There are a lot of different types of writers. What they all have in common is that there comes a day when they think, “Hmmm. I can’t think of anything to write about.”
I often say that if you can’t think of anything to write about, you aren’t paying attention to the life going on around you.
If you literally mean you can’t think of anything to write about, this is very true. After all, surely something interesting happened to you on the way to work, or in the garage, or while you were picking up lunch. Maybe your kids did something funny, or sad, or inspiring. Didn’t you read something, hear something, or think of something that would be worthy of writing about? And…
Holy crap! Did that eagle really just swoop down and grab that lady’s dog?!?
Of course, most of the time, professional writers can’t just write about anything. No matter how many eagles snatch how many dogs, that won’t help you come up with a topic to write for that scrapbooking blog, or something clever about computers and the internet. And, when people are paying you to write about a certain something, having just any idea isn’t good enough.
Sometimes, the world just feeds you ideas. A news article about Princess Kate taking up scrapbooking would be gold for that blog. Microsoft naming it’s new operating system Windows 10 for no reason would sure help with that computer topic. But, sometimes, there is just nothing. No news, no arguments, no clever little thoughts popping into your head. In short, sometimes, your muse lays down on the job, and there is nothing you can do about it.
It’s at times like these where writers tend to make the mistake of getting too complicated, of trying to reach too far. For example, when I write my personal financial advice blog and come up blank for ideas, I start trying to think of complicated tax planning, or unusual retirement planning situations I’ve encountered. Ironically, this is almost always the wrong way to go. Instead, you’ll typically find more inspiration, and better ideas if you go back to the basics instead.
Recently, a relative emailed me asking if I had written anything about saving for college. Of course, I had, I thought. Certainly, I had exhausted that topic a long, long time ago. I mean, I was a financial planner for all of those years and the one thing almost everyone had in common was wanting to save for kids, or grandchildren, to go to college. Surely, I had written loads on the subject.
As it turns out, I did a search on my blog for 529 articles and other college planning articles and I hadn’t written very much at all. And, what I had written did not cover the basics. There were articles for unusual situations, or for people that already knew most of the common things, but very little about the basics.
Many writers get the idea that what they write needs to be unique. While it certainly should not be copy, it makes no sense that there should only be one article out there about the basics of a 529 plan. After all, while I may know no more than the next financial advisor, it is very possible, likely even, that I would explain it differently. Maybe how I write about it would be more clear, or better understood, at least by some. At the very least, when people asked me about college savings plans, I would have a trusted place to send them. After all, I don’t trust many people more than I trust myself.
Writing Prompts for a Topic
When you are stuck for ideas to write about a specific topic, instead of trying to force something new and out there, regroup and think about the core issues.
- Have you covered all the basics? – What would you point someone to if they were new to your topic?
- Have you covered all the businesses, providers, or retailers. – Where would someone go to buy stuff relating to your topic? Where would you get scrapbooking stuff? Which places are good to buy computers? Where would you open a 529 plan?
- Have you covered any of the intrinsic debates? – In photography Canon vs Nikon? In computers Apple vs Microsoft? Stocks versus bonds versus mutual funds. Do it yourself versus hiring professionals.
- What about the intermediate level? – For many publications or websites, there is ample coverage for beginners and plenty of expert level coverage as well. But, what about the middle? What would someone need to know if they had been doing it long enough to not need those basic articles, but if they were ready for the master level either?
- Instead of a groundbreaking expose, what about what “everyone” already knows? – Why is Google the main search engine? Why can’t Microsoft/Bing get any traction. What makes scrapbooking better than just a photo album, and so on.
The really fun part about stepping back and thinking about this is, not only do you get an idea, but thinking and writing about these ideas almost always triggers other thoughts or avenues of thinking that you can write about.
And, then, all you really do have to do is pay attention to the life going on around you.