What to Write About When You Don’t Know What to Write About

Your writing does not want boundaries.


Do you blame your lack of writing productivity on writer’s block? You’re not alone. Unfortunately, whether you believe it’s a real thing or not, it’s still just another excuse for not writing anything. When you “don’t feel like it” or “can’t write,” what you’re actually convincing yourself is that you don’t have anything of value to write about. And that just isn’t true.

What do you do when you feel “blocked”? Do you go for a walk? Read a book? Watch Netflix? I can’t say I know the “right” thing to do when you try to write but can’t. There likely isn’t one correct way to do it. But I do know one thing you shouldn’t do: give up on writing. Yes, sometimes taking a short break for five or ten minutes helps to clear your head. But I don’t believe you can “fix” your problem by deciding you’re just “not in the mood” to write.

Not knowing what to write about, for some reason, trips people up all the time. “I can’t think of anything to write.” I have this problem sometimes when I’m blogging, especially on Wednesdays (heh…). But have I ever skipped a post, ever, in the past 18 months because I “couldn’t think of anything to write about”? Nah. Here’s what I write about when I can’t think of what to say.

I just start writing what I’m thinking.

I don’t think about what I’m going to write. I just start writing.

Sure, that tends to result in a piece of writing that’s all over the place and doesn’t have any linear structure and doesn’t even always make a good point by the time it’s over. But you’ve been misled if you believe everything you write has to be publishable. You’re wasting your time if you decide the only time you are “allowed” to write is when you are going to create a first draft worth revising. You’ll never get anything done if that’s the way you operate.

Write about how your day is going. Write about a person who’s getting on your nerves. Write about how you’re feeling. Out of those things usually comes something of value – something you can use. But if you produce nothing, you’re going to have that much harder of a time coming up with something new.

Emotion makes up a large percentage of our writing fuel. So what’s so bad about writing about what’s frustrating you right now, or what’s making you sad, or what’s bringing you joy? It’s true that most of the world doesn’t care about your feelings, but who’s to say that means you’re not allowed to express them?

Even still, writing may do a pretty good job of conveying emotion, but writing itself is not an emotion. It’s not just something you feel. It’s something you actually have to sit down and do. There are days I am behind on blog posts and I’m overwhelmed and I really struggle to figure out what I’m going to write about. I don’t quit. I don’t just walk away and do something else. I think about you (my readers) and I think about what I can bring to the table, and I come up with something and I write it and it’s there forever.

If I only wrote when I felt confident about a post, I would very rarely, if ever, post. If you don’t know what to write about, honestly, just start writing. I cannot say that enough. It doesn’t matter if it’s the best post you have ever written or the best story you have ever told. It’s not going to make or break your writing career. Yes, in some cases, it’s different. I can’t show up to work and write garbage and just shrug it off. Many people struggle to write when there isn’t any pressure … yet they put unnecessary pressure on themselves to do it “exactly right.” Stop it! You are never right 100 percent of the time. If other people expect that of you, their opinions don’t matter.

So what are you going to write about? It could be anything. Once when it was snowing out, I wrote an entire short story about being lost in a blizzard. Did I ever do anything with it? No. But I had fun, I used up some of my creative energy, I got myself into a flow state and I went on to make progress on other projects even though I hadn’t planned on it. Your writing does not want boundaries. Don’t lock your creativity in a cage and expect it to obey your every command on the rare occasions you let it out to play. Just be weird. Being “the best” is overrated.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.