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What Do You Know: The Writer’s Inventory

When I speak to groups of writers, I frequently hear the question: what should I write about? Last week we talked about how following our passion can provide a pretty good list of writing topics. But if thinking about your passions did not give you enough ideas, think about doing a self-inventory of what you know or what you are curious about. This will give you a bigger list of topics to write on.

Step One: Set aside a few hours to do this exercise. You will also need a notebook and a pen. It may help to be near a computer, but it is not necessary. In the next few hours, you will create several lists:

*Education: List the stuff you know because of your formal and informal education. This will include the topics you covered in your college major but also the areas of study you had to take to graduate from a Liberal Arts college (e.g., Psych 101). In addition, list the workshops and classes you have taken through work, community education programs, and other venues.

*Experience: Review your life and list the experiences that you might be able to write about. Some of your experiences will be fairly common, like becoming a parent, starting an exercise program, or cooking dinner. Note your unique twist on these experiences—maybe you adopted a child from China, participated in the polar bear plunge, or only cook gluten-free food. Don’t forget the painful or challenging lessons, like extricating a family of skunks from under your porch. (Yeah, that’s on my list.)

*Specialized Knowledge: List the areas you have specialized knowledge in—that means you know more than the average person about this topic. This might because of your education, experience, personal curiosity, or a combination of the three. I have a friend who is a gifted craftsperson. Because of this, she has developed specialized knowledge about knitting, rosemaling, and creweling. My daughter spent three years on a feeding tube, and that experience has made me an expert on everything from how to hide a G-tube to traveling with a feeding tube.

*Hobbies and Interests. How do you spend your free time? What ideas, topics, and people are you curious about? Is there an activity or topic that you have collected a lot of information about? Over the years, I have had a love affair with the idea of baking bread. Now, most of my bread experiments have landed in the trash can with a rather loud thud (they were that dense), but that does not stop me. I am still drawn to books and articles that promise me I will someday learn how to bake the perfect loaf of bread. What do you have in your life like this?

If you are having trouble listing hobbies and interests, take a trip to the library or the bookstore. Wander around, through the various shelves of books, and pay attention to what captures your attention. Add it to your list.

Step Two. Review your lists of interests and hobbies, and ask:

*What could I write about right now?

*What topic might make a good article, sidebar, or filler piece?

*What topics am I most passionate about working on?

*Where could I pitch that idea?

Step Three: Once you have a list of topics to pitch, spend some time searching for places to sell your work. You might:

*Visit a library or bookstore and review periodicals.

*Do an online search of potential markets using Google or another search engine.

*Use a paper or online market guide like Writer’s Digest’s Writer’s Market (

Save your inventory and revisit it throughout the year. No doubt you will think of even more ideas to write about!

Your turn: Where do you look for ideas? What addition categories would you add to the writer’s inventory?


7 Responses

  1. This is wonderful! I feel inspired already. Would you mind if I share this with the members of my writer’s group at our next meeting? My c0-leader and I aim to provide helpful tips, instruction, and resources in addition to the critique section of our meetings. I will again recommend this blog to our members. Thank you for all your helpful insights.

  2. Jorge Serbia

    Writer’s brain food, thanks!

    My non-fiction gives way to my fiction.
    I’ll first look at the current state of society. I’ll then focus my attention in whatever area calls to me and convicts me the most. I’ll then get on my soap box and write out what I feel the problems are and how I feel they can improve. So if the particular area of interest is family–then I’ll just rant about the ills in family relationships–which will eventually reveal both story ideas and my characters.

    1. writenowcoach

      Jorge, I love your process. It seems like a unique and interesting way to develop story ideas and to get into your character’s heads!

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