By Shaunta Grimes
You're all set up with ConvertKit, Upscribe, and Medium.
Now it's time to figure out what you're going to write about.
Here's the system I use.
Take an inventory.
Get out a notebook and make four lists.
What are things you’re good at.
My list looks like this:
I’m a professional fiction writer. I’m an idea person. I am very right brained. I’m a teacher, by nature. I have an adult child who has autism. My parents-in-law, who both have dementia, live with me. I’ve been very poor, but I’m not anymore. My father was in prison when I was a teenager. I grew up surrounded by addiction. I’ve lost 120 pounds.
You can see, I’m not just listing my jobs or things I’ve had some training in. There are parts of my life that I’m confident about speaking into from a place of experience and expertise. I can write about poverty, for instance, because I’ve been there. I can write about being fat and what it’s like to suddenly not recognize your body anymore.
What are things you aren’t good at, but you want to be?
My list looks like this:
I want to be an athlete again. I want to learn to play the guitar and write songs. I want to travel through Europe with a train pass and a backpack. I want to figure out indie publishing. I want to build an email list of 100,000, so I won’t need a traditional publisher ever again. I want to learn to tame my right-brainedness. I want to learn to sew. I want to work in a zoo.
Once I have that list, I can pick any item on it, make a plan for actually doing it. And then write about doing it.
I could decide to go all in one learning to play the guitar and write songs, and share what I’m doing and my progress. I could start planning and saving for a backpacking trip through Europe and share all of that. I may be moving soon to a city with a major zoo (for the first time since I was a teenager) and that might be a good chance to explore my fascination with working at one.
What are your most interesting life experiences?
My list looks like this:
I’ve been traditionally published. I have eight brothers and sisters. Our dad was in prison when I was a teenager. I married young and divorced young. I have been very poor. I’m not poor anymore. I have a son who has autism. My husband’s parents, who both have dementia, live with us. I have had weight loss surgery. I am in recovery from an eating disorder. I started a business that let me quit my day job.
You can see there’s some overlap with the first two lists.
I write a lot about online business, because it’s what’s happening in my life right now. I write from a place that’s somewhere between expert and learning out loud. Like I’m your big sister who’s a step or two ahead of you.
I write sometimes about living with autism and dementia at the same time. And about things like body acceptance and weight loss and where those two meet and crash into each other.
I could also write a daily “weird shit that happens at my house” post. Or take on body acceptance or poverty more squarely than I already do.
What are you interested in?
This is a slightly different question than both of the first two.
My list looks like this: I’m interested in personal finance, and being debt free in particular. I love books and movies and good television (in other words: stories, however I can get them.) I think a lot about creativity and productivity and where inspiration comes from.
Because creativity and productivity and inspiration tie in nicely with writing, which is my main focus, I write about them a lot. I write less about personal finance, but I have. Especially when I think about things like how artists and creatives can earn a living.
This is just a list of things you can mine for ideas. Look for intersections. Like: how does creativity stay alive when you’re part of the sandwich generation? Or why should fiction writers watch a lot of television?
Put it all together.
Take a look at your lists and decide which ones resonate the strongest with you.
For me, that’s: writing, starting a business, marketing, creativity, productivity, body positivity, weight loss, poverty, autism, dementia.
Head over to Quora.
Quora is a social media site where people ask and answer questions.
I mean ALL the questions.
Including questions about the topics you've identified as things you want to write about. So go search around there, find out what people are asking. You can answer them there, or just write down the questions as ideas for blog posts.
You want to collect at least 40 story ideas. I know that sounds like a lot, but I promise you'll thank me for it later.
When you're making your list, I want you to think about a few things:
Take a stand. It's not enough to give bare facts. For instance, someone once emailed me about a post she'd written that didn't get much attention. It was a very well-written, scientific article about how it's now possible to make meat in a lab, without killing an animal. That's a real steak--not tofu or beef food product--out of thin air. The problem is, she was neither disgusted nor fascinated.
Be disgusted or fascinated, if you can.
Also, it's okay to pick a fight. Every topic has a status quo. If you don't agree with it, that's what you should write about. There are other people who agree with YOU, and they need someone to speak up.
Tomorrow I'll be back to help you set up a couple of tools, like an editorial calendar and an idea file. Plus, you'll be writing your first post!
We’re hosting a live 90-minute co-working call for paying subscribers at 8:30 p.m. June 17 where Shannon and Shaunta will both be available to answer your questions and chat about your projects. Click the button below if you want to join that call!
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s represented by Elizabeth Bennett at Transatlantic Literary Agency and her most recent book is The Astonishing Maybe. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the original Ninja Writer.