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Choosing a Topic to Write About
By Joan Whetzel
Most nonfiction writers occasionally hit low points when (a) the ideas dry up, (b) it seems impossible to generate new story ideas, (c) they have a list of half-formed ideas, or (d) the few ideas that pop into their heads are either covered excessively by other writers or are just plain awful. As Linus Pauley once said: "The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas." So how does a nonfiction writer choose a good idea? They begin by going back to the basics.
Choosing Topics, The Basics
When the writing ideas don't flow freely, a writer needs to go back to the basics. They do this by first eliminating or reducing the areas of their life that may be causing stress (through prayer, sleep, meditation, taking a writing break, etc.). Next the ease back into a writing routine with short projects and stories or articles that are on topics which are easy for them to write about, thus ensuring success in writing something and greasing the writing wheels that allow the ideas to start flowing again.
While waiting for their writing muse to kick back into action again, writers can begin researching topics, the information needed to write stories and articles about these ideas, and finding images - or generating their own images - to go along with these topics. During the research process, writers usually discover the way others have already covered the topic and that they combine bits and pieces of other writers' ideas into a new, unique story or article, that combines the information in a new way that none of the other writers had ever thought about. The research process may also raise question in the minds of the writers doing the research that beg to be answered.
The idea is to simply start looking around for topics that may be popular but aren't answering all the questions (or that aren't covering a topic area thoroughly enough), for areas where the writer may be intrigued by some theme or story and wants to know more, or to stimulate the interests and expertise that the writer has developed over the years and has either forgotten or neglected. Granted, all the ideas generated by this form of brainstorming will not be good. However, it is important to generate the ideas and write them all down. Then, as the writer starts working his or her way through the list, some of the not so good ideas will either make their way into the trash bin, while others will be either written and published or put in a pot on the back burner to simmer for a while, waiting for the last few ingredients to find their way to the pot and turn it to soup.
In the mean time, there are a number of sources that writers can draw on for research:
1. the internet
2. magazines and newspapers
4. their own life experience
5. talking to other people
6. online forum and question sites
7. college and local community courses
8. a list of term paper topics
9. a list of the things they always wanted to know about
10. a list of the things they have always been interested in, including hobbies and other skills
11. the events going on their lives
Life experiences includes events, skills, and things learned along the way. These are things that the writer deems worthy of being passed onto others because their own experience may help someone else. Mine these areas for topics:
· your parenting style vs. your parents' style
· your children
· your hobbies and interests
· your health issues or those of your family
· places you've lived
· places you've visited
· lessons you've learned from positive and negative life experiences
· religious beliefs
Looking in Books
Reading books, weather fiction or nonfiction, is one surefire way to generate topic ideas because reading and writing go hand in hand. Besides, it opens up the writer's mind as to what the competition is writing and allows the writer to imagine how they might cover the topic differently, either by covering what's missing or by coming at the topic from a different angle. Look for:
· related topics suggested by the book.
· information that seems to be missing.
· questions raised by the book.
· ways to combine this information with other ideas to form a new topic.
· a different approach or a new angle.
· how your own opinion or viewpoint changes the topic idea.
Sometimes the simple act of talking to others triggers a topic idea for an article or a series of articles along a theme. When talking to people (family, friends, acquaintances, or strangers) ask them about:
· their job.
· their life history.
· their interests and hobbies.
· their families.
· their life experiences.
Online Forums and Other Questions
Online forums (where people can discuss topics of interest) and question sites (where people can ask a question of subject matter experts and get an answer) are great places to start when developing a topic idea. They get the juices flowing and stir up all kinds of questions that need answering. Often the answers don't fully answer the question. Here is a great opportunity to answer those questions or cover those forum topics more thoroughly.
Take a Class or Read
Taking a class allows writers to learn a new skill or simply learn something more about a topic that has always interested them. It could be a free class offered at the local community center or library, a low cost class at the YMCA, or a mentally stimulating class at the University or Community College Look around and see what's available, how much it will cost in time and money, and make room for it in your calendar - and your wallet.
Term Paper Topics
There have been several books published over the years with lists of term paper topics. No, you don't have to buy one, you can check them out from the library. There are also a few websites that allow you to "rent" books in an e-format for a nominal fee. If you've gone to college, go back through the term papers you wrote and mine them for ideas. The term paper topics don't have to be used as is. Take the topics and break them down into smaller, more manageable units or combine them with other topics of interest to you or with current events to give them a new twist.
Something You Always Wanted To Know
Create a list of things you always wanted to know about. Jot down every idea or topic that comes into your mind. Some topics will be combined with other topics, some will be written on as is, some will need to simmer a while. Sometimes, in the process of researching information on these topics that you've always wanted to know about, you may discover that they are truly boring as all get out and so you may decide to toss those topics out, because you really don't want to know anything further. Either way, this area of topic generation allows you the opportunity to actually find out about those things you always wanted to know.
Topics of personal interest worth mining for article and story writing will probably include:
· hobbies (drawing, model trains, model building, photography).
· topics that you've always enjoyed reading and learning about (history, architecture, yoga, religion, philosophy, science, biographies).
· skills learned over your lifetime (cooking, sewing, woodworking, home repairs).
Make a list of these ideas and interests. Mine the topics for different angles, ways to break down the topics into smaller subtopics, ways to combine them with other topics or interests, ways to turn them into a project or experiment to share with kids.
· Make a list of the topics you loved.
· Break each topic down into sub-topics.
· Make a list of the tools needed for your specific hobby, skill set, or interest, and describe how to use these tools, including unique ways you've discovered for using them that others may not know about.
· Make a list of tools, hobbies, and personal interests others have told you about and investigate them further as future topic ideas.
Yes, we're talking about the news here. But we're also talking about the things that happen around you that may be either annual or one-time events. These can be written up as a travel style article or story that draws others into your community to spend money. They could be written from another angle that presents one side of the story, or both sides of the story, or investigates what led up to the event. We're also talking about those weird and whacky things that sometimes occur, those "truth is stranger than fiction" events that go viral for a time.
· state wide
· weird or wacky
Events in One's Life
Make a list of the major, moderate, and minor events in your life that made a difference in your life - no matter how small that difference is. They may be inspiring to someone else. For each entry on this list, write down how it affected you at the time, how it inspired your life to this point, how you were reminded of some lesson you have forgotten over the years. these personal life events might be:
· religious ceremonies, rites, beliefs
· illnesses, medical issues
· family events, personal problems, friendships
· school, work related
· fairs and festivals in your area
Photos of events and gatherings of people should be as candid as possible. The more "planned" they are, the less stimulating they are for someone in need of some topic ideas. Also try things like extreme close ups, found aesthetics (unexpected scenes that are visually appealing to you), odd angles, places that are new to you. Anything that breaks you out of your status quo will do.
List of Genres and General Topics
If all else fails, generate a list like this one of general topics. The list may inspire you to find or generate a topic, or it may not. Some topics may be more inspiring than others, creating an extensive list of article or story topics. Others may never generate anything but boredom.
· Addictions, Vices, Quitting Addictions, 12 Step Programs, Rehab, Withdrawal, Drugs, Alcohol, Tobacco, Sex
· Animals, Pets, Farm Animals, Wild Animals, Zoo Animals, Veterinary Care, Pet Supplies, Feeding Animals
· Arts, Crafts, Handwork, Jewelry Making
· The Arts (Theater, Dance, Music, Galleries, Photography, Museums, Sculpture, Architecture)
· Automobiles, Auto Industry, Aftermarket Parts, Auto Repairs, Auto Makes and Models, DIY Auto Repairs
· Boats, Yachts, Sailing, Sailboats, Seamanship
· Books, Literature, Reading, Novels, Comics, Audio-Books, E-Books, Newspapers, Magazines
· Business, Employment, Home Businesses, Economics
· City, County, State, or Country You Live In
· Construction Industry, Construction equipment
· Current Affairs, In the News, Social Differences, Laws, International events, International Incidents, Global Industries, Global Weather, Global Geographic and Geological Conditions, Global Village Issues,
· Education, Teaching, Home Schooling, Elementary School, Middle School, Secondary School, College and University, History topics, English Topics, Literature Topics, Math Topics, Math Topics,
· Engineering, Engineering Feats, Engineering Marvels, Bridges, Tunnels, Buildings, Sky Scrapers
· Entertainment, Movies, Theater, Books, Cartoons, Celebrities, Humor, Music, Photos, Videos/DVDs, Radio, TV
· Environment, Water, Trees, Animals, Alternative Energy, Pollution
· Family, Parenting, adoption, Child and Baby Care, Daycare and Babysitting, Genealogy, Pregnancy
· Fashion, Beauty, Make-Up, Baths, Showers, Spas, Bridal, Cosmetic Surgery
· Fiction, Reading Fiction, Writing Fiction, Fiction Genres, Fiction Writing Techniques, Fiction Publishing
· Fires, Fire Departments, Fire Trucks, Fire Fighters, Fire Safety, Fire Fighting Equipment, Fire Fighting at Sea, First Aid, Hazmat, First Responders, Paramedics, Ambulance Sevice
· Food, Cooking Techniques, Recipes, Restaurants, Catering, Beverages, Picnics, Parties, deserts, Diets and Weigh Loss
· Games, Toys, Hobbies, arcade Games, Board Games, Card Games, Collecting, Electronic Games, Party Games, Outdoor Games,
· Graphic Design
· Health Issues for Women, Menopause, Breast Health, Breast Care, Menstrual Issues, Hysterectomy, Mastectomy, Breast Reconstruction
· Health, Medicine, Alternative Medicine, Chiropractic, Holistic and Natural Remedies, Psychology, Psychiatry, Dental Care, Dental Hygiene, Weight Loss, Diseases, Fitness, Exercise
· History, Archaeology, Anthropology, Humanities, Sociology, Societies
· Holidays, National Holidays, Religious Holidays, World Holidays, Unofficial Holidays, Holiday Decorations
· Home, Home Repairs, Interior Design, Cleaning, Furniture, Appliances, DIY Projects
· Interior Design
· Languages, Linguistics
· Light, Lux, Candle Power, Foot Candle, Lumen
· Law, Legal Issues
· Navigation, Navigation on Land, Navigation at Sea, Navigating by the Stars, Maps, Charts, Navigation Equipment, Compass, GPS, Latitude, Longitude
· Oceans, Oceanography, Navigation, Pirates, Coast Guard, Navy, Ships, Sail Boats, Yachts, Row Boats, Sea animals, Maritime, Brine, Fathoms, Submarines, Knots, Tides, Storms at Sea
· Philosophy, Religions, Belief Systems
· Pilot, Planes, Navigation, Charts, Flight Plan, Flying, Altitude, Altimeter, Aeronautics, Aerodynamics, Aviation, Vector, Avionics, Elevation
· Reviews, Book Reviews, Music Reviews, Concert Reviews, Theater Reviews, Restaurant reviews, Movie Reviews, Product Reviews
· Sciences, Astronomy, Anatomy, Atmospheric Science, Biology, Chemistry Engineering, Electrical, Geology, Geography, Physics, Weather, Zoology
· Self-Help, Books, Websites, Magazines, Self Confidence, Self Esteem, Peer Pressure, Dealing with Rumors, Dealing with Gossip, Dealing with Pain, Dealing with anger, Emotional Issues
· Senses, Hearing, Smelling, Taste, Vision, Touch
· Sewing, Crocheting, Knitting, Quilting, Needlepoint, Cross Stitch
· Space, NASA, the International Space Station (ISS), Private Space Programs, Orbit, the Solar System, Intergalactic Space, Astronomy, Telescopes, Constellations, Planets, Moons, Galaxies, Universe, Satellites, Rockets
· Sports, Recreation, Sports Fans, Playing Sports, School Sports, Sporting Equipment, Sports Injuries
· Talent, How-To Information, Teaching Specific Skills, Teaching Specific Techniques, Teaching Patterns Making and Reading, Teaching a New Art Form
· Technology, Electronics, Phones, Computers, Software, Internet, I-Pads, E-Readers, Audio Visual, Home Entertainment Systems, Remote Controls, Wi-Fi, Renewable Energy, Alternative Energy Sources
· Travel, Vacations, Staycations, Hotels, Lodging, Vacation Packages, Tours, Cruises, Road Trips, Air Travel, Travel Guides, Travel Agencies, Travel Tips, Travel Preparations, Travel Destinations, Destination Weddings
· Writing, How to Write, Commercial Writing, Copywriting, Editing, Print, Online Writing, E-books, Poetry, Creative Writing
· Writing Fiction, Writing Nonfiction, Script Writing
Now that you've got some topics to write on, choose those that are the most interesting, the easiest to write, or that fit into a publication's theme. Then get busy writing.