I want to write. But what do I write about?

This is a common lament. I’m sure you’ve been in a state of wanting to write something but not knowing what to write about. I can imagine how tricky this situation would be for someone who is not a professional writer, because generating topic ideas is a challenge for writers as well.

On the face of it, it seems like there shouldn’t be a dearth of topic ideas. But these ideas often dry up sooner than you’d expect. Which is why the most important thing to do is keep jotting down ideas whenever they come to mind. I personally use Google Keep to store article ideas. 

Sure, you say, keeping a list of ideas and regularly adding to it is fine. But how do you come up with these ideas? Well, to begin with – look around yourself. Cliched as it may sound, it’s true that there are ideas all around you. There are ideas in places, in people, in objects, in conversations, in events, in readings – literally everywhere. You just have to practice and build the knack of finding them. 

To understand how, let’s move from the vague to a specific. I’ll take my own example when I worked for The Economic Times and was writing on personal finance. Here’s how I found topic ideas to write about. 

Find ideas from your own experiences

Each one of us has so many experiences throughout each day. Most of them might not seem significant but that is because you’re not paying attention to them. If you start doing it consciously, even mundane experiences can result in exciting ideas. 

For example, I used to take a cab to work. One day, when it was raining heavily and I wasn’t able to book a cab, I wished I had a car. I realised that my dad would have had a car. I couldn’t picture him struggling to find a ride on an app on his phone. But I hadn’t bought a car because it was too much of an investment. Or was it really? I decided to do the math: Was it cheaper to use cabs for a year instead of owning a car? 

This idea gave birth to a story on how financial rules have changed over the past few years. Did it make sense for us to follow the rules that our parents followed? I found six such financial rules and that became a very interesting article.

This is how even small experiences can lead to big ideas. But you’ll have to make an effort to find them. It’ll seem tedious at first but then it’ll start happening almost subconsciously.

Find topic ideas from your expertise

I realise that all of us might not be experts. But a lot of us are relative experts. This means that we’re more of an expert at a topic than most other people. I’m a relative expert on the subject of investments. I’ve built this expertise by investing and by writing about investing for close to 14 years. 

When you’re a practical and theoretical student of a subject for such a long time, you become an expert at what you should be doing and what you should not be doing. When I was at ET, I’d spent a decade in the personal finance space. And one of the things I had understood really well was to not invest in closed-end equity funds

Closed-end equity funds are opaque and have no track record. Investing in them is akin to throwing darts in the dark. My relative expertise in this domain turned into an article that would help others make a wise investment decision.

Your subject market expertise can give you a ton of ideas to write about. If you’re not an expert on anything as yet, try to become one. Read more about that subject, get real and actual experience in that subject, find a mentor who knows more about the subject than you do. The more you’ll learn, the more ideas you’ll have. 

Find article ideas from current events

This news has been by far my biggest source of topic ideas. As a journalist, of course, but as a content marketer as well. There’s always something or the other happening in every industry and sector. And every event can be a topic to write about.

The Union Budget, for example. It’s probably the biggest event of the year for someone in the world of finance. For many years now, I’ve closely followed the pre-Budget buzz, watched the Budget and written about it. In fact, my 2017 Union Budget story was published on the front page of The Economic Times!

Every writer should stay abreast with the industry or vertical that they write about. You can do this through the media, by subscribing to the content from companies within the sector, by accessing press releases by government bodies, etc. My favourite way is through Twitter. 

Twitter is where news now “breaks” and it’s the best place to find various perspectives on every subject under the sun.

A current event can even be unrelated to your area or industry, but you can find a way to connect both. When MS Dhoni achieved a momentous milestone, I realised that there’s a lot that a lay investor can learn from his journey to the top. Cricket and investments had no direct connection, but this one that I found turned into a nice story.

Find article ideas from conversations

Talk to people. Talk to your friends, your family, your colleagues. Talk to strangers through platforms like Lunchclub. Get on Clubhouse and listen to what others are talking about. Listen to what people are saying, hear the questions they’re asking or the doubts they’re expressing, and turn them into articles.

As a journalist, I had numerous conversations with personal finance experts. During one such chat, the expert told me about the mistakes he’d committed when he started investing. This was a mistake that others would be able to learn from. So, I spoke to more experts and turned their mistakes into lessons for investors.

Find article topics from your competitors

If it makes you feel any better, think of it as inspiration and not copying. But do see what your competitors are up to. If you’re a journalist, read rival publications. If you’re a content writer, consume the content of similar companies, if you’re a personal blogger, read the blogs of your peers. You can check out what they’re writing about and try to make your version better.

I don’t have any specific article examples here, but when it comes to writing and marketing, I’m deeply inspired by Julian Shapiro. My goal is to provide value through my writing the way he does. 

Find article ideas from keyword research

For content writers and marketers, keyword research is often the primary source of article ideas. If your target audience is already looking for something, then you should definitely be writing about it. 

I don’t know if journalists today carry out keyword research or not, but I never did that when I was in the media. Keyword analysis and research became an important tool as a content marketer later on. It basically helps you understand what your target audience is searching for on Google. You can prioritize keywords based on search volumes and build content ideas around it. 

To do a keyword analysis, you can start out with a basic tool like Google Trends or use sophisticated products like SEMRush and Ahrefs. One more way of getting topic ideas out of a keyword is by searching for it yourself. Among the search results, Google will show you sections called ‘People also ask’ and ‘Related searches’. Both of these sections will give you article ideas.

For example, when I search for “blog post,” these two sections throw up 10-12 ready topic ideas. You can get more by simply looking at the articles that are ranking.

generate article ideas
generate article ideas

Find ideas from your thoughts and opinions

Opinions are like you know what, right? Everyone has them. Why not turn yours into articles? If you feel strongly about something, you should pen it down. Your opinion could be about the economy, a government policy, a new movie or series, a book, a protest, a sport or even a celebrity’s Instagram post. Own your opinion.

I often have strong opinions about millennials and the things they do. So I write about how they cite unavailability of cabs to be a threat to productivity or how they inconvenience me by being lazy, among other things. 

Your opinions are your article ideas. So are your thoughts, beliefs and ideas. Write about them, let the world know them.

Get ideating

These are some ideas on generating article ideas. Another way is by thinking about what questions would arise in a reader’s mind after reading an article of yours. Answering that your question could be your next article.

After reading this article, you’re probably thinking – What are the different types of articles or blog posts? Well, I’ll have that for you very soon.