While a number of habits and processes differentiate them, all writers, young and old, face a common difficulty in their creative craft – the problem of not knowing what to write about next. This difficulty inevitably comes from impostor syndrome (“What am I credible enough to write about?”) and choice overload (“There are millions of topics to choose from!”). Skilled writers also know that if they’re passionate or specifically interested in a certain topic, it’ll be easier to write about it in an engaging manner.
Debunking the Impostor Syndrome
Beginners often find that it can be more difficult to learn from an expert than from an intermediate in a given topic. Experts who aren’t skilled teachers can easily lose focus of the first principles to focus instead upon the niche and nuances, which makes the first principles and foundational knowledge more elusive to beginners.
Introducing The Endless Idea Generator
It’s not the case that experienced writers simply have better ideas than inexperienced writers struggling to choose a topic. What’s more often the case is that experienced writers explore far more ideas than the novices. They’re not scared to explore an idea that might turn out to be useless or half-baked. Experienced writers know that their ideas are the “raw materials” of the craft. It might be the case that 90% of their ideas are completely frivolous. But even in this case, 10% of their ideas have enough merit to write about. Therefore the best way to write prolifically is to generate as many ideas as possible.
Step 1: The 2-year Test
“What problems have I solved, and what topics have I learned about, in the last two years?” Write down the answer to these two questions, without judgment. Refine these learnings and topics into conceptual buckets. This is raw material for your future writings, as specified above.
Step 2: Write to Yourself of 2 Years Ago
Because you’re not likely a true expert in your field, you’ll want to write to an audience that is just like the person that you were when you started learning and growing in the topic. This is not only how you remain credible, which is important, but it’s also how you stay focused in a world with so many choices of topics. The more specific your topic, with audience qualifiers such as age, background, level of experience, and niche clearly defined, the easier it’ll be for you to start and finish your piece.
What commonly happens from here is writers face analysis paralysis due to having too many ideas to write about. Overcome this by choosing just three topics from your list. You can only work on these three topics, and you can worry about your other choices once these are done. Beautifully, what often happens is writers will generate more ideas from the topics they’re writing about. In turn, one original idea can result in a three or more pieces of writing all on its own.
Step 3: Decide Which of the 4 A’s Fits Your Piece
The 4 A’s Framework is a useful way to think about how best to frame your writing for your specific audience. Actionable pieces are meant to provide your audience with instruction or some new insight they didn’t have beforehand. Help your reader put your core ideas into practice through tips, hacks, resources, or ultimate guides. Analytical pieces use visual data and statistics to walk the audience through certain trends in media, entertainment, and industry. Otherwise, these pieces might shatter their expectations by revealing surprising data and truths about the world around them. Aspirational pieces aim to put core ideas into practice, just like actionable pieces, but instead of providing “how-to” advice, they tend to be story-based. These stories might take the form of mistakes made and lessons learned, general reflections, or advice using a first-person perspective. Anthropological pieces aim to speak to our collective human nature. They might aim to create a sense of urgency or ‘fear of missing out’ in an audience by speaking to their struggles, fears, failures, or other emotions.