When we ask “How should I choose what to write about?” what we’re really asking is: What’s the perfect topic to write about that’s guaranteed to not be a mistake?
Though this applies to more than writing — in theory — you can write about literally anything. Anything. Especially in the early stages of your online writing journey.
Taleb put it best when he said —
“Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty.”
I’m learning the hard way (read: sometimes those are the best lessons) that writing online is an iterative mess. When I once used to only write down ideas for pieces when “inspiration struck” I now log half baked thoughts, shards, and odd ends that often come together to form something as I arrange them.
They’re helpful, but they don’t directly answer the question “what should I write about?” They do something better: They give me material to latch onto and work with. The more you do the work the less you lurk.
It can feel like a fruitless process in the beginning — but that’s because that’s how all beginnings feel. They’re inherently promise-less. There are zero guarantees. Only one available path out of many.
As Pirsig puts it —
“You look at where you’re going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you’ve been and a pattern seems to emerge.”
See also —
“To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain that sustain life, not the top.”
When we’re constantly asking “what should I write about?” More often than not it’s us subconsciously asking for permission. We don’t want to make a mistake. We don’t want our work to fall flat. We don’t want to open our inbox to the notification from a hateful anonymous account.
We want to nail it the first time.
Still, choosing what to write about can start by making a list of anything and everything you’re interested in elaborating on. From there, once you write enough, certain ideas will start to stand out to you. Through the process, you’ll run into resistance more often than not. This is where persistence becomes relevant.
It helps to commit first, before diving in.
Yes, listening to audience feedback as you go is an important part of the puzzle to take into account. But often recurring questions are really masks for the real question at hand. They’re approximations of subconscious desires that we haven’t yet been made aware of.
The discovery process
In many ways “genius” happens when you’re obsessed with improving something for the fun of it. And when you’re obsessed about improving something simply out of pleasure, you don’t need motivation, or permission, or validation to start creating and refining your ideas as they come.
There’s an initial discovery process you don’t get to skip when you’re wondering what you “should” write about. It’s necessary to run through many ideas — a lot of which come from your natural inclinations.
The problem is never a shortage of ideas either. If you have thoughts, you have plenty to write about. Your natural inclinations can help you navigate what to write about and the rest, if done consistently enough, takes care of itself.
It took me a while to learn that I was keenly interested in writing about the creator economy. I kept circling around it with written thoughts about creativity, online business, writing online, failures and lessons learned and using internet leverage. But once I wrote enough about that list of interests, things became clear.
No permission necessary.
Tech has driven down the cost of creating resources that come with extreme upside — whether that’s software, content, or highly distributable packaged knowledge.
As we keep asking ourselves: “what should I write about?” it’s key to appreciate that there are innovations that make the iterative process a less painful one. Tech gives you lots of runway on which to play with, make mistakes, and discard ideas if they aren’t working. Ideas, no matter how great or small or appealing to a mass group of people they might be, can always be tested online, in a myriad of ways.
This then comfortably leads to the conclusion that choosing what to write about can be easy if you let it be. While there are ways to generate ideas and rework concepts, there isn’t a formula for learning the exact thing you should learn about — much like there isn’t a cure for the common cold.
“There are infinite shades of grey. Writing often appears so black and white.”Rebecca Solnit
As soon as I find myself asking what I should write about, I remember that:
- I don’t need explicit permission in the form of a “hack” or a “process” to find out what I “should” be writing about
- The more I write the more I know what I “should” be writing about
- The continual maturation of the internet makes it almost criminally easy to test ideas — that is, if you stick with them for long enough
Learning that you don’t need permission eliminates the question.