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So what do I write about?

Advice for writers and bloggers

A quick recap

So far in this blog series we’ve covered finding your why and finding a time and place to write. We’ve also looked at at least one alternative to writing every day. Here’s a quick recap:

  • Write down why you want to write every day, then get more specific, and pin your reason up somewhere so you can see it.
  • Create a calendar for the month ahead and write in a ‘reward’ for each day (a bit like a homemade advent calendar) that you can claim if you write on that day.
  • It’s tempting to reach for the negative. Our brains are set up to scan for ‘threat’ after all. But when you find you are judging yourself for a missed writing session, try to focus on the times you did turn up and / or give yourself a big chunk of self-compassion instead.
  • Look at your week and decide when you can write.
  • Where you write is as important as when – don’t let the space you’re in stop you from writing.
  • Work out your ideal ‘writing building block’. What’s a comfortable amount of time and amount of words for you? I suggest using the pomodoro technique to help with this.
  • Time and Place to Write + Writing Building Block = Writing Goal
  • If you want to write a lot, it’s possible to have a writing power day (or morning / afternoon) instead of writing every day.

But what are you going to write about?

It’s all very well deciding to write every day, but one big stumbling block can be what some people call ‘lack of ideas’ – you simply don’t feel like you have enough of them to keep you going. I dispute this, because there are literally ideas all around us wherever we go. Even the most mundane object has a story to tell. (Where is it from? Who made it? How has it been used?) So, it’s not exactly lack of ideas that’s the problem, but how to funnel all the possible ideas ‘out there’ or in you head and apply them in a coherent way to the thing you want to write.

Let’s break that down a bit

First of all, know your why – that’s going to be your most useful tool when you look at the following exercises.

We’ll break that down by looking at two seemingly simply questions:

  • What do you want to write?
  • What do you want to write about?

Do you see how those are two different questions? But the answers relate to each other. I’ll give you an obvious example to illustrate my point:

  • What do you want to write? A poetry collection.
  • What do you want to write about? Productivity for small business owners.

It’s pretty obvious straight away that the one doesn’t fit the other. Now you could, if you wanted to, write a poetry collection about productivity for small business owners. There’s nothing stopping you. But I’m guessing that poetry probably isn’t the most appropriate way to communicate about the topic.

You can start with EITHER question

It actually doesn’t matter which of these questions you start with, but you’d be amazed how many times I’ve spoken to writing students who – when I start to drill down into it – know the answer to one but not the other. This only matters if it stops you from writing, because if you write for long enough, you’ll eventually provide yourself with the answers, but as we’re on the subject, why not stop for a moment and see if you can answer both? Ask yourself: What do you want to write? What do you want to write about?

More questions

Now you’ve got the answers to those down, come up with the answer to these questions:

  1. Does your answer to one match the other? Does the subject matter match the way in which you’re planning to communicate the idea?
  2. Would a memoir, short story, essay, blog post, feature article, regular column, nonfiction book, documentary, short film, play, piece of advertising copy, poem, poetry collection, novel or trilogy be better for this idea? Try to be as specific as possible.
  3. Look at what you’ve said you want to write about. Could you make this more specific?

If you’ve already got as specific as you possibly can, then take a look at this post on generating ideas without leaving your desk / sofa.

Here are some examples

For example, after answering the questions above

  • What do you want to write? A feature article
  • What do you want to write about? Etiquette

Could become:

  • What do you want to write? A regular column for Women and Home magazine
  • What do you want to write about? Dinner party etiquette

Specificity is the key

Getting more specific like this not only helps with idea generation, it also helps in three other important ways:

  1. It helps you to identify your ideal reader. In this case, people interested in table etiquette.
  2. If you want to sell your writing, it helps you to identify a target market. In this case, Women and Home magazine or similar publications.
  3. It gives you a clear next step. In this case: 1. Pitch a column on dinner party etiquette to the editor of Women and Home magazine and 2. Research three other similar target markets.

Let’s look at another example

This time, I’ll apply the questions to a different kind of writing.

  • What do you want to write? Poetry
  • What do you want to write about? Nature

Could become:

  • What do you want to write? A poem I can enter for the Ecopoetry Prize
  • What do you want to write about? The wildlife in my garden

This time, getting more specific has also helped me to:

  1. Work out the kind of poetry I’m going to write and the kind of poetry I can read to get a feel for the style. In this case, Ecopoetry
  2. Identify my target ‘market’. In this case, the Ecopoetry Prize.
  3. Come up with a next step. In this case: 1. Research the deadline for the Ecopoetry Prize and 2. Read some examples of Ecopoetry.

Note that the answers could easily have been different. Here are other ways in which they could have evolved:

  • What do you want to write? Poetry
  • What do you want to write about? Nature

Could become:

  • What do you want to write? A feature article for Primary Times magazine
  • What do you want to write about? How to teach kids in years 5 and 6 to write and illustrate poems about nature

Or:

  • What do you want to write? My first poem
  • What do you want to write about? Walking the Cornish coast

Or:

  • What do you want to write? A poetry collection
  • What do you want to write about? Lakes, oceans and rivers I’ve visited

Check out my course on writing poetry – and get a voucher code – here.

Here’s another example

Again, I’ll apply the questions to a different kind of writing. Remember, after you’ve asked the first two questions, you apply the further questions to make your answers more specific (or possibly to change them entirely!)

  • What do you want to write? Blog posts
  • What do you want to write about? My business

Could become:

  • What do you want to write? A series of 20 interviews for my blog
  • What do you want to write about? Inspiration – what inspired successful people to go into business?

Or:

  • What do you want to write? 10 ‘How to’ posts for my blog
  • What do you want to write about? I want to answer my customers’ questions and help them to do more with my product(s)

Or:

  • What do you want to write? A series of 3 blog posts telling my story
  • What do you want to write about? How I started out, what inspires me, ‘a day in the life ‘of my business

Question: What next steps might the above answers generate?

One more example

  • What do you want to write? A novel
  • What do you want to write about? Magic

Could become:

  • What do you want to write? A series of fantasy novels
  • What do you want to write about? A fantasy island in the sky, inhabited by magical people

Next steps might be to work on outlining the novel, to read more fantasy fiction or to work on some character sketches. If you’re interested in taking this further, take a look at my resources for novelists.

Still wondering what you are going to write about?

Have no fear, tomorrow I will help you to generate a list of starting points and you don’t even have to leave your desk / sofa.

Until then, happy writing!

2 Comments

  1. Vicki says:

    Before I started my 30 Days Challenge, my “why” was because I needed to empty my head of the ideas I’ve been building up!

    1. Louise says:

      Ha, yes, I know the feeling!

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