Monday, January 27, 2014

Writing Tip - What to do When You're Stuck for a Topic

I've been fishing for a topic on what to write this week and so far, all I've got is wet bait. So, what do I do?

Change fishing holes? Tried it.

Change the bait? Tried it.

Stop fishing? No, I don't think so. How will that accomplish anything?

I'm going to follow the same advice I would give anyone else. Write. Write anyway. Write something.

Which is exactly what I'm doing here. I'm hoping that while I'm writing, something good will come out of it and I'll actually have something important to tell you about what to do when you're stuck for a topic to write about.

I do have a book. Is it a book if it's a cube that is about four inches by four inches? It's bound, so I guess it's a book. It contains 786 ideas to jump-start your imagination. The title is The Writer's Block by Jason Rekulak.

Randomly flipping through it here are some ideas:


  • To Outline or Not To Outline
  • Sibling Rivalry
  • Describe the Worst Date of Your Life
  • Superstitious
  • Conformity
  • Clueless
  • Write a Story That Begins with an Explosion


I have other books too, to stimulate the writing part of my brain. Books about creative writing exercises. The Pocket Muse by Monica Wood is a good one.

If I flip through The Pocket Muse I come up with the following ideas:

Who is the tallest person you know?
Fill in the blank: When I first told my family about ________________ they didn't believe me.
Top Five Jobs for Writers based on an informal and deeply flawed poll:

  • Security Guard
  • Parrot Trainer
  • Bounty Hunger
  • Greeter at Walmart
  • Neurosurgeon

These either net you lots of material or lots of time.

Ten Commandments for a Happy Writing Life:

  1. Don't wait for inspiration; establish a writing habit.
  2. Take time off.
  3. Read voraciously.
  4. Shut out the inner critic.
  5. Claim a space.
  6. Claims some time.
  7. Accept rejection.
  8. Expect success.
  9. Life fully.
  10. Wish others well.

Write about the first time you truly understood that all life ends in death.

What is the subject you are avoiding? Write it down.

Write a piece --fiction or nonfiction, poetry or script-- in which three objects exist at the beginning and only one at the end.

So, what do you think? Is there something in there for a topic to write about? Sure there is. And what's more, I just found another book I have titled 1,000 Creative Writing Prompts by Bryan Cohen.

Do you want to know what's in there? Well, let's flip through it and see what we come up with:


  • The top 5 costumes you've ever seen on Halloween. Whey there were so memorable to you and why you wish you'd thought of them first.
  • Summer fling? Ever had one? If so, write about it; if not, make up your ideal summer relationship.
  • If you could choose any place to be your home; to be a place that you felt comfortable in and could enjoy most of your days where would it be? Feel free to choose anywhere in the world, even if it's somewhere you haven't been.
  • Who is the most successful person you know? What can you learn from this person that is applicable to your own life? Write about a meeting with this big achiever in which you learn all of his or her secrets.
  • Your significant other becomes a millionaire and starts buying stuff for you all the time. How does that make you feel? can you use your lessons to become wealthy yourself?
  • You are very intoxicated at a bar and you completely black out. You wake up the next day with an unknown partner in your bed. How do you deal with the situation and what do you tell your friends who were at the bar with you?
  • Shakespeare comes over for dinner. What do you make him and what do you and your family/friends talk about with him?
  • Talk about a time in which you lost your voice and had to communicate without language. What did you do and how did it change the way people interacted with you?
  • While dreaming you think of the most amazing novel you have ever conceived of. As you wake up, you scramble to a notebook and begin writing. What happens next?
  • You have found yourself in the cartoon world of a popular movie or television show. How do you interact with the other characters and how does the style of animation affect you?
  • What would you consider to be success in American society? What would be failure? What would have to happen for you to be willing to compromise your vision of success?
  • Write about a time you had a run in with the law. It may have been something as simple as being pulled over or something ... a bit more serious. Talk about your experience from beginning to end and detail your emotions throughout.

Well, what do you know. I did it. I helped figure out what to do when stuck for a topic to write about. The best thing for me to do is browse my bookshelf and flip through all my writing prompt books. There is always something to write about.

Another tip is to change how you write. Write in a different location. Write with a different writing instrument. If you write on the computer. Try longhand and vise versa. Shake things up a bit and see what happens.

By the way, the above advice comes from Eating an Elephant by Patricia Charpentier. Pretty good advice, I'd say.

Now, I ask you this question: How do you figure out a topic when you can't think of something to write about?