TCOBaG: I Have No Idea!

Not usually a problem for me, but I get this from my writing students on a regular basis, and friends aspiring to be writers or to write more . . .

What do I write about? I have no idea!

You know that great, “write what you know” crutch, fallback, senseless patter, right?

First, you gotta decide ‘what you know.”

Little brainstorming session.

5 minutes should do it . . .

Paper, pencil, (I like to do this on paper, gives it a physical feel but you can use your computer as long as the solitaire game is at least minimized and you don’t have the sound up for new messages arriving 🙂

Start at the top:
Just start listing all of the topics you’ve ever studied in school.
Magazines you read regularly
Kinds of articles, topics
Sports you like to play or watch
Software you use
Forums you visit
Newsletters (ezines)

Don’t stop writing for 5 minutes, write “I can’t think” or “I have no idea” when you er, ‘have no idea’ but keep the pencil or the typing fingers moving for 5 minutes.

Now, look at your list.

Anything jump out at you?


Want to try again for 5 more minutes?

Thought not 🙂

Look over the list. Grab the first 7 that seem to stick out.

Narrow that down to the top 3 and list them in order of your knowledge, interest, and desire to write about them.



Now you know what to write about.

Not painful at all, eh?

So, you want some tips on writing?

Here’s a rough, on the fly response to this question I received from a colleague and friend recently:

Where do you want to start? Articles? That seems like it might be easier to
get around on, short, one topic, end it.

If you want to start there you could try the basic 5 part essay approach.
This ‘theme’ works in an expanded way so that you could just keep repeating
the process to infinity, adding related ‘5 parts’ till you had a book 🙂

You’ll find this is just like public speaking, when done correctly.

Basics would be:
decide purpose
1. intro
Pa. support idea/examples
Pb. support idea/examples
Pc. support idea/examples
3. Conclusion

A little more detail . . .

1. intro: get the readers attention, show them what you’re going to write
about, give background if necessary start general and work your way to the
That is, talk about computers used to take up whole buildings, whole floors
of buildings, then one room, then they were in a corner, then they were
desktops, then they were laptops, now they’re implanted under your skin.

Getting attention:
1. questions, open-ended, or you know what the answer will be, yes or no,
Have you ever been stopped by the police in your car? Have you ever been
shopping downtown? kinds of things, pulls them right in, they gotta say yes,
and then wonder what you’re up to, hehheh.
2. tell a story
3. quote somebody
4. background, history
5. statistics (trick with stats is to ‘relate the figures’ ie 430
yards=almost 4 and a half football fields kind of thing)

Giving examples/support: be specific whenever possible

Conclusion: restate your main idea, summarize your points, leave ’em with a
question, or ask them to take action etc

See, you already know that stuff, right?

Want ideas for writing?

Ask and answer the questions that come to you.


Then, check it.

Is the idea you want to write about stated clearly?
Do you have in place an attention getter?
(End the intro with the main idea you want to cover.)

Do you have enough supporting details? Are they specific?

Conclusion? Restated the main points? Left them something to do or to think

Spellcheck it and let it rip 🙂

Check out this article I wrote recently:

It’s not exactly this pattern, but you’ll see it fits fairly closely. I
don’t think about that part any more, just do, like my bad golf swing,

Put your character, your voice into it, make it appropriate for the audience
you’re aiming for though, geez, I know you’ve got this stuff from speaking,
just transfer it here 🙂

You can start with brainstorming, free-writing, journaling, mind
mapping/clustering, too to get your ideas down, choose the ones that look
like you’ve got enough info to go on.

I think at our life stage though, that doing the question/response thing to
get ideas down on ‘paper’ is great and effective and efficient (Gary Halbert line stealing there, sorry).

You might also try the hard way 🙂

Get an idea, get your mic, record the stuff, transcribe it, then edit it.
I’ve also done that, a lot before, more for music ideas/song lyrics
‘in-the-flow’ type of writing, but it works either way.

Need more? I skimmed over something? Didn’t make sense?