Do you want to write but don’t know how to get started? Here’s a few tips on how to come up with topic ideas, how to stop procrastinating, and how to overcome fears surrounding sharing your work.
Related: What is Writer’s Block? (Creative Block for Artists/Musicians)
Why you should write
Writing is one of the best ways to express oneself, and to teach, share, inspire, and connect with others. It’s limitless really, especially in the age of internet and multimedia. You can even combine your text with photographs, videos, voice recordings, and much more.
You know, long ago, the only way for humans to spread information from one brain to another was through talking and spreading the word from hear-say. This was of course really ineffective and human societies didn’t develop very fast. And then the written language entered the main stage and humans took up the challenge of teaching the big masses how to read and write (which has shown itself to have been a very worthy goal).
And of course, when the art and technique of printing came, that was a game changer as well. The written word suddenly became very important for the development of human society and the man-made world. Fun fact: The Bible and other religious texts were actually some of the first things to be passed around from mass-printing.
Now with a free and open internet, and common access to phones, computers, and the web, writing has reached yet another high. There are many ways you can reach out to others, to share, connect, teach, or just entertain.
For me, my preferred platform is to share my work on my own websites (such as this one), where I am the sole owner and where I am in complete control of my texts and what happens to them. But if you’re not as opposed to other people controlling you as I am, you may post your texts on forums, magazines, in prints, or on platforms owned by other people instead. But be aware, that if your work is solely on somewhere that someone else owns, then essentially, they own your work, and by extension, they own you.
Step 1 – Know thyself: Why are you writing?
To get started with writing, ask yourself why you want to write. Here are some common reasons:
- Self-expression: Just want to share thoughts, feelings, experiences, ideas, and opinions
- Teach: If you are a SME (subject matter expert), then you may want to write to teach others. Creating how-to guides, answering FAQs, and creating other types of information-based tutorials.
- Attention & recognition: Let’s not beat around the bush too much. Being seen, heard, and receiving attention for your work is not such a bad thing. It may not be the only reason you write, but it would very well be a part of it. Or it could also of course be the main reason.
- Inspire: Perhaps you are passionate about something, and you want to help contribute in that field of interest. This is often where curation, inspiration, and recommendations come into play. You want to share good stuff, strengthen the community, and contribute with more stuff.
- Creativity: You want to create new works of literature, or art. This is where creative writing, poetry, and novels are included. You may see writing as an art form, playing with words is fun, and coming up with original and new ideas and concepts is fun.
The reason I recommend starting with your why is because your reason for why will be your starting point every single time you sit down to write. It is not easy to motivate yourself to write, and to come up with new topics again and again. But if you know why you are doing it, then that will immediately enable your brain to hook onto something.
For example, when I started this particular website, my reason was to teach. My original aim was to teach as much about UX/UI design as I could. And so, if I didn’t know what to write about, I always returned to that. I asked myself for example:
- What questions are my followers on Instagram asking me about UX/UI design? (And write an article that answers that question)
- What types of new visual design trends can I learn myself and then make a tutorial on?
As you can see, these types of leading questions immediately bring the writer to a red thread to hang onto. Find your why, and you’ll find your way to what topics to write about.
Step 2 – How to stop prostacrinating and actually start writing
I think one of the biggest obstacles for people when it comes to any sort of creative work is to get started. I struggle with this myself when writing, or designing, or painting. And I think I’ve developed some pretty useful tactics.
- Get into a daily practice. If you go by “feeling”, your feeling will probably never get you to do any impressive amount of work. But if you go by daily habits, then you will always be getting work done. For me, for example, I write everyday. I do not need to publish an article everyday, but I make sure to, every day, sit down, and start writing. Most of the time, one sentence quickly becomes one paragraph, which becomes an entire section, which soon becomes a 1000+ word article about a particular subject.
- Let go of any pressure of creating something that has to be “good”. What you create does not have to be good. It can be the worst, it can be bad. It is allowed. You are allowed to create a lot of bad things, and you probably will. But for every 100 bad things you create, you’ll also create a lot of great ones. However, if you do not create at all, you will have created zero good things.
- Separate yourself from your work. I find that it helps to think that when I create things, I create for the sake of others. I create to provide value, beauty, or function for other people. It is not about me. My work is not me, and it is not for me. (If it were only for me, I would call it a hobby, not work). I find that it helps to sit down and think: Now, I am at service for my fellow beings. That’s my purpose for the next few hours or however long it will take me to finish the work I want to get done.
- Think: As long as one single person gets any type of value, help, inspiration, enjoyment or feel less alone from my work, it was worth it. (This takes away the pressure of needing to satisfy everyone who comes across your work. You don’t need to do that. You only need to provide value to those who are at a place in life to be able to get value from your work).
Step 3 – How to get over fears
There are a lot of fears people have around writing. Here are some of them and tips on what you can do to overcome them.
Fear that other people will think that you’re writing is bad
This is a big one. A lot of people want to be seen as good writers, but they are afraid that people will think the opposite. So, instead, they never actually write anything or publish anything. If you live like this, yes, sure, you won’t get any negative critiques, but you will also never actually get good at writing.
Becoming good at anything requires practice, repetition, and willingness to put yourself out there for critique and response, and then improving your skills accordingly.
Yes, it can be painful to have someone critique your work, but that’s why you should not identify yourself with your work. Your work is an output of you as a person, yes, but it does not define you. You as a person and your abilities are changing with every second of each day. You are never the exact same person as you were a moment ago, and so all your work will belong to an old you. Disconnect, and become free to do whatever it is you want to do in life.
Fear that you have nothing important to say
Do you want to write but stop yourself by thinking “Who do I think I am to tell anyone anything?” Or “I’m not special” or “No one will listen or read it, so I shouldn’t write it”?
Thoughts like these come from bad self-esteem or a habit of holding others and yourself up to too high standards. Bring everyone, including yourself, down to earth. No one has anything important to say because we’re all animals and nothing really matters. But while you are alive, you at least got the chance to raise your voice and show your existence.
It does not matter if what you write is ground-breaking or not. It does not need to be. As I mentioned earlier, as long as it gives any one single person any type or form of value, then your writing has provided something good in the world. Lean into that.
In general, being able to write takes practice. Study and read about the art of writing, and make your own work in whatever area you want. And then publish it and share it to the world and wait to see the responses.
It helps to be authentic. Don’t lie, or pretend. Just write what you would want to read yourself, and be honest and real. Let go of your ego, let go of any fears, and let yourself be an imperfect but helpful human being.
Step 4 – How to come up with topic ideas to write about
Here are a few ways that I come up with topic ideas to write about:
- Write about what you Google. If I Google about a topic to find answers, then I’m sure someone else is too
- Bring a notebook with you when you’re out and about and write down any random observations and thoughts you get throughout the day. Those can easily turn into writing topics
- Write about what’s important and painful to you right now. Anything you are struggling with, feeling pain around, or can’t stop thinking about, is human. And chances are, you are far from the only one having those thoughts. Here’s your chance to really connect with other people who are at the same place in their lives.
- Share things. Did you just discover something that made you excited, happy, or inspired? Share that to others, so that they also can experience those feelings!
- Do keyword research. This is more for SEO writers than hobby writers. But you can learn how to do keyword research. Keyword research entails different strategies to find out what keywords people are searching for on the web. You can then write articles and web pages around those keywords (e.g.blog posts), and your writings will then be found through search engines if you’ve done proper SEO (= Search Engine Optimization).
- Read and write about what you read. Most writers read a lot. It goes hand in hand. Ideas in <-> Ideas out. Most human knowledge, if not all, is created through reflecting and building upon prior thoughts and knowledge that has been received from other people. Whenever I am utterly empty of ideas to write about, I always pick up a book or go explore different Wikipedia pages until I find something that lights up my excitement. And that’s my new topic to write about. Easy and fun!
- Do you talk to yourself? Not everyone talks to oneself, but if you do, and you find yourself repeating a topic again and again, that may be a very satisfying topic for you to write about.
What to do with your writing
Here are some ideas of things you can do with your written piece:
- Save it in a document (e.g. Google Documents)
- Share it on social media
- Start a blog or website and publish it there
- Share it with friends, partner, or family members
- Print it out and stick it to a lamp post somewhere
- Submit it to an online magazine or publication
- Share it to a forum
You don’t have to share your work. But, it can be very satisfying to do.
I know it can be very scary to share your work, especially in the beginning, so when starting out you could always post your work anonymously. For many years I published things under a false name or entirely anonymously, not telling any friends or family about it. And still, my stuff found its way to many internet strangers who then became internet friends and who I connected with in a lot of unforeseeable ways.
No matter what you choose to do, I wish you all the happiness with writing, and I hope you let yourself do and be who you want to be.