When You Don’t Know What to Write
A 4-step process to find your inspiration
It’s happened to me more than once. I’ve been all jazzed up for a writing session with no inspiration.
There might not be any more troubling circumstance for a writer. If I had writer’s block, I’d know what to do. But that’s not my problem here. The problem is that I’m all tapped out of ideas. At least, that’s what I think. I’m a runner all dressed up with no race to run.
What do you do when you don’t know what to write?
When you are a writer without an idea, you feel lost. Confusion and fear easily take root. I wasted so many years of trial and error to figure out the simple solution that I want to share with you in this article.
If you’ve ever been there, take heart. You are not alone.
Just look at this screenshot from my personal Ahrefs account (keyword search tool). It shows that there are approximately 2.5 thousand searches for “What to Write About” on Google each month.
That’s a whole lot of people not knowing what to write. And that’s where my four-step strategy comes into play.
Let’s take a look.
Step 1: Process your emotions
Fear, anxiety, and self-judgment will only slow you down and hold you back from unleashing your inner writer.
You can stave off these undesirable effects by fully and efficiently processing your emotions.
Here’s how you do it:
- Identify your specific feeling (angry, sad, frustrated, or others).
- Express your feeling to yourself and, if possible, to someone else who will listen with patience and care.
- Accept and appreciate your feeling (instead of judging, criticizing, or ignoring it).
How do you appreciate feelings like anger and sadness?
You can express gratitude for the human experience of emotions and be thankful for the message behind the emotion. Every emotion is trying to communicate something to you.
In this case, it might be that you really care about your writing and that perhaps more preparation is needed for future writing sessions.
Disclaimer: Each emotion can have its own message, and each message is usually customized for the individual person.
In other words, there are patterns of emotions and messages, but what we can learn from our feelings is as unique as each of us.
Step 2: Acknowledge the fallacy
Part of the reason we feel trapped is that we believe a lie. The lie is that we are all out of ideas.
It’s important that we call a fallacy a fallacy so we don’t give it undue power over our mood and mental state. We need to acknowledge the lie so that we can get on with finding our source of inspiration.
You accomplish step two by expressing verbally and in writing that the statement, “I am all out of ideas” is a lie and why it is a lie.
According to the Harvard Bussiness Review, there is an infinite amount of ideas in the world:
However, in most organizations, innovation isn’t hampered by a lack of ideas, but rather a lack of noticing the good ideas already there.
It’s not an idea problem; it’s a recognition problem.
To say that you are out of ideas is to promote the premise of a creative pandemic. You know that’s not true. I know that’s not true. However, you must write it down and say it out loud to take away its power.
There is no shortage of ideas. In just a moment, I’m going to show you how to prove it to yourself.
Step 3: Find your source of inspiration
You might be wondering where your hidden source of inspiration might exist.
As I said in the introduction to this article, the source is much closer than you might think. There have been tons of other articles written that share tips and techniques to find ideas.
I’m not going to repeat their techniques here. I simply want to share with you the source that has been most effective for me over the last 20 years.
I’ve used this source when generating ideas for short stories, novels, and peer-reviewed journal articles.
I’ve used the same source to make an initial list of ideas for blog posts when I started my website. And I still use this source every single day to come up with new ideas for articles to write.
What is this magical source of endless information and inspiration?
My existing content.
More times than not, the best idea for the next article is hidden in plain sight. In fact, 99% of the time I find my next idea in my last idea.
The more content you create, the bigger your pool of inspiration.
Step 4: Cull your content for a new idea
The obvious next question is, how do you find inspiration for your next piece of content by looking at your currently published content?
From my experience, inspiration usually strikes in two ways:
- Topic spinning
- Source spinning
Let’s take a closer look at these sources of inspiration.
Topic & research spinning
I write a lot about self-improvement, psychology, writing, and relationships.
One of the benefits of focusing on these topics is that the general idea from one topic can almost always be easily spun for another audience.
What do I mean by topic and source spinning?
If you’re not familiar with spinning, it’s rewriting content so that it is completely original. Not to be confused with article or content spinning, which is using computer software to “spin” out plagiarized content that plagiarism checkers might not catch.
Don’t do that. You will get in trouble.
In topic spinning, you take an idea, examples, and quotes from one article and write a new article for a new audience. Basically, you are “borrowing” some elements from one of your existing articles to create a whole new, original article.
For example, I can write an article about a psychological hack to build trust in personal relationships. Then, I can spin much of the same information (examples, citations, quotes, etc.) into an article about building trust in the workplace.
This is not copying and pasting. That would be duplicate content and wouldn’t do you any good. In fact, that would most likely do harm to your reputation and ability to gain traction on whatever platform you are publishing your work.
You can take a similar approach with your sources. You apply a cited source from one article to another, new article.
The key is to write a completely original article that takes the old idea and makes it a new idea applied to a new audience. Most topics and sources can be “reinvented” for a new audience.
Here are a few audiences to consider:
- Romantic relationships
- Family relationships
- Career and the workplace
- Personal growth or self-improvement
As a concrete example, I wrote this article on a technique for general focus:
I could easily write another article on “paying attention to your partner” using many of the same quotes and research sources. I could even use the same focusing techniques described in my article but apply them to personal relationships instead of tasks and projects.
Final thoughts and takeaways
My process works wonders for me. I hope you get the same results for your own writing.
It’s a simple, practical solution. The best part is that the more content you create, the bigger your pool of inspiration.
Here are the four steps again for your quick reference:
- Process your feelings
- Acknowledge the fallacy
- Find your source of inspiration — your existing body of content
- Cull your content for new ideas
99% of the time I find my next idea in my last idea.
Hi! I'm a freelance writer and blogger who runs a portfolio of websites.