All writers occasionally grasp for topics. How often have you wondered what to blog about or what to write about when it comes time to create engaging content for your niche market? Many writers believe in waiting for inspiration to strike, which can certainly work, but such tactics carry risk. Rather than sitting and staring blankly into space, why not take the time to develop an inventory of nonfiction topics?
What to Blog About?
This exercise is adapted from the book The Curious Researcher by Boise State University professor Bruce Ballenger whose approach has shaped my practices as both a teacher and a writer. Whether you brainstorm on paper or at the computer is up to you.
- Consider the follow general topic categories: Controversies, Habits, History, Hobbies, Jobs, People, Places, Technologies, Things, Trends
- 15 Minutes: Make four columns and label each with the categories that appeal most to you. Now brainstorm words and phrases that reflect what you know and what you might like to know about it. Don’t hesitate! Once you run out of steam, choose another topic and start the process over in a new column.
- 10 Minutes: Take a short break. Now return and continue adding to your columns. This could even be completed over a few days. An added challenge would be to tackle all ten categories or to invent new ones as needed.
- Look over your material. Circle the topic that seems to have the most potential in terms of lending itself to further development and that you are genuinely curious about.
- 5 Minutes: Now make a list of questions that your writing could seek to answer about that topic. Now you have a preliminary topic that you can begin to focus for a draft of a blog post, personal essay, or informational nonfiction article.
Your topic inventory is never complete. Return to it from time to time or create one from scratch on a regular basis. Some of the best thoughts only occur when you set down to capture them on the page.
Loop writing is also a great technique that can be used in conjunction with this exercise.
A Quicker Inventory
Pressed for time? Here is a curtailed version of what’s above. This shortened version also works well for use with students.
- Turn a piece of paper sideways and label five columns with the following labels: Things I Love, Things I Hate, My Possessions, Trends (what’s popular), Values/Ideals (origins of beliefs)
- 5-7 Minutes: Jump back and forth between each column as you jot down words and phrases as they come to you.
- 1 Minute: Circle one item on each list that could become the topic for a personal essay where you attempt to voice your feelings on it.
- 15 Minutes: How has each circled item shaped or motivated you as a person? Cluster, list, or freewrite for three minutes on each of those five potential topics. Get down anything and everything that pops into your mind.
- Now put a star by the topic you will most likely develop.
This exercise also lends itself to group discussion when done in an educational or work-training setting.
What about you? How do you plan what to blog about?
Please share responsibly. Jeri Walker, 2013.