When You Don’t Know What to Write About

14-Jan-2015

On Monday morning I had coffee with my close creative gal pal, Lindsey. Lindsey co-owns a grab-and-go food bar in OKC offering up clean eats like soup and salad, she does one-on-one nutrition and food coaching, and is always pursuing new training, certification, and degrees in her field of study. She is a dedicated student of her craft who just wants to help people feel better after they eat a meal. Lindsey loves reading The New Yorker, she regularly listens to foodie podcasts, and enjoys a good slow dinner with friends. Lindsey is also a really talented writer – the problem is she doesn’t know what to write about. She’s feeling stuck, but she’s not alone. The downside of being a creative for a living is having to create even when you’re feeling uninspired, blocked, or downright afraid. 

Together we brainstormed a few ideas of how she could structure her content and create systems for always having something to write about. We also talked about the fear of not being good enough and feeling inadequate when it comes to our own high standards. So today I thought I would share some of the ideas we came up with on our Monday morning coffee date in case you’re feeling stuck too. 

When you’re feeling stuck just mind the gap. 
First off, I know I’ve shared this Ira Glass quote before but it’s worth repeating:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

If you’re feeling like Lindsey, and every other creative entrepreneur who is a student of life, then you will constantly feel as if you’re coming across new gaps just as you close the old ones. That’s a good thing. It means you’re growing. But like Ira Glass advises – you just have to keep writing! Here are some ideas to get you going: 

When you don’t know what to write about – write about what you’ve been talking about. 
Don’t underestimate or take for granted your gifts of knowledge. What kinds of questions or conversations have you answered lately? Write about that! For example, as of yesterday I had no idea what I was going to post this week so I started mentally combing through my conversations with friends and clients. My Monday morning coffee with Lindsey was top of mind so now I’m writing about it and hopefully sharing something valuable with you along the way. 

When you don’t know what to write about – read something. 
Nothing gets my gears turning like reading a good memoir or self-development book. If it doesn’t spark entirely new topics or ideas to write about I’ll simply share a review. Not everyone has the time to read the book for themselves so write about what you learned from it or how it inspired you. My review of Daring Greatly caught Brené Brown’s attention and from there she became a Braid Method client! (Now if only Amy Poehler would become my BFF.)  



When you don’t know what to write about – share what you’ve been working on. 
What have you been working on lately? Write about it. It doesn’t have to just be the polished finished product. You can share the behind-the-scenes of your creative process. Tell the story of what it was like to truly help your client – paint a picture of what they looked like before and after working with you. So for Lindsey it might not be just writing about the benefits of vitamin C but sharing how her client shifted and transformed when she started eating foods that nourished her body and mind. 

When you don’t know what to write about – establish creative boundaries. 
The cool part about working for yourself is it means you get to do whatever you want. But being creative can be overwhelming when the sky is the limit. So create constraints for yourself. Define the parameters for what you want to create – that might be limiting yourself to a topic, word count, or deadline. It might be working from writing prompts (Alexandra Franzen has some great ones here). And remember, once you create some rules for yourself you can always break them. 

When you don’t know what to write about – dig into the details. 
Lindsey went to a writing workshop hosted by the very talented food and memoir writer Molly Wizenberg. I asked Lindsey for one great writing tip she learned from the workshop and she said that Molly keeps a little 1” frame on her desk – it reminds her that she doesn’t have to write about All The Things. That she can take one small detail or fragment from her life and create a really deep story about what she sees through a 1” frame. What a great reminder.

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