How to Generate Topical Writing Ideas
Capture the Zeitgeist
The dilemma for every writer is how to select a topic that engages your audience. Should you write about something in the news (about which you know very little)? Or do you stick with a familiar subject (but may not have mass appeal)? The key to success is to try and do a little of both. You capture the zeitgeist by selecting a trending topic. You can then add your own viewpoint to make it a more personal story.
How do you find out what people are interested in? What does it mean when people say a topic is trending? Where are the best places to measure the public mood? The following tips will help you pinpoint an appropriate theme for your next article.
- What is trending on the internet?
- Which books are in the bestseller lists?
- Try something new.
- Think outside the box.
1. What is Trending on the Internet?
If you want to know what everyone is reading and sharing online, you need to search the word “trending”. The resulting websites will vary depending which search engine you use and where you live. For example, the top 5 listed results from my UK search via Google brought up the following.
Each of them has a different story as their headliner. Today both the BBC and YouTube have serious world news stories as the most searched for items. Buzzfeed and WhatsTrending feature popular culture/ celebrity stories and Metro focuses on sport. One of these themes will appeal to you more than the others and that is the one you should choose for your article topic. You have a potential audience of millions. Make your story catch their attention by adding a personal angle.
Whenever you connect to the internet, your physical location is recorded by the search engines. If you have a specific target audience in mind, you can narrow down your topics by looking at trends by location. Google Trends is a good website to use for this. You can search for trending topics by country or subject category. You can also go to your favorite social media (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or Snapchat) and see what is being shared and liked in your community.
Best Ways to Find Out What's Trending
2. Which Books Are in the Bestseller Lists?
There are many book-lists you can refer to for inspiration. My favorite ones are Amazon’s bestseller lists and The New York Times Best Sellers. The book lists can be sorted by format and genre as well as by month and year. Seeing what themes top a popularity chart will give you a feel for what is current and topical. It is said that in a recession, escapism and fantasy do well. Biographies tend to peak after someone dies or on an anniversary of their death.
Home in on the ones that pique your interest rather than on those that occupy the very top chart positions. You will find it easier to put your unique touch on a subject if you are genuinely engaged with it yourself.
3. Try Something New
Another way to generate new ideas for writing articles is to study a new skill or take up a hobby. As you expand your interests you will meet different people. In class discussions, notice which topics encourage everyone to contribute. What do people say during break-time on that theme? Do their views change when the tutor is not present? You may learn about an aspect to a news story that intrigues you. This could spur you to investigate the subject further. The result could be you write a fascinating opinion piece.
Hearing things from a novel perspective can help clarify your own thoughts. Enlist on a course that is outside your comfort zone. If you are normally a studious academic person your new interest could be an exercise class like yoga or boxercise. If you usually run a mile from anything with numbers or logic, join a chess class or practice a precision skill like Japanese Kanji.
4. Think Outside the Box
All the tips in this article are different veins of that writer’s friend known as creative thinking. To be a successful writer you must master the skill of thinking outside the box to generate ideas.
In a recent TED talk, Professor Giovanni Corazza of the University of Bologna highlighted what it takes to be creative. He says “A quick jump out of the box is more insightful than a lifetime of standard thinking.” His talk (in the video below) covers the following key points.
- To be creative, you need to practice out-of-the-box thinking.
- Be aware of your assumptions. Unfounded assumptions prevent you from thinking creatively.
- Value ideas by how they fit as an ensemble, not individually.
- Apply theories and concepts to areas that are unusual.
- Creative thinking is about finding many alternatives and choosing the best one. There is no right answer.
- Creativity includes making mistakes.
- Combine different disciplines to create new ideas.
Creative Thinking Helps You Escape the Boundaries of Your Box
Creativity is not something that only happens when you put your mind to it. Some of my best ideas for articles have appeared out of nowhere. Of course, that is not strictly true. I will have been mulling over various topics for several days. Generating new ideas takes place unconsciously while you are busy with everyday life.
Allow your thoughts to wander as you complete your daily chores. Be kind to yourself and you too will have a “lightbulb moment”. Have a few notepads and pens dotted around the house and when that winning idea for a surefire article arrives you can jot it down right away.