When I fall out of my writing habit, most often it’s because I can’t decide what to write about. Choosing an article topic can be paralyzing. Here’s an exercise I use to come up with new topics. Afterward, the issue is not that I have too little to write about, but too much.
When coding, you don’t let “not knowing what to code about” stop you, do you?
No, you have a process to turn bug reports and feature requests into code. Having a process for problem-solving, like design thinking, get’s you unstuck and gets you moving forward.(For more on solving coding problem deliberately, check out this post from Justin Fuller: How to understand any programming task.)
Writing can be the same. And it’s important to keep up, It’s been one of the best skills I’ve leveraged to improve my career.
There’s plenty of places to look for initial topic ideas:
Once you have a topic, run it through the format gauntlet, and voila! Several new starting points for posts. Let’s take “refactoring a react components” because that’s one I pulled out of “recent challenges from work.” Your topics might look something like this:
“My topic doesn’t mesh well with one or more of the formats.”
No worries. Skip it and continue moving forward. You’re going to come up with more potential topics then you could write so don’t sweat it.
Write “X” instead. You don’t have to know the exact count until the end.
“I started writing, and it went off the rails.”
You don’t have to commit to these ideas. Sometimes I end up starting one article and finishing another.
“This topic is too long; I’ll never finish this!”
“Writing about technical stuff is boring.”
Articles don’t have to be technical. Plenty of developers also like reading about topics like soft skills and career tips.
“I’m not trying to be a guru here. Why am I acting like I’m the expert?”
Your goal should be above all else, to be helpful. You aren’t writing for yourself; you are creating a small thing that can help someone else in the world. And isn’t that something we all enjoy doing?
“I Don’t know which topic to pick.”
Short answer, whichever one you can write, finish and publish. You can’t help anyone if you don’t ship. The whole goal here is to get over the paralysis of not knowing what to write about. Just take some inventory, sketch out some ideas, and get started! The more you write, the more you’ll find you have to say. Writing is a marathon, and you can switch lanes at any point.
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