Monday, May 9, 2011

Let's Give 'Em Something to Write About: Finding Your Topic

Have you ever had a hankering to write but were stuck with a blank page, trying to figure out what to write about? Those of you with a project in progress, or those blessed with a zillion ideas flying through your heads at warp speed, might not know what I’m talking about. How could anyone not know what to write about? Well, it happens.

I learned my lesson about topic choice the hard way, in fifth grade. The assignment was my First Major Research Paper Ever—outline, bibliography, the whole shebang. The teacher gave us leeway to write about any topic we wanted. Anything at all.

Giddy with unaccustomed freedom, I chose Tropical Fish as my topic, because there were beautiful shiny full-color photographs of them in the Encyclopedia Britannica (remember the pre-Internet Encyclopedia Britannica? With pages and a spine and everything?). I thought that anything so brilliantly, shimmeringly colorful as those fish had to be interesting to write about.

Big mistake. With apologies to any ichthyologists in the crowd, I spent several miserable weeks learning that tropical fish are lovely to look at, not so lovely as a fifth-grade writing project.

The point is, writing projects go a lot more smoothly when we’re interested in what we’re writing about. Of course, we don’t always have a choice. If our favorite editor assigns us to write about the local hog-calling contest, we clothespin our noses and get to work. But when we can, we want to write about things that appeal to us. If you’re truly interested in something, then even if you never show the final written piece to another living soul, you will still have enjoyed writing it. Here are some things to consider when choosing a topic:

*What are your most cherished dreams, wishes, fantasies? What have you always wanted to see or do, visit or experience?

*What do you feel passionate about? When you watch the news or read a magazine, which stories capture your attention? Which ones make your blood pressure spike?

*What do you feel qualified to write about based on education, job, or life experience?

*What are you not qualified to write about, but would love to learn about?

*What do you think is most important to tell the world?

Somewhere in there is the topic you’ve been waiting for. And if yours happens to be tropical fish, well—Tropical Fish Hobbyist just called, and they’re waiting to hear from you.

Happy writing!


Jan Cline said...

So true! I have been one to prefer assigned topics, but I need to broaden my horizons and use what's already in my head!

Norm de Ploom said...

I have lots of ideas BUT occasionally I do get stuck. Sometimes nothing about the ideas comes to mind or my research doesn't support the idea. That's when I get frustrated. I often write about things I knew nothing about before researching. Sometimes it shows. Thanks for a good post. Everybody has their "tropical fish."

Kathy Cooney Dobbs said...

I have lots of story ideas swirling around in my head, but don't always get them from point of thought to pen to paper as they get stuck someplace in between... Thanks for the good post & ideas for choosing a topic