I’ve come across many aspiring writers over the years who struggle to get going because they “don’t know what to write about.” Either that, or they find themselves stuck before they’ve even gotten started because they’re trying to choose a topic people will flock to by the masses.
In case you weren’t sure, this is absolutely NOT a good way to start out as a writer. Let me explain why.
When I was a young, naive, and admittedly desperate freelance writer, I jumped at any and every chance to work with clients who would earn me the experience and dollars I needed. This meant I could not get work in my desired field of coverage — health — because I had yet to prove I was a reliable source of work. (It’s a highly competitive niche because everyone thinks they’re a health expert, degrees or none.)
So in order to clock experience hours and prove my worth as a writer, I took on a lot of work that I honestly could not have cared less about. I wrote about men’s fashion. I wrote about travel. I hunted down inspirational quotes that were supposed to somehow motivate people to follow their dreams and quit all their bad habits.
It was paid work, and at the time, that was my main priority. I’m not complaining about that. I never would have done it if I wasn’t being compensated for my efforts.
But I’m certainly not proud of most of what I wrote during those long and desperate months. It was quality work, don’t get me wrong. There just wasn’t any feeling behind it. I did my best to fill my articles about fashion and celebrity quotes with life and excitement, but these simply weren’t the topic areas I was passionate about, and I knew it showed.
You can produce high-quality, well-researched, well-written work that reads like a textbook written by someone who loathes their job. A well-written article doesn’t automatically make it pleasant to read.
Eventually, I was fortunate enough to work my way up and into my niche of choice. My health articles received a lot of praise not just for their quality, but for their depth and enthusiasm — as much enthusiasm as you can logically insert into articles about disease and death, anyway.
What was the difference? The fact that I cared about those articles. Every single one of them.
That difference may seem small. But it has the potential to make or break your success as a writer.
Do you care about what you’re writing? Like, REALLY care? Because if there isn’t a deeper driving force behind your work besides “I think this will get a lot of clicks because it’s popular” or whatever, you’re not going to “feel” that piece of writing. And that’s going to shine straight through to your readers.
Guess what happens when you’re bored writing something? Your readers get bored reading it. What happens when you don’t care about the thing you’re writing about? Your readers don’t, either.
Putting your whole heart and soul into what you’re working on is what makes people care about the subject matter you’re writing about. If you want people to truly care about what you’re putting out into the world, YOU have to care about it first. If you don’t, they never will.
So if your writing goals revolve around calls to action, convincing people to change their lives or behaviors, giving people something to walk away with or think about after reading what you’ve written, the first step toward accomplishing this goal is to choose a topic or range of topics (your “niche(s)”) that interest you, and to avoid topics that don’t interest you if possible.
Will their be points throughout your career that you’ll have to write about things you’re not totally invested in? Of course. Welcome to the real world, where good writers are highly sought after but not always in the areas they’re most passionate about! Someone once asked me if I could write their website’s sales pages for them. Which would have been fine, if they weren’t trying to sell vacuums?
The hope is that you get to a place where you have the luxury of picking and choosing what you write about and what you don’t. But that privilege comes with experience. It’s always been my belief that everyone should have to start at the bottom and work their way up. For me, writing about men’s fashion was simply the freelance writing version of washing dishes at Panera Bread. I did my time. I’m in a much better position now. (For the record, my brother washes dishes at Panera, among other things, and he’s an amazing person. But he can’t wait for the next step!)
Write about what you care about. Put passion behind your words and let it fuel your productivity. It doesn’t matter if what you care about is “popular” or “marketable.” Do what you love and an audience of interested readers will be drawn to your work. It takes time, patience, and many hours of work without reward. But it will be worth it in the long-term. I promise.
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 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.