If You Don’t Know What You Want to Write About, Read This

Sometimes the “selfish” thing turns out to be the best thing.

Writing for an audience is one of the first things you’re taught in grade school. Every essay starts with your purpose for writing and who you’re writing “to.”

Sometimes, this creates the false notion that you’re supposed to seek out a specific audience and write what they want to read about. Even I’ve made this mistake, in trying to start new creative projects. Audience matters … so shouldn’t you give them what they want?

That’s not exactly the right way to go about it. At least, I don’t personally believe so.

Actually, I think the approach that you need to write what everyone wants to read is the worst writing advice you could take to heart.

Yes, you need to write for a specific audience.

Yes, you need to know as much about that audience as possible and cater to their needs, interests, and desires.

But it’s also important to remember that you can’t please an audience who can tell you don’t care about a topic. And if you’re writing about something just because you know it’s popular and people will like it, and you actually couldn’t care less about it, people will see that. And they won’t stick around.

Maybe the better approach is to write about what you want to write about, find the audience that will gravitate toward your content, and establish yourself in that niche.

There is an audience for everything. It might not be a big audience. But I can pretty much guarantee you are not the only one who likes cars, or Star Trek, or birds, or whatever that thing is that you could write about endlessly, day after day, for the rest of your life.

I think everyone has that level of interest in something. And if you’re searching for something to write about, to me, it seems the most natural next step is to take that thing you love and find a way to write about that thing as much as possible.

It’s not that making money as a writer doesn’t matter. Trust me, I know how much it matters. But just because you might have a hard time gaining traction (and cash) at first doesn’t mean you won’t be able to later. And even if you never “make a living” off your Star Wars blog or whatever, let me ask you this: Are you having fun? Do you enjoy what you’re doing? Are you happy, even if this isn’t your day job?

Sometimes, that’s enough. Not all side hustles have to be about making as much money as possible. Often, the first step — if more steps come after — is to just write about something you love, to create a small but mighty community of people who love that thing, too.

Isn’t one of the greatest things about writing that it brings people together — whether they agree or disagree, like the same things or don’t, come from similar backgrounds or vastly different ones?

It’s a good starting point. Don’t forget that building a career as a writer comes with a lot of tiny stepping stones you have to navigate. Don’t worry about what comes next. Even if this only ends up being “practice” for you, that’s still important. You’re figuring out what you like and don’t like; what works and doesn’t work. You’re already one step ahead of many people who just try to get popular without putting their full effort behind something they’re actually passionate about.

You just never know where a seemingly random and weird obsession might take you, if you start writing about it. What do you really have to lose?

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Hey! I’m vlogging my way through NaNoWriMo. Here’s yesterday’s video.

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5 thoughts on “If You Don’t Know What You Want to Write About, Read This

  1. When I was in primary school and learning how to write, we didn’t really focus on identifying audiences (that was only for nonfiction, whereas for fiction, your audience is literally the teacher, so nobody cared).

    But when I read up more about genre fiction especially, I realised a lot of it is targeted at particular groups of people, and while I get why writers do that, a lot of it begins feeling repetitive – the tropes, the language. A genuine interest makes the writer want to make their work shine, and the excitement you have is definitely transferable to the readers.

    Really good advice in your article today. What we all need is to have faith it’ll turn out alright if we follow our passions. :)

  2. It’s interesting how people talk about “finding your audience”, and yet we’re overlooking the fact that as the author we are the first audience, and, in theory, there are others “like me”, no matter what a person is like. Everyone is unique, but everyone is a unique combination of shared interests and attributes.

    Granted, identifying and understanding a target audience is something I’m going to research in the future, but I tend to agree that it’s best to start with a story you would like, and then tweak it as necessary to appeal to a larger audience.

    1. Sometimes your audience even finds you on their own. I rarely reached out to other bloggers in the early days of this blog, readers kind of just showed up after a few years haha. A bit of both is probably best.

      1. True. I’m more thinking about the idea that many agents and publishers want a concept of the audience demographic; interests, lifestyle, etc. In some ways it feels a bit like genre conventions, and is like to learn who is out there, so to speak.

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