The hardest part of nonfiction writing is finding a subject to write about. Unless you’re a student or a professional writer no one is going to select a topic for you. That means you have to come up with your own themes. If you’re like most writers, your subject matter will be things that interest you. I used the headings listed below to generate ideas for my writing. Hopefully these idea generators will help you become a more productive writer.
HOW DID I SOLVE THAT PROBLEM?: This question can lead to an infinite number of article ideas. The articles that result from it are generally the easiest to market, because many people have the same problem. A writer just starting out could develop a niche by answering this question. Which was how I got started. I was an electronic technician when I published my first article. At the time I was flooded with printed information, catalogs, data sheets, articles, etc. To handle this overflow I developed a filing system. Then I wrote an article about how I solved my problem. The article entitled, “The Ultimate Electronics Reference File” was published in The Electron, a technical journal. A couple months later I was looking for a cheap source of electronic parts, test equipment, etc. (This was before E-Bay.) That thought led me to write “Getting More For Your Electronics Dollar” which appeared in the same publication.
OBJECTS: Observation and/or memory of an object can lead to many ideas. For example, I once owned a multicolored 1955 Chevrolet. With that old car in mind, I wrote an essay entitled “Ode To An Old Car” which was published by a local newspaper.
CHANGES: Some are good and some aren’t, it’s that simple. Either way using this topic, you can create an articles defending or attacking changes. Which I did in “The Advantages Of Flex Time” also published in a local newspaper. I set the piece in a gas station
HOW I DID IT: This is a variation on the above topic. As a woodcarver, I used this statement to detail how I created a certain kind of carving. The resulting article “Carving An Ancient Artifact” was published by Chip Chats Magazine.
OPINIONS/RANTS: Now I’m passionate about a few things in life, though some folks who know me might disagree with this statement. “Nonfiction Idea Generators” is one of the things I’m passionate about, after all I did write this article. But, what I’m not sure of is whether this is an opinion piece or a rant.
READ: Newspapers, magazines, e-zines, cereal boxes, and anything else you can wrap your eyes around. Read to find ideas for future articles. Ask yourself, as you read, “is there anything here I can use? Does this leave me with unanswered questions?” If so, good. That is what you’re looking for. Write down your thoughts and save them along with the article. More about this later.
LISTEN TO YOUR FRIENDS: Sometimes, when friends talk you’ll hear something that sounds like a great subject for an article. An article you know you can write. But before you do, you probably should ask for permission to use the info—if you value the friendship.
SOMETHING THAT MADE YOU LAUGH: Changes are, it’ll make others laugh, too.
SOMETHING YOU’RE CURIOUS ABOUT: One of the best sources of nonfiction ideas can be found by just wondering about something. Example, in a chemistry class studying different types of sugars, I asked the instructor how brown sugar was made. He said he didn’t know and assigned the topic to me. I did the research and wrote a two page report (about 300 words) on the subject.
PUT YOUR DREAMS TO WORK: I had a dream about selling an essay, which I had hadn’t even written at the time of the dream. The essay, now exists, and is part of an e-book I am writing. The essay is about putting my world back together, as a freelance writer, after being laid off from NASA Glenn Research Center, where I worked for sixteen years as a subcontractor. This is not an easy thing to write about; but since the dream, I now have a use for that story.
USE LISTS OF CURRENT MARKETS: Here is a great way to find not only subject matter, but also a market for the piece, should you write it. But before you do a knock-their-socks-off piece for a listing: read the writer’s guidelines, study the publication and its advertising. The advertising will tell you a lot about the publication and its readers.
REVERSE A PUBLISHED ARTICLE’S IDEA: The article you clipped above could serve as an idea generator, if you reverse the argument put forth in the article.
SAVE YOUR ARTICLE IDEAS: When you find an article idea, write it down. Use a single sentence. Put the idea away for a few days. Then go back to it, find a target market. Study the publication you intend to submit it to. What kind of people read this journal? Slant your article for those readers.
Remember, use you Article Idea Generators often and wisely. An idea is a terrible thing to waste. Good Luck.
About The Author
Neal Naughton is a technical writer, copywriter, and creative writer. He is also a ghostwriter, who can handle your next article etc. You can reach him at nealnaughton@WRITENEAL.COM. All of his articles are copwrited and can not be reproduced without his written permission.
This article was posted on June 21, 2004