When you're stuck on what to write, or what to teach, it's rarely because you actually lack good topics or enough knowledge… even though that's the conclusion most of us draw when we have trouble coming up with a topic. You're probably sitting on a treasure trove of great potential topics. The trick is to find a way to recognize them.
Techniques for mining your treasure trove of topic ideas
1. Think of the conversations you have with your clients. What types of questions do they ask you? What types of problems do you solve even if they're never explicitly asked? The answers you give and solutions you figure out are great topics for articles, classes, and even information products or classes.
2. What kinds of ideas do you find yourself discussing when you work with a client? What ideas do you like discussing on Twitter or Facebook? What ideas prompt you to comment when you read about them in someone else's blog? Start noticing the ideas and themes that seem to pop up a lot for you. You probably either have a lot of knowledge or a lot of passion around those ideas and themes (or both!). Either way, they're a rich topic resource.
3. What “stuck” points do you see your clients or friends struggling with, and what do you do to help them unstick those points? Write about or teach those techniques or solutions. (That's how this post developed!)
4. List the 10 things you work with, hear about, or talk about the most often. Do a series of posts–or a teleclass–on those 10 things. Even if the list seems really unconnected when you first make it, come back to it after a few days and look at it again. You'll probably start seeing unifying themes that point to some area of expertise you've got… even if you didn't realize it.
5. Ask people on Twitter (or Facebook, or on a forum you frequent, or on LinkedIn) what questions they've got for you about what you do. Any of those questions can become a blog post.
6. Find a few blog posts you've written that you really enjoyed writing or got really excited about. What topics were you discussing or pondering in those posts? Talk about those.
7. Make a list of five lessons you've learned over the course of being an entrepreneur thus far. Talk about those. I guarantee you that if you've had to learn those lessons, there are a slew of other people struggling with them or about to struggle with them!
8. Make a list of five ways you've become less stuck over the past year (or several years). Might be work related, might be personal, might be both–and might seem totally irrelevant. What bits of wisdom and flashes of insight are tucked inside those? What can you share from your own journey that might help others? (Hint: you've got more wisdom than you know, I promise.)
9. Drop all notions of what's useful or helpful, and ask yourself, “What do I feel like talking about?” Jot down whatever jumps into your head, no matter how un-useful or irrelevant it seems. Sometimes just lifting the burden of “I must be useful!” helps dislodge some great ideas. And those ideas end up being incredibly useful… we just didn't see them at first.
10. Pick three exceptionally frustrating situations from the past few years of your life. How did you get through them? What made them frustrating, and what did you figure out that helped the frustration to ease? What kinds of support or techniques for dealing with stuff did you use and find helpful–or did you use and find completely unhelpful?
You're more knowledgeable and useful than you think.
The most important thing to remember is that you are infinitely more helpful than you realize. The stuff that seems “too easy” or “too obvious” to you is someone else's insurmountable obstacle. The places where you've figured something out are places where someone else is feeling completely flummoxed. If you've gone through it, dealt with it, answered it, figured it out or fixed it–someone else will find that knowledge/experience invaluable!
How do you come up with stuff to write about when your treasure trove of topics feels empty? Where do you turn for ideas and inspiration?
Hey, Marissa! —
This is an *excellent* post and I’m going to share it with my right people today via Twitter and Facebook. When I work with my clients, I’m continually reminded that the “obvious” things I take for granted are other people’s points of struggle, challenge, or curiosity. And this works vice-versa for me when I’m reading other blogs — I always appreciate it when the bloggers I admire and look up to share the little things that they’ve probably been doing by rote for a million years. There is incredible value hidden in our day-to-day activities!
When I feel at a loss for what to write about, I try to remember the last few questions I’ve been asked about how I did something or how I made something work in my own business, either from an offline convo or an email I received. And then I turn that person’s question into a post. Or sometimes I call up a close friend who’s interested in but on the fringes of entrepreneurship. I ask her to share with me some of her concerns, hesitations, and questions and usually I’m stirred to explore something in a blog post that hadn’t even occurred to me before.
Thanks for this post, Marissa. Your content is like a Vitamin B shot to the entrepreneurial spirit!
YOU. are. so. helpful.
Thank God you’re in my life. This is fabulous – a great distillation of lots of advice I see in different size chunks all over the internet, and pulled together with a lot of Marissa sprinkled in.
I’m pulling together a month’s worth of content for the blog for when I’m away in August, and I’m taking every bit of wonderfulness from this post and using it.
I hope you know what a gift you are!
Phew. Phew. Phew.
That’s how relieved I feel reading this. A) because it feels totally actionable, and B) because I don’t have no reason to run out of content ever again.
Thanks so much for providing a post that is insightful, helpful and empowering!
‘Don’t have no reason’? er, don’t have *a* reason…. except maybe my bad proofing 😛
Totally bookmark worthy, this. Thanks, Marissa!
“Make a list of five lessons you’ve learned over the course of being an entrepreneur thus far. ”
That is a kick-ass idea – personal experience is always the most genuine and bond-making topic you can write about it – and as long as you keep moving forward, you will always have something to talk about !
My personal style is to use “fusion”, which is mixing two seemingly unrelated topics.
So if I want to write about branding, and I love Super Mario(the videogame), I just come up with a post about Super Mario’s secret to super branding or something like that.
Copyblogger uses that method on a daily basis. Not only is it entertaining and visual, it’s also the surest way to never ever run out of ideas again !
Love this, honey. (Love this honey!).
I have gotten into the habit of talking about my lack of ability to write when I lack the ability to write, and often something useful comes out of it!
Breaks the stalemate anyway…
So excited to see a post here – missed your writing! (Did it really go up on 8 July? Don’t quite know how I missed it…)
Iam not an entrepreneur or close. I am a fresh graduate that studied business for some reason but have a great interest in becoming a writer. I am now trying to get part time writing job to begin with in a magazine or newspaper. however, i want to push my writing abilities by starting to write something unique everyday the problem is that i don’t have a clue about what. Any help or tips ?
P.S: when you requested to hand a writing sample is there a certain format or content that you should stick too ?
I don’t know anything about sending in writing samples to magazines or newspapers – I’ve never had to do that before! 😉 You might try googling for “freelance writer blog” or “freelance writer forum” and see if you can come up with some resources that way that might be full of relevant experiences and information.
If you’re feeling called to write, check out the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. That’s a great book to help you develop a daily writing practice. Also check out Juicy Journaling with SARK, which is a delightfully playful way to develop daily writing habits. Good luck!
My treasure trove is obviously empty as I was doing a search on “what to write about” when I found your article :). Thanks for the tips!
conmdoms are gr8
It,s about what you feel strongly about!!! from the heart and soul.JUST DO IT NOW.
Great post. Very insightful.