean to fill. Inner tension builds, and the pangs of anxiety rise. You haven’t the slightest idea of what to write.
For a long time, inaction was your biggest hurdle, motivation was the hardest part. They were the major stumbling blocks that kept you from writing at all. Now, you have to actually do the work.
But don’t panic. Instead, stop, breathe, and know this: your possibilities are endless. You only feel stuck because you didn’t know where to look.
Before Writing, Do This First
Inspiration strikes at any time. There’s no telling when a good idea will show up. For that reason, it’s best to be ready when it does.
I keep a living document of all the things I want to write on my Apple Notes. I have my phone with me most of the time, so storing my ideas on the cloud is easy. But for you, a different method might work. Some people carry around notebooks, while others write ideas on notecards. Do what comes natural for you.
It doesn’t matter how you capture them. What’s most important is that you capture your ideas at all. And don’t wait. Instead, write them down as soon as they arrive. Your memory isn’t as reliable as you think.
By collecting ideas, you stay prepared. You won’t feel stumped when it’s time to actually write. The work of constructing clean sentences and paragraphs is hard enough. There’s no need to make the writing process more challenging.
Now that we’ve settled on how to capture ideas, let’s move onto some suggestions.
Writing Idea #1: Your Experience and Expertise
Write what you know. Look at your own life for inspiration. Chances are, you have a story there worth telling.
If you browse through the articles of my site, you’ll find that I’ve shared plenty of personal anecdotes. Sharing something personal adds a touch of humanity to your writing. It makes you more relatable to your readers.
Writing about yourself also encourages you to reflect. In doing so, you gain a greater understanding of yourself. Life can be confusing, and you spend a lot of it wandering through the dark. Writing can be a way to gain a little clarity while navigating the unknown.
And finally, you can also share your expertise. Give yourself some credit. You likely have knowledge that others will find useful. So, write with the intention of trying to help those who want to learn.
Writing Idea #2: What Scares You?
Be vulnerable in your writing. Write about your weaknesses, and write about your fears. This might terrify you, because it leaves you open to ridicule and judgment. But the irony is that you’ll also find strength when you do it.
In 2018, five-time NBA All-Star Kevin Love opened up about his lifelong struggles with anxiety. He had suffered a panic attack in the middle of a game earlier that season. Until then, no one knew about this inner battle he faced on a daily basis.
In an essay he wrote, Love admitted that he’s “never been comfortable sharing much about” himself. It was always easier for him to talk about basketball than to open up – even to his family and closest friends. But he later realized that speaking up would have been better than staying quiet.
“If you’re suffering silently like I was, then you know how it can feel like nobody really gets it,” he wrote. “Partly, I want to do it for me, but mostly, I want to do it because people don’t talk about mental health enough. And men and boys are probably the farthest behind.”
Like Love, writing about your fears allows you to claim ownership over them. You take responsibility of your narrative, and tell it the way you want it told. Writing about what scares you also makes you real to your readers. Revealing your imperfections shows them that you’re human, too.
Writing Idea #3: Answer Questions
Beyond personal experiences, there are other places you can turn to for ideas. For instance, you can use the internet for inspiration. To be more specific, consider letting Google be your muse.
Think for a moment about how you or anyone else uses search engines. People turn to them when looking for more information about a specific subject. So, in essence, a search engine’s job is to give answers to the questions people have.
But remember, it doesn’t do this on its own. Instead, it leans on content creators like you for help. So ask yourself this: what are the questions that people want answers to? Then from there, provide the best possible solution through your writing.
I optimize most of the articles on this site for search. By writing about topics people look for, I increase the odds that my articles get read. In the process, I’m also practicing search engine optimization, which isn’t a bad skill to have in today’s digital economy.
Writing Idea #4: What Do You Want to Learn?
I like to think of writing as an investigation. Sometimes, it’s an examination of yourself. Other times, it’s an inspection into the minds of others.
I sometimes draw my inspiration from the questions I have about the latter. Writing gives me an excuse to exercise my curiosity. I often write articles about subjects that I want to learn.
There are a couple ways I approach this. First, I read a lot. A good book can inform my thinking and serve as reference material in a piece. Another way is through the wisdom of others. Sometimes, I’ll reach out to experts in given areas to seek knowledge from them.
Thanks to the internet, it’s not that hard to connect with anyone these days. Many experts are only a tweet, message, or email away. Will everyone respond when you reach out? Of course not. But if you try, you might surprise yourself by who does.
Writing Idea #5: Your Inner Circle
A person doesn’t need to be rich or famous to have a story worth telling. In fact, some of the best stories come from people whose voices you haven’t yet heard. Look close enough and you may find some of them within your immediate network.
We often take people in our lives for granted. I know I’ve been guilty sometimes of making assumptions about some of my closest friends and family. It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing we know everything there is to know. But we should dig a little deeper, because if we do, we could discover something new.
A handful of articles on this site detail stories of people I personally know. Here are a few of them:
- Loren Lee Chen was happy to share his insights on playing one of America’s most beloved TV game shows. He and I met through Twitter by having a mutual interest in basketball.
- Like Loren, I met Stefan and Sandra Saller online. They spoke to me about sacrificing a normal lifestyle to build a new one around house sitting.
- Michael Caceres and I have known each other since high school. His story taught me how to forgive in spite of suffering an incomprehensible tragedy.
Writing Idea #6: Your Media Diet
Do you listen to a lot of podcasts? Are you an avid reader? Can’t help yourself from binge-watching the latest shows on Netflix? If you answered yes to any of those questions, you’ve got something to work with. Consider turning your media diet into fuel for your writing.
Share summaries of the podcasts, books, shows, or movies that influence you. There’s so much content out there these days, and as a result, people want new recommendations. Help them out by sharing your passion and expertise through your writing.
But remember, your writing often serves as an endorsement, so only talk about content you care for. Every time you write, you’re sowing seeds of trust. All it takes is one disingenuous moment to throw that trust away. So don’t pretend to be an expert when you’re not. Before writing anything down, know the topic or learn about it first.
Writing Idea # 7: Be An Advocate
People write to communicate a point of view. What’s something that you have a strong belief in? Organize your thoughts around that, and plead your case through your writing.
I’m a big believer in mindfulness. An active practice of gratitude and meditation has helped me become a much calmer person. As a result, I spent some time writing a few articles to champion its cause.
There are plenty of people who’ve used their beliefs to inspire their writing, too. For Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, minimalism changed their lives. They believed it could do the same for others, so they started writing about it online. Meanwhile, James Clear has built his reputation on the foundation of habits. As a result, he wrote the book Atomic Habits, which became a bestseller last year.
Writing Idea #8: Consider Your Audience
Think for a moment about your ideal reader. What does that person care about? What interests him or her? The answers to these questions can lead you to discover your next idea to write about.
When I worked in the NBA, I would often place myself in the shoes of fans. Many times, I imagined the questions they had for coaches, players, and team personnel. Then, I’d ask those questions myself. The point I’m trying to make here? Exercising a little empathy can provide fuel for new writing ideas.
Thanks to the internet, you can talk directly with the people who care about your writing, too. Use social media to start a conversation with your audience. Or if you’ve built a list, exchange messages over email. Even if your audience is small, there’s no harm in trying. The responses you receive might surprise you and even spark your curiosity.
Writing Idea #9: Revisit Previous Work
Unless you’ve never written anything before, chances are that you have an archive. Take a peek at it and look at what you’ve created in the past. You might find that your next idea exists in something you’ve already written.
Consider revisiting concepts you approached in brief. Those topics might merit further discussion. As a result, you could even learn something new that you missed the first time around.
Revisiting old writing can also help you pinpoint your “subject,” which in The Artist’s Journey, Steven Pressfield defined as something “deeper than topic.” He wrote that it materializes on its own and reveals itself over time. Think of a subject as the common thread that ties all your different works together. Identifying yours gives you a north star to guide your search for new ideas.
No idea is ever original. Every creation is either an iteration or remix of something that already exists. Don’t pressure yourself to create something brand new and never seen before. Instead, remember there’s one critical element that matters most.
Your personality is the secret ingredient in your writing. It’s what separates your work from everyone else’s, so embrace it. The voice you craft with every sentence, paragraph, and page you compose is what will resonate with the readers you reach.
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