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How Do You Think of a Topic to Write About?

Justine is a writer, teacher, mother and mountain bike rider.


What should you write about?

I am asking myself this question so I decided to find out by asking and writing this article. I just wrote my first hubPages article and it was a success! I have had positive feedback and I had so much fun thinking about my topic, developing it, asking questions, talking to people, reading, reflecting further and then voila! I published my article and entered the world of online writing.

HubPages encourages you to write quickly at least 5 articles. And if you want to make any money, you have to write hundreds of articles. Yikes! What to write about? In this article, I want to explore how ideas come to us and how we can foster their development.

I learned about the idea of "stories come to those who tell them" when I was teaching writing personal stories to first graders. I had heard this quote and repeated it to them like a mantra and sure enough stories poured out of them. When I went to find out who said this for this article I discovered that it has been attributed to many people and it is an idea that has been around for a long time. Ira Glass said "Great stories happen to those who can tell them" and now you can buy tons of merchandise with this quote attributed to Glass. In The Locked Room in The New York Trilogy, #3, Paul Auster quoted it as "Stories happen only to those who are able to tell them" and added "In the same way, perhaps, experiences present themselves only to those who are able to have them." Neville Morley tries to trace the origins of this quote in his interesting article The Peloponnesian War Will Not Take Place. He was able to trace it back to Thucydides!

When it came time to begin informational writing, I noticed many of my young writers got stuck and couldn't think of anything to write about. So I (like many before me) modified Thucydides's quote and and now have been repeating to my students:

Step One: Choose and Name Your Topic

The act of choosing and naming something is very powerful. This is true in all aspects of life, not just in writing. How many times have you had confusing and nebulous ideas floating around in your mind but you don't know exactly what is bothering you? Once you are able to name it, then you can ask for it. Instead of resenting someone and being passive aggressive, you can clearly name what is wrong and then ask for what you want. The same is true in writing. Once you name your topic, you will begin to be curious about it and ask yourself questions. Now it's time to think of your reader.

Step Two: Imagine Your Reader and Answer Their Questions

Who is your reader? What questions will they have about your chosen topic? How can you inform and help them? What platform are you writing on? If you are writing on HubPages, then it is important to make it personal enough so that you have authenticity, but you have to remember this is not a personal blog where you can vent and express anything. You need to remember you are trying to help and inform others. If you are writing on Medium or another platform, your article can be more of an essay and less of a how to article.

Step Three: Stream of Consciousness Phase

Now that you have imagined your reader, begin writing and let it flow. You might try journaling at this stage to have no fear and just let the words pour out in any order. Editing comes later. You could do brainstorming techniques on a piece of paper. Write the topic in a bubble and then lines and arrows off this as the ideas start to flow. You might find you are writing fast at this stage and often an idea pops up while you are still writing about another one. Jot it down fast on the side and come back to it. Don't worry if you forget it before you have a chance to jot it down. It will come back to you again.

Step Four: Let Your Subconcious Do the Work

This was the best writing advice I ever received. My ninth grade English writing teacher always had us write in a stream of consciousness way and then she said to stop and sleep on it. Literally go to sleep for the night and in your sleep your brain will keep thinking, asking more questions and organizing your content. Besides sleep, what other ways do you let your subconscious mind do the work? Walk in nature? Meditate?

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Step Five: Write and Repeat

When you wake up from sleep in the morning, you will probably have many new ideas for which direction your article is going. Write these down right away. You will probably notice forms and structure have started to surface. Now you can really get down your first draft of your article. If you are writing in HubPages, it will be easy now to put these structures into capsules. At this point, you will repeat all the steps above several times as you edit and change things around.


Is there a Formula for a Good Article?

During this process of writing an article about idea generation and development, many article ideas have started to come to me. I jot them down on scraps of paper and put them in my idea basket. But I also looked back at my first article which was a success, and even moved to a Network Site, to see if I could identify the formula I used. Here is my basic formula:

  • Read other people's HubPages articles on your topic
  • Always remember you are trying to inform and help others
  • Ask real people their thoughts on your topic and include their answers in your article

Ask Real People

I decided to follow my own advice and I asked some writers I know how they think of ideas, how they develop them, and what platforms do they write on. This is what they said.

"Be vulnerable, that's where connection comes from." This writer says she does this in all genres of writing from poetry to how to books on making a business plan. Even a how to book is made better with a personal connection.

This idea of vulnerability echoed a conversation I had earlier with another writer when I was asking him how he comes up with ideas. "Ideas are everywhere" he said "but sometimes I feel like oh everyone already knows that." This feeling of inadequacy happens to all writers but being vulnerable and allowing yourself to contribute anyway bringing your personal touch makes each new article fresh and interesting.

During my conversation with another writer I mentioned the storytelling quote above and this sparked the connection to David Sedaris in "The Invisible Made Visible", a radio episode from This American Life. She told me about the moment when Sedaris asks the cab driver about monkeys. The cab drive is amazed because she happens to take care of monkeys when not driving a cab. The take away here is that writers will find topics if they are curious about everything and are courageous enough to ask good questions to people. When you ask good questions to people all kinds of magical things happen.


Ideas for topics are everywhere. Keep your eyes open. Be curious and ask good questions. Be vulnerable and overcome feelings of fear and inadequacy. Choose a topic and allow the power of the universe to take you where it goes. Ultimately writing is a combination of hard work and perseverance and something magical and spiritual which often happens during sleep or another state where you let it go and your subconscious does the work for you. So show up everyday for your work, look at the blank page, feel the fear and choose and name your topic anyway, and then allow the magic to begin.


jennifer1989 on February 18, 2020:

I love this article and it has giving me so much more enthusiasm to write! I hope you keep writing! The two articles you have written are amazing. Keep up the good work.

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