Writing 2.6 – What to Write About

Preface 1:  I started this post thinking it would only be about three paragraphs, maybe 300 words.  Not so.

Preface B:  I am not writing this to criticize anyone’s blog or suggest that anyone should do anything any differently than what they’re happy and comfortable doing on their blog.  I’m writing this because I’ve been asked a similar question, and I’ve seen similar questions posted on other blogs, so this is an extensive answer either to those bloggers who have asked or those who are thinking of the same question but haven’t yet asked it.  I’m not suggesting that I’m any kind of a blog authority or writing lord.  I’m nothing of the kind, but I like questions, both asking and answering, and I like being thorough.  Sometimes.  Also, these are my thoughts only.  Every other blogger in existence might disagree with me, and that’s not only okay but probably good.

Someone recently asked why I blog.  That wasn’t easy to answer.  In a way, blogging can be like a comedian testing jokes in a small comedy club before going to Vegas or Atlantic City, but that carries the suggestion that I’m “going somewhere” after this.  Not likely.  My blogging originally stemmed from something at work.  I had to send out daily, boring e-mails to about a hundred people.  I knew those e-mails would be annoying, stupid, but necessary information.

 (Picture is not actually me)

So my goal was to make it a little entertaining and perhaps make someone smile a little.  I admit that it gave me a little extra boost when someone with whom I worked a long time would reply to my e-mails and tell me how funny I was or that they never realized this other side to me.  I tend to be very boring and monotonous in person until I get to know someone well enough to unleash the demon known as – Rich.  After enough people said, “You really should be writing for a living, or writing comedy, or host a game show or something,” I agreed, but I still wasn’t sure what to do about it.  So far, this blog is all I’ve done about it.  But this post isn’t about me, although it certainly seems to be going that way.  This is about you.  Well, not you personally, but those of you who have asked me or posted questions about blogging.

Over the past two weeks I’ve seen more than the usual amount of blog posts in which someone did one or more of the following:

  1. Apologized for not posting often enough and promising their lovely readers that they will get his or her or both asses in gear and start producing more.
  2. Acknowledged that they just couldn’t think of anything to write about lately.
  3. Promised not to let that blog fizzle out and die like a previous blog.
  4. Asked readers to help decide what they should write about next.

I’ve also seen blogs on which the author posted a poll asking readers to vote for a favorite topic on which the author should mainly focus.  Movies?  Television?  Music?  Books?  And I’ve also seen the blogs on which an author begins a story and asks readers to make suggestions on which direction the story should take.  Now that I’ve made you read through about 600 words, I’ll get to the point, but it’s nothing you haven’t heard before.

If you’re not sure what to write about,  most people say, “Write what you know.”  I disagree.  I say, “write what you feel.”  If you see a movie you love – write about it.  If you read a book that bores you, or turns you on, write about it.  If a driver on the road next to you does something that pisses you off and you’re thinking of giving her a flat tire, write about it.  If you love to cook, take pictures of the process, sketch the details of the recipe, and write about it.  If you love sports or political debates, park your laptop in front of the television, take notes, and write about it.  And if you find yourself strangely attracted to the female news anchors of CNN, well, maybe you should keep that to yourself.  You shouldn’t just write about things or topics without specifying how those things affected you.  I don’t need you to tell me what the movie was about.  I need you to tell me how it made you feel.  If all I want are the facts, I’ll watch the news.  No, not Fox News.  Duh, I said “facts.”

Every one of us has probably heard the words “write what you know.”  Well, if I’m an electrical engineer, and I know electrical engineering, but I love hockey, then I’d said it’s better to write about hockey than electrical engineering.  One particular blogger I know used to write great posts about lists of all kinds.  Movies of the 60’s, breakfast cereals, sexy commercials, all kinds of things, all kinds of lists of things with his opinion on why each deserved to be anywhere from #10 to #1.  After a while, he thought perhaps he should only write about one thing – movies, food, sexy things?  So he asked his readers to vote, and I politely told him that was not a good plan.  His readers were not there because they loved movies or commercials.  They were there because they liked the combination of his style, attitude, and opinion.  Readers did not care if he made a list of oatmeal flavors or golf courses, they just cared that he was entertaining in his presentation.

He had a counter argument.  “But blogs with specific topics have more readers than blogs that don’t have a specific focus.”  Yeah, he’s right, but that’s because there are people out there who only want to read about food or cars or a guy pretending to be a girl and writing about “her” promiscuous exploits.  So those readers had searched for blogs about food or cars or sex, and then those readers follow those blogs.  True they might have more followers and “likes,” but that doesn’t mean those readers are enjoying it more.  Those topic-specific blogs will likely have more views per day, but that doesn’t mean they’ll have more comments or a more interesting and rewarding conversation.  I’d rather have 20 comments than 100 views because I’m not really about the numbers as much as I am about the interaction and conversation.  I’d rather have two people give me their opinions on my book or movie review than 20 people just click on it and go away.

The other question that comes up is how often to post, which, although it’s a matter of personal preference, I can at least give not a writer’s but a reader’s perspective.  In the almost 500 bloggers I follow, there are some who post several times a day.  Sometimes it’s all photography, each picture as a separate post.  For me, that’s overkill.  For photog fans, it’s a mother lode.  After a while, I’m breezing through because I don’t have time to study them all – but I know I’m not the target audience.  I also follow blogs on which there might be three or four new poems a day, each in a separate post.  Having studied poetry extensively in college, I love reading and interpreting poetry, especially when I can sometimes leave a comment that lets the poet know that I can feel exactly what they were thinking.  I love when that happens, but most readers don’t have time for careful reading of everything that we all post every day.  Conversely, there are other authors who post only once a week or less.  I wish they’d write more, but those carefully crafted, well-researched, and very entertaining posts just can’t possibly be produced on a daily basis.

Please remember, neither me nor any individual is important enough for you to aim your blog at us.  Those writers and photographers do not need to care one bit about what I have to say.  They only need to care about how it makes them feel to write and post what they’re writing and/or photographing.  So, if you’d like a one-sentence answer to sum things up, it would go like this:

Instead of “write what you know,” consider “write what you want others to know.”  And I want others to know how I feel about the movie I saw, the book I read, the mouse I accidentally stepped on, etc.  And if I write it well enough, then you will know exactly how I feel because I will have chosen the right words so that you feel it too.

143 thoughts on “Writing 2.6 – What to Write About

  1. Thank you for such an intelligent and well written post. You have succinctly captured the raw essence of why I write. I write because I don’t know…thus I am looking for others to help navigate the way…if I knew I would probably be tempted to make a video inviting you to my retreat seminar where for $20K per person I would reveal all Truth and Knowledge.

    It is in the struggle that we discover value…thank you again.

    Be encouraged!

  2. The Marx Brothers have this scene – I think it’s in Coconuts – where hi-toned, stuffy people at the dinner table are giving boring speeches. One tuxedo-ed chap stands and begins: “Well, I don’t really know just what to say…”. Chico interrupts: “Then shut up”.
    Yes, it’s important to have something to say, even in blog land. If it’s entertaining, of course, well-written, artful, even cute, well that’s OK too. And how did you step on a mouse?

  3. Excellent advice. I started off writing a sort of family history for my grandchildren – now I can’t imagine why they’d want to read all this crap. When I write because I feel like it, and it’s not work, the results are better.

  4. Hi Rich,
    Great post. Our thinking on this blog thing is very simpatico. But Ii’ve only been blogging for about 10 months, so I value your views as a much more experienced blogger. I’ve started several blogs and not finished them, because I just wasn’t comfortable posting them. I also had one blog I held for quite a while working up the bravado to post it. It turned out to produce just about no reaction. I agree with your assessment about writing what you feel, but I’ve also already developed some other parameters. Like don’t post what has been said lots of times before by lots of others. Boring. I’m always trying to break new ground, or at least ground that hasn’t been plowed all to death. I have this theory that whatever you’re most picky, or just downright anal about, is what you care about most and that’s where a lot of my blogging activity goes. So i end up writing about language, music, movies, and I really like to try to write stuff about everyday life, personal expereinces (like your blog about your summer) and I really like to try my hand at humor (I’m hooked on the caption contest) and I’m always looking for some subject like the babes at CNN which you beat me to. I used to tune in to CNBC just to watch Erin Burnett, and I think she was more fun and uninhibited there and that her CNN persona is much more anchorwoman and less quirky. But I digress. Finding a subject to write about is, I believe, the hardest part of the writng process. Once I have an idea, I can write it, no problem. That’s where the fun is. But coming up with a good idea, that’s tough. I wouldn’t write a blog just to have something to post. If I’ve got nothing to say I’m passionate about, I keep quiet. One of my mentors used to say, don’t teach it, preach it. There has to be some emotion behind the words or the writng falls flat. I could go on and on on this subject. But I shouldn’t. I should shut up and get seek out signs of intelligent life, and maybe I’ll blunder into something to blog about. Rock on. Ron

  5. Just because I liked this post, doesn’t mean I agree with it.. at least not ‘all the way’. I’ve read blogs where people write about something they know nothing about, and if it happened a few times, I usually stop following the blog. It helps when you write about something you know. It doesn’t have to be something you know best. But I would suggest to any beginning blogger, if you don’t really know the subject, be careful…

  6. Thanks for this Rich. I’ve been told (and thought to myself) that I should perhaps be a bit more focused on my blog – you’ve probably seen, mine is pretty random, I just write about whatever I feel like writing about mostly, so I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one who thinks that’s ok! I feel I have quite a high percentage of commenters in relation to visitors, and like you say, that means more than just higher numbers in the stats.

    • I think there sometimes comes a point when some bloggers become more like friends. At that point, I care more about you than what you write about. If my kid plays a sport I don’t like, I’ll still attend her games because it’s about her, not the sport.

      • That’s true, I wrote a post a while ago actually about whether blogging friends are real friends. There are a few blogs where I try and make a point to always comment which is more a show of support than necessarily because I have anything significant to say about their post, and I’m sure that’s the case with some of my regular commenters.

  7. The only way I can write is by writing what I feel, when I feel like it. I can’t make myself post at certain intervals or about certain things. I’m also not one of those writers that can force out a specific number of words per day. The blogs I tend to gravitate to regularly (like this one) are the ones that write about a variety of things as well.

  8. Interesting post which has stimulated others to contribute good thoughts on the subject. To add to the comments on “what to write about”, when I started my blog, I was writing flash fiction and poetry based on current news items. Along the way, I discovered some of the various “prompts” which are available weekly. I enjoy comparing my takes with those of others, and as a result, my blogging experience has become more personally rewarding even though I have, for the moment, deviated from my original course. I guess my point is: don’t get married to one theme. Stay flexible and write whatever pleases you at the time because that opportunity, and those words, may never return.

  9. I like this a lot, Rich. Thank you for your thoughts. I agree that writing what we feel is more important that writing what we know. I spend most of my time working on history/politics for my dissertation. . . but my blog is where I can share other things which stir me much more.

  10. A fine analysis. The last paragraph is a good wrap.

    In the end, we define our blogs for ourselves and, I think, they also grow and change as we grow and change. It’s all okay. For most of us, it’s fun, not work. We should keep it that way. No apologies.

    Blog on …

  11. Wow, so yeh while I was reading this I was thinking “write what you want to know” as that’s where I often wind up with my writing. And THAT my friend is uncanny! A blog ought to be a showcase for a writer’s work, at least from where I sit. Although people write and people blog for different reasons.

    Nice post, thought-provoking. Makes me question why I’m here haha (in the blogosphere that is) and makes me reflective on where in the hell I get my subject matter from. 🙂

    Thanks for posting.

    • nothing to thank me for, but thanks back to you. my post was more of an answer for people who don’t know what to write about and hit a wall built with writer’s blocks. there are plenty of people who will never have to wonder what to write about, so this post was a suggestion for those with questions, but it doesn’t apply to everyone.

  12. I have to admit, once I saw Erin Burnett and Ashleigh Banfield (the co-anchor team from Heaven), I got a little distracted and couldn’t get much further into your post! But up to that point it was awesome!! 🙂

  13. What?!!!!! No Christine, Carol, and/or Kyra? I know Kyra is now over at HLN, so heck, why not Susan and Robin too?!!!! Now why do get the impression I influenced this post? 😉

    There are many good parts about this post. First of all, the 4 points are fabulous. Plus, too many bloggers using posts as they use Facebook. Meanwhile, I’ve got the feeling you are about to be Freshly Pressed.

  14. But furthermore, I am glad you said what you did about trying to write on one specific topic. I went back and forth trying to decide how to make my blog about something more specific, like travel or moving or whatever. I never could bring myself to do it, because I LIKE writing about anything and everything. I think that shows and is received better than forcing something because you think you are “supposed” to so so.

  15. OK. 3 Things:

    1. YOU INSPIRED ME!- Thank you I am in a very uninspiring world or project life at the moment

    2. I am disappointed that you do not look like the picture from above.

    3. You didn’t really tread on a mouse did you?

    • 1. should i tell you how your gravatar inspires me? 😉

      2. took me awhile to get what you meant, and i think i’m disappointed i don’t look like that too.

      3. no, did not, but it was funny to write it. when i was a kid, i was riding my bike on the sidewalk, and i scared a squirrel that ran into the street and got hit by a car. i felt really bad about it and buried it. so i drew from that.

  16. Rich, you have definitely been giving this some thought. My wife and I had this exact same discussion the other night. She asked why I blog and was concerned that it was taking me away from my “real” writing. She made the jump in logic that it was the sense of community that I enjoyed more than the blogging itself, the back and forth, give and take. And she’s right. I really don’t care how many likes I get or followers I have. I love that someone will take the time to read and comment. For some reason, that’s what I need, what I crave. And why I blog.

    • that’s good to dig within and know what we really want and need. however, i hope she doesn’t get insulted and think that you’re taking time and attention away from her. we all need outlets and distractions, and this is ours.

  17. Pingback: Opinions in the Shorts: Vol. 157 « A Frank Angle

  18. “After enough people said, ‘You really should be writing for a living, or writing comedy, or host a game show or something,’ I agreed, but I still wasn’t sure what to do about it. So far, this blog is all I’ve done about it.”

    We’re living parallel lives in this way. Seriously, it always put a spring in my step, and my blog is my attempt at giving the world the gift of my OBVIOUS comedic genius.

    I don’t believe in apologizing as a general rule. I will admit I did it recently, and that was only because I DID abandon my blog and felt badly about that. Maybe I was apologizing to myself more than anything.

    I will say, I love polling my audience and letting them give me ideas. I may not stick to it 100%, but when someone offers a suggestion it does elicit an emotional response, one that fuels my writing. I do try to write what I feel, but…sometimes I realize I’m just drunk.

    Great post! (Le Clown brought me here)

  19. I didn’t realize I had much of a knack for writing until I became the secretary for a club, and had to keep minutes. Typing the minutes up every week allowed me to liven things up. This is very helpful, thanks.

  20. Great post. I think most of concious bloggers struggle with that. Even if their blogs are very personal, they are still shared with the public so you’d want it to be coherent, readable, and enjoyable too. Always good to get some new advice 😉

      • My pleasure, rich. (oh, it’s India, although I quite like miss – wish I was, haha!)

        love the shoes? you just scored some extra brownie points 😉

      • during my 25 years teaching, i often referred to all of the female students as “miss” because i wasn’t always good with names. so on here i usually call people “miss” and “sir.” it’s a sign of respect in a way. but india is a rather exotic name for sure. makes me think of “kama sutra,” so i’m liking that.

      • *blink blink*

        ‘Do not visit new blogs lest your thoughts stray again in the wrong direction’

        *she muttered, adding a new rule in her recovery journal*

      • ‘…especially if the blog’s URL contains the word ‘brain’ in it. Avoid. AVOI..’

        *she added hurriedly, breaking the quill before she could finish*

      • You’d think, but I’m just cheap.

        That’s what happens when you buy quills in 1-Pound-shops.

      • Good point, the shoes prove I’m not cheap, really. Well, not when it comes to shoes, at least. What’s your guess?

      • I will let you believe what you want 😉

        There are many more where these came from. My favourites are Christian and Jimmy (my only public extra-marital affairs), but a date with either costs just so much! Donations welcome.

      • I am just after the lecture of your Princesses post and I believe I’d fall in the 6/7 category of ‘girls who move too fast’ if I did, so I will have to refrain myself from e-mailing you just yet 😉

  21. You read FIVE HUNDRED blogs or my eyes are playing tricks on me? Aagh! I have to agree that no one is going to be able to follow a lot of blogs closely. And poetry blogs are by far the most difficult to leave comments on. (Who wants to leave a million comments that all say the same thing? “Great poem! Really evocative.”

    Like everyone, I was hoping to find that elusive “niche”, but it’s impossible. (I’m not that passionate about any one thing.) And the folks who can post daily while still maintaining quality are about one a zillion. Literally.

    • literally. yup. i can’t see posting something meaningful on a daily basis unless it’s your job, or you’re a stay at home person who doesn’t need a job, or you have no other life, or a few other conditions i guess.

      or you’re like me, where you’ve put in 25 years and now you’ve stopped working for a while to pursue writing more seriously. or….oh well.

      oh, and i don’t read all 500. not possible for me, but i do pick and choose. i glance at all of them, and if something catches my attention, then i’ll read it all.

      thanks for reading.

  22. In my current blog, I write for other people, not for me, so I agree with you when it comes to most people’s blogs, but not all blogs are the same (thankfully!) I keep a lot of my own emotions out of my blog and instead concentrate on input from my readers.

  23. Awesome post! I have had people ask my why I write a blog and I always reply with: because I want to. I have apologized once for not posting (I had a little too much fun this summer), but I would never write about not having anything to write about! Your “write what you feel” is excellent advice – for all kinds of writers! 🙂

  24. An absolutely fantastic post! You offer really inspiring and fresh advice about what to blog about! Also, I’d like to thank you for pointing out that blogs don’t necessarily have to revolve around a single topic. As someone who likes to write stories, post photographs, and write about photography, I always thought I could get more views by having separate blogs for each topic to increase views. But I have to say, I wholeheartedly agree that readership and interaction are far more satisfying to see than just numbers.

    • i think that readers are often more interested in “you” and what “you” have to say, and not so much the topic. it depends on the point of view that you infuse into your blog.

      • Shoulda saw that one coming! *sigh*
        My evil is weakening. It must be because I have not yet acquired Le Clown’s magnificence. Or maybe you could also become my best, err second best enemy…and I can steal your stealth humor…It will soon be mine, like Le Clown’s magical strand of words everyday is fucking magical is now mine. All mine. He is left with a tm, sadly.
        I will soon have Le Clown’s magnificence! WordPress will soon be mine. It is inevitable. *evil laugh*

      • no! stand down thee thieving wench! be not having thine hands in me pockets, lest you find something thy wants thou to take! i think thy – I. if not, i might have just yanked myself when i thought it was you.

  25. I love this. I think it’s a learning curve though. Unless someone is already a published writer or journalist, I think it takes time to develop and learn about your voice, your style, … and especially to see how others react to it and then stay true to yourself without giving in to the pressure of your self-expectations (‘Maybe I should write more like him/her, that’ll make more people like me!’). Self-confidence and passion for what you write about, like you say – that’s important.

  26. Pingback: I have a lot of feelings « The Best Life

  27. I found your blog via a link on The Best Life’s blog–a timely read for me. I even commented on her blog that my feelings are all stuck in a cloud together. I love the release and inspiration of writing; like a hard rain it gets all my thoughts out so I can sort through and re-examine. The cloud is staying, so my blog has been quiet for a few days. I’m okay with that; I agree with what you said about wanting meaningful comments versus countless views. Thank you for a reminder to make my own mold and not feel like I have to fit into someone else’s. I look forward to reading more of your posts. Keep writing!

  28. I’m glad you directed me here. I love what you said about interaction and conversation. I’d rather have more comments than passing-by views. It’s the relationships that matter in the end.

  29. Oh my god, you so fooled me, I totally thought that was a real accurate picture of you! At least that’s how I always pictured you in my mind.

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