How to Find a Writing Topic

If you are one of those people who take a break from writing only long enough to sleep, you are in a pretty small group, and I envy you. You are most likely among the writers like me who work hard for a period of time followed by long spans of nothing. It’s so frustrating!

For two years I had a weekly column in a small newspaper with a circulation of 50,000. I loved the opportunity and it was rewarding. It was also challenging. I didn’t write in series, so every column was a new topic. There were weeks that reminded me of my many years of piano lessons. I usually didn’t work on the assigned music until the day of my visit with the teacher. The music I played all week was what I wanted to play. Sometimes I wrote the column and dashed to the newspaper office a few minutes before it was due.

The column was called “Issues of the Heart”. Even though I was a pastor of a small church at the time, I didn’t write about religion and my topics were anything but preachy. I found my writing inspiration from the things I saw and experienced during the week. For example, I was at the grocery store and noticed a police officer standing next to his patrol car using one of those long blade-like tools to unlock his door. He had locked his keys in his own police car! So, that week the column was about taking notice of things that are out of the ordinary and being awake to the possibility of seeing the unexpected.

I didn’t write about my church or the people in it, although I had access to a great many writing topics. I avoided them for obvious reasons. That was almost thirty years ago, so maybe it’s safe to talk about an example or two now. I always despised visiting people in their homes. I felt trapped by them even though I don’t think that’s how they felt. Or maybe they did. I don’t know. I just hated it. I didn’t mind going to hospitals, and I visited every-other day one of our parishioners was a patient. It always amazed me, almost to the point of gagging, literally, how folks were so willing to talk about their physical problems in gross detail! One man who was having some urinary issues said, “They reamed out the penis!” I thought I would faint. His wife was sitting right there beside him! I wanted to yell, “Stop talking!!” I left almost immediately. I could have written about the organist who played a funeral dirge every Sunday before service. Or about the board member who came in my office five minutes before I was to go to the pulpit and say something that might mean something to someone, to tell me our dog bit the building contractor.

I wrote about every day life stuff. I wrote about the death of JP McCarthy, the well-loved voice of WJR in Detroit. His was the voice everyone listened to for calm in storms and answers to questions. He was taken many years before retirement from radio was in sight. I wrote about an argument our community was having about a company that wanted to build a juvenile detention facility in our small town. That was a hot topic and there were many responses to the column.

Finding topics really isn’t the issue with writing. They’re everywhere. The problem is dealing with the fear that stops us from writing because we’re not sure people will like what we say. Our mind challenges every line. Every time we start writing we think of a dozen reasons why we can’t write the topic well enough.

If the question of people liking what we say is the reason we write, then we’re wrong for writing. The basis of writing should be having something to say, not detailed calculations about how many likes we’ll get or how many books we’ll sell. People see right through that. No one likes to listen to someone who they know is only saying things they suspect the listener wants to hear.

If you have something to say, than you are the best person to write it. If writing pleases you, then do it. Just write.

So, do you wait until something hits you, or just write to write? If you’re waiting for something from the outside, then you’re not in charge of your writing. If you write because you love writing then the world of topics is yours.

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