How to Never Run Out of Ideas to Write About
“Start writing no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” — Louis L’amour
Every so often I open an email from a name I don’t recognize, and it’s an aspiring writer reaching out with the same question I’ve been hearing since I got into this biz:
“Hi, Jason. I love your work and you’re so great (ok, I made this part up). I want to be a writer but I just don’t know what to write about. I feel like I could write a few pieces and then run out of things to say. How do you come up with ideas to write about?”
I love that this is an easy question for me to answer because when I first started writing, it certainly wasn’t.
Now that I’ve been living the writer’s life for quite some time, coming up with ideas is never a problem for me. In fact, I actually have the opposite problem — too many things to write about. And I’d bet that most other writers share that same dilemma.
In my Evernote sits an ever-growing backlog of ideas, thoughts, and crudely-drafted stories waiting to be written about. On average, I’d say that I generate about 3 article topics per day. With my current daily writing allotment of ~2 hours, at best I pump out 1 MAYBE 1 and a half quality articles per day. But many times I’m working on a longer, evergreen-type article that spans several writing periods, in which case, 0 articles per day.
It doesn’t take a math wizard to figure out that 3 topics generated per day minus 1 article (or less) written per day = 2 topics (or more) to the backlog per day.
But where do all these ideas come from? That’s the question you really want to know the answer to.
The short answer is any content that I consume during the day generates new ideas for me.
Ideas beget ideas.
- I read books
- I listen to podcasts
- I scroll through Reddit
- I follow thought leaders on Twitter (and some morons too, just for fun)
- I watch documentaries and TV shows
In listening to others, I’m bound to have at least a few good ideas that spark a solid writing topic. And don’t worry about “stealing” these ideas. 99% of ideas aren’t new; however, your take on them makes them new.
For example, How to Make Coffee is hardly a new concept, but Becky’s Version of How to Make Really Awesome Coffee That Makes You Go WOW might be a banger.
While consuming content, you just have to be on the lookout for things you might want to write about. But, you don’t want to obsess to the point where it takes away from the enjoyment you get out of reading or whatever.
The simplified process looks like this:
- Consume content related to your writing interests (non-fiction generates a lot of non-fiction and personal writing stories for me)
- Keep an eye out for concepts that resonate with you. Usually you will have an “Oh, that’s good” moment.
- Write these ideas in your notebook as soon as you think of them. None of that “I’ll remember it later BS”. You won’t, trust me.
And that’s it. Even if you just do this for a week, I’d bet that you’d already have a month’s worth or more of topics to write about.
- Read 1 to 2 chapters of a book that interests you OR listen to a podcast OR watch a documentary (dealer’s choice here)
- Record ideas to write about in your notebook
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