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Thursday, June 2, 2011

How Do You Choose a Writing Topic?

It’s difficult for me to make decisions, especially when faced with an array of equally desirable choices.  Right now I want to start writing seriously.  My problem is choosing a topic.   

For most aspiring writers, the problem is finding time to write.  Everything I’ve read about writing, and I’ve read a lot, recommends cutting everything out of your life except writing.  At the most, you may be allowed to keep one outside activity.  Sacrifice is the key word.  You must sacrifice your book club, your gym workouts, time spent with family and friends, cooking dinner every night, watching TV.  You must sacrifice all these and lay them on the altar of The Writing Project.   

But at this point in my life, I have the time.  I don’t have a job.  My children are grown and gone.  I have my own quiet space to write.  So the only thing holding me back is choosing a topic.  It’s not that I can’t think of a topic.  The problem is choosing one of several topics I’d like to write about.  

How do I go about doing that? 

A couple of days ago I was reading an article by a neuroscientist.  He talked about a phenomenon we’ve all experienced:  when you focus on a problem, the solution can be quite elusive.  Then, seemingly out of nowhere, you suddenly know what to do.  Or that name you couldn’t think of pops into your mind, hours or even days after you quit thinking about it.  According to the neuroscientist, your subconscious mind was working on it all along, unbeknownst to you.   

I’m hoping the same phenomenon works in decision-making.  So for the past couple of days I’ve tried not to think about what to write.  I just tossed it out there, like Noah releasing the dove.  I trust that my subconscious is grinding away at the problem.  So far, I haven’t had any revelations.  Perhaps the answer might not appear as a revelation.  Perhaps it will be more understated.  Perhaps I need to pay attention to subtle hints or piece together mysterious clues.  But then, doesn’t this bring me back to consciously thinking about solutions, instead of relying on my subconscious to do the work?    

No doubt I’m overthinking this whole decision-making process.  When the right topic comes along, I'll just know.  Or I need to close my eyes, choose a topic, and see where it goes.  Just jumping in sometimes works surprisingly well.

So here I am, still waiting for that revelation.  I’d settle for just a whisper or a nudge.  I’m trying not to dwell on it.  But it’s like telling yourself not to think about an elephant.


  1. Cassie,

    I'm there. I feel your angst.

    Your subconscious mind is indeed working on this for you. Your reticular activating system is scanning the environment for your topic. The key now is letting it go. You know, the old adage "A watched pot never boils."

    Some things that I'm trying include writing for an hour a morning on my "book". I'm acting as if I am there and telling my subconscious mind I'm serious. Most days I am just doing fast writing. No theme is emerging, yet.

    The other thing is I wrote my intention down: " I know the subject and content matter of my best-selling book. Its' content flows through me easily." I tell myself this frequently throughout the day. I have private conversations with myself as if I had the writing well underway. Please share what begins to work for you. Good luck!

    I hope this helps. Remember this dream would not be a seed in your heart if it wasn't to bloom on your path.

  2. Thank you for your comments, Karen. I'm going to try your method of just sitting down and writing every day "as if," and using some self talk to get my mind percolating in the right direction. Thanks for taking the time to suggest these methods. I really appreciate it! It's nice to communicate with other people who are trying to accomplish the same thing I am. Really nice...