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How Do You Decide What To Write About?

I was looking over the member blogs over at the Authority Blogger Forum and had an idea I wanted to share with you. To prove or disprove this theory though I will need your help, just a click in a little poll.

My theory? That many people don’t know what they are going to write about until they sit down at the keyboard and they have several types that guide them.

While there are writers who plan everything in advance, other writers work closer to deadline either because they follow the news, write product reviews and such, or they wait for inspiration.

I am in the latter category, I rarely know more than a few days in advance what I will write about. Some ideas, like this one, stew and ferment for a little while, other days I sit down and decide what to write about there and then. Luckily something always comes to me.

The idea I want to ask you about is what motivates you to write about a certain topic:

  • Audience needs – Many writers will tell you they write for a particular audience but how far up in the priorities and idea generation process does the audience come? For an Authority Blog I think this is a key success factor but I don’t think every writer thinks about what an audience needs first. There are a few blogs and newsletters I think fit, or appear to, I am thinking Steve Pavlina, Adam Kayce and Sean D’Souza. I aim for this one but at least half the time I fit into the following category …
  • Existing Expertise – “Write what you know” is common advice to writers. I have a theory that many people select from their personal collection of possible topics those that will resonate with their audience. Their own experience comes first then their readers are brought in as a filter. Am I right? I am thinking most blogs that I follow fit this mold, particularly “been there, done that” blogs such as Shoemoney, Strobist.
  • News Reporting – Do you write whatever is newsworthy today? Techcrunch and Gizmodo fit into this category. If you follow the news then there will be little control over topics, though you might be able to reduce down possible stories to just the ones that are most interesting. For example on my photography blog I only report new cameras that I know my audience will want to know about.
  • Follow Mood – Probably more for personal columns and blogs, it is rare outside of those venues you have the freedom to just write whatever comes to you on any topic at all. My personal blog fits this, I have no topic selection at all other than to record the random thoughts that come to me. I wonder how many of some of my favorite reads fit this too to an extent, like Darren Barefoot and Aaron Wall
  • Entertaining – Possibly you have only entertaining your audience as your criteria. Any topic goes providing it is fun, interesting or humorous. Scott Adams blog fits this criteria, as do online comics like Penny Arcade and What the Duck. They might follow themes (“philosotainment”, Games and Photography respectively) but the primary selection process is to entertain.

Do any of these fit you or am I way off track? Please select which most fits from the poll then tell me about it in the comments …

How do you decide what to write about?
View Results

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Comments

  1. I’m similar to you in a way, Chris. I’m always wondering what my readers are interested in, but normally stick to writing what I know.

    Thankfully, it’s what I know that most of my readers subscribe to.

  2. I’m similar to you in a way, Chris. I’m always wondering what my readers are interested in, but normally stick to writing what I know.

    Thankfully, it’s what I know that most of my readers subscribe to.

  3. Yeah the main thing is you write what people want to read. I know there have been a few times in the past I have mis-judged that πŸ˜‰

  4. Yeah the main thing is you write what people want to read. I know there have been a few times in the past I have mis-judged that πŸ˜‰

  5. My blog is still new, so at the minute, I write what I know (Because I’ve no problem with topic ideas etc. yet), but I’ve noticed more and more email questions coming in, and I’ve already answered 2 of them in posts. I think that over time, this will increase, and I’ll be writing about what my audience needs a lot more (Which *hopefully* will also fall under the umbrella of what I actually know. πŸ˜‰ )

  6. My blog is still new, so at the minute, I write what I know (Because I’ve no problem with topic ideas etc. yet), but I’ve noticed more and more email questions coming in, and I’ve already answered 2 of them in posts. I think that over time, this will increase, and I’ll be writing about what my audience needs a lot more (Which *hopefully* will also fall under the umbrella of what I actually know. πŸ˜‰ )

  7. Likewise. We learn from our mistakes though. It’s the fastest way.

  8. Likewise. We learn from our mistakes though. It’s the fastest way.

  9. @Michael – It’s a great way to get topic ideas, some of my best article ideas have come from questions and that was one of the reasons I started my forum.

    @David – Definitely, I think mistakes can be some of the best learning experiences. Sometimes our successes lead us to think we know more than we do πŸ™‚

  10. @Michael – It’s a great way to get topic ideas, some of my best article ideas have come from questions and that was one of the reasons I started my forum.

    @David – Definitely, I think mistakes can be some of the best learning experiences. Sometimes our successes lead us to think we know more than we do πŸ™‚

  11. Very much a ‘sit-down, now what am I going to write?’ blogger.

    Does it show? πŸ˜‰

  12. Very much a ‘sit-down, now what am I going to write?’ blogger.

    Does it show? πŸ˜‰

  13. Yes but that is not a bad thing πŸ˜‰

  14. Yes but that is not a bad thing πŸ˜‰

  15. David – Sadly that’s true. Many, many mistakes… xD

    Chris – Good point. The forum has been a great place for inspiration I’ve found. πŸ˜€

  16. David – Sadly that’s true. Many, many mistakes… xD

    Chris – Good point. The forum has been a great place for inspiration I’ve found. πŸ˜€

  17. I mostly write what I know, though sometimes readers ask questions which prompt other posts. I’m exploring the possibility of using search questions as a guide to possible topics too.

  18. I mostly write what I know, though sometimes readers ask questions which prompt other posts. I’m exploring the possibility of using search questions as a guide to possible topics too.

  19. Personally, I try to follow my audience. I continue to write about topics that they find interesting but that doesn’t mean that “the blog is in control”.

    It’s just a matter of throwing everything you’ve got and see what sticks and then continue on those subjects. When my readers change, my blog will follow.

  20. Personally, I try to follow my audience. I continue to write about topics that they find interesting but that doesn’t mean that “the blog is in control”.

    It’s just a matter of throwing everything you’ve got and see what sticks and then continue on those subjects. When my readers change, my blog will follow.

  21. A little of each, I think, but above all it’s what I like to call “intuitive topic selection” a.k.a. as the mood takes me.

  22. A little of each, I think, but above all it’s what I like to call “intuitive topic selection” a.k.a. as the mood takes me.

  23. I would say it’s a bit of everything. Usually I write what I know and what I liked very much when I learned. I also get ideas from the comments, and once in a while I follow some news.

  24. I would say it’s a bit of everything. Usually I write what I know and what I liked very much when I learned. I also get ideas from the comments, and once in a while I follow some news.

  25. It does show? 😯

    Great, now I’m paranoid as well as slapdash…. πŸ˜‰

    I’m afraid I’ve always been like this, I’ve never really been a huge preparation person, even at school it was more a case of winging it, than revising for it – trouble is it usually worked.

  26. It does show? 😯

    Great, now I’m paranoid as well as slapdash…. πŸ˜‰

    I’m afraid I’ve always been like this, I’ve never really been a huge preparation person, even at school it was more a case of winging it, than revising for it – trouble is it usually worked.

  27. My thought is that it’s a blend of the first two.

    I write what I know, but I choose the topic based on what my audience wants (or, my best guess at that!).

    My philosophy is to appeal to them, by sharing the best of what I have.

  28. My thought is that it’s a blend of the first two.

    I write what I know, but I choose the topic based on what my audience wants (or, my best guess at that!).

    My philosophy is to appeal to them, by sharing the best of what I have.

  29. Chris:
    Interesting post. I am in the write what the audience needs camp. I have two blogs http://www.CommonSenseGuy.com and http://www.SuccessCommonSense.com. The first is aimed at leaders and small business people. The second is aimed at young people beginning a career.
    I use the 4 “secrets” — clarity, commitment, execution, relationships — in my book “4 Secrets of High Performing Organizations as a guide to my posts. I always identify the secret that relates to the post. I also often tie posts in this blog to the news in order to make it more timely.
    I am more structured in Success Common Sense. I have developed a model of career and life success that has five points: Self Confidence, Personal Impact, Outstanding Performance, Communication Skills and Interpersonal Competence. I post on one of these every day. Monday is self confidence day; Tuesday, personal impact; Wednesday, performance; Thursday, communication skills; Friday, interpersonal competence. I have received a lot of positive feedback on this super structured approach.
    I enjoy your posts. Keep up the good work.
    All the best,
    Bud Bilanich
    The Common Sense Guy

  30. Chris:
    Interesting post. I am in the write what the audience needs camp. I have two blogs http://www.CommonSenseGuy.com and http://www.SuccessCommonSense.com. The first is aimed at leaders and small business people. The second is aimed at young people beginning a career.
    I use the 4 “secrets” — clarity, commitment, execution, relationships — in my book “4 Secrets of High Performing Organizations as a guide to my posts. I always identify the secret that relates to the post. I also often tie posts in this blog to the news in order to make it more timely.
    I am more structured in Success Common Sense. I have developed a model of career and life success that has five points: Self Confidence, Personal Impact, Outstanding Performance, Communication Skills and Interpersonal Competence. I post on one of these every day. Monday is self confidence day; Tuesday, personal impact; Wednesday, performance; Thursday, communication skills; Friday, interpersonal competence. I have received a lot of positive feedback on this super structured approach.
    I enjoy your posts. Keep up the good work.
    All the best,
    Bud Bilanich
    The Common Sense Guy

  31. @Michael – Good to hear πŸ™‚

    @Sharon – Check out the tools like 103bees that help with that

    @College – Once you get a decent sized audience your readers will let you know what they want if you listen. Sometimes it is painful, sometimes joyful but you have to really be open to the feedback πŸ™‚

    @Jen – Yours is a nicer way of putting it I think πŸ™‚

    @Simonne – Probably the best way, a bit of a mix keeps things interesting!

    @Chris – Only joking, and the main thing is that it is interesting and useful to read πŸ™‚

    @Adam – The majority of the time it has to be a best guess, and I think a key benefit of your blog is the originality πŸ™‚

    @Bud – I know I will never be super structured but I feel sometimes I could do with more structure in what I do …

  32. @Michael – Good to hear πŸ™‚

    @Sharon – Check out the tools like 103bees that help with that

    @College – Once you get a decent sized audience your readers will let you know what they want if you listen. Sometimes it is painful, sometimes joyful but you have to really be open to the feedback πŸ™‚

    @Jen – Yours is a nicer way of putting it I think πŸ™‚

    @Simonne – Probably the best way, a bit of a mix keeps things interesting!

    @Chris – Only joking, and the main thing is that it is interesting and useful to read πŸ™‚

    @Adam – The majority of the time it has to be a best guess, and I think a key benefit of your blog is the originality πŸ™‚

    @Bud – I know I will never be super structured but I feel sometimes I could do with more structure in what I do …

  33. My blog is in the Spirituality niche. I write about what I know about, my spiritual journey through life. I have a new series called Incest May Be A Part Of My Life Series that are my main Sunday post. During the week, I usually post a lighter mood post on Law Of Attraction, something inspirational, the use of Affirmations, some other part of my spiritual journey or something that I read on somebody else’s blog that inspired me to expand on the comment that I left on the other person’s blog. My subscriptions and visitor stats are continually growing in an upward slant so I am pleased with where I am going right now.

  34. My blog is in the Spirituality niche. I write about what I know about, my spiritual journey through life. I have a new series called Incest May Be A Part Of My Life Series that are my main Sunday post. During the week, I usually post a lighter mood post on Law Of Attraction, something inspirational, the use of Affirmations, some other part of my spiritual journey or something that I read on somebody else’s blog that inspired me to expand on the comment that I left on the other person’s blog. My subscriptions and visitor stats are continually growing in an upward slant so I am pleased with where I am going right now.

  35. I wish you had made an “all of the above” choice. That would have been my vote.

    Some of my posts are planned, some inspired by news, some inspired by visitor questions, some inspired by life, some by my mood, some by what I know…

  36. I wish you had made an “all of the above” choice. That would have been my vote.

    Some of my posts are planned, some inspired by news, some inspired by visitor questions, some inspired by life, some by my mood, some by what I know…

  37. Just voted “I wrote what I know”. I tried to write an article inspired by visitor question… when i research for the answers… I got distracted and spending the time reading all the info available.

  38. Just voted “I wrote what I know”. I tried to write an article inspired by visitor question… when i research for the answers… I got distracted and spending the time reading all the info available.

  39. Ours is kind of a blend of methodologies… Much of our blog content is fairly spontaneous “whatever the mood strikes” kind of stuff. But then some of it is more of a “reporting the news” kinda content, whether iot be events in the area, happenings with us or friends, or just interesting newsbits.

    I also like to work in dolphin-related news items when possible both because that’s interesting to me and because doing so ties in with our site name.

  40. Ours is kind of a blend of methodologies… Much of our blog content is fairly spontaneous “whatever the mood strikes” kind of stuff. But then some of it is more of a “reporting the news” kinda content, whether iot be events in the area, happenings with us or friends, or just interesting newsbits.

    I also like to work in dolphin-related news items when possible both because that’s interesting to me and because doing so ties in with our site name.

  41. I like a lot of the other comments, would choose an all of the above. However, if I were forced to choose, I would have to say that I write where the mood takes me. However, as I get more focused in my article writing over time, I could definitely see me writing about what my audience needs.

  42. I like a lot of the other comments, would choose an all of the above. However, if I were forced to choose, I would have to say that I write where the mood takes me. However, as I get more focused in my article writing over time, I could definitely see me writing about what my audience needs.

  43. I write a bit of everything. If it takes my interest and is about what I blog about, ill write it. I also use it to demonstrate my knowledge and what i’ve recently learnt etc

  44. I write a bit of everything. If it takes my interest and is about what I blog about, ill write it. I also use it to demonstrate my knowledge and what i’ve recently learnt etc

  45. My blog deals specifically with writing (albeit fiction), but the premise is still the same: never wait for “inspiration” to write because you’ll never get anything done (and this goes for all types of writing).

    Personally, however, much of my blog depends on the news, what others are saying, and “hot topics” in the world of literature/publishing. But I also try to write writing tips that will directly benefit my readers. These posts are fewer, but they are more planned and take longer to write – as I try to do a little background research before posting.

    Writing is one of those things that you just do it, and then worry about making it perfect later. That’s what editing is for.

  46. My blog deals specifically with writing (albeit fiction), but the premise is still the same: never wait for “inspiration” to write because you’ll never get anything done (and this goes for all types of writing).

    Personally, however, much of my blog depends on the news, what others are saying, and “hot topics” in the world of literature/publishing. But I also try to write writing tips that will directly benefit my readers. These posts are fewer, but they are more planned and take longer to write – as I try to do a little background research before posting.

    Writing is one of those things that you just do it, and then worry about making it perfect later. That’s what editing is for.

  47. I tend to write what i know, but i also ask those close to me to come up with some topics that they want to learn about. i try to simplify things for them and their input is a great asset.

  48. I tend to write what i know, but i also ask those close to me to come up with some topics that they want to learn about. i try to simplify things for them and their input is a great asset.

  49. Chris, you needed an “All of the above” field for us bloggers with multiple blogs on a variety of subjects.

  50. Chris, you needed an “All of the above” field for us bloggers with multiple blogs on a variety of subjects.

  51. How do you decide what to write when you can’t think of any of those? Hmmm…. thats me.

    RT

  52. How do you decide what to write when you can’t think of any of those? Hmmm…. thats me.

    RT

  53. Chris, you really need a link from this blog’s nav to the Authority Blogger forum. I always forget about it. My memory isn’t the greatest, until I get used to something. But had you not mentioned in this post, I would have completely forgotten.

  54. Chris, you really need a link from this blog’s nav to the Authority Blogger forum. I always forget about it. My memory isn’t the greatest, until I get used to something. But had you not mentioned in this post, I would have completely forgotten.

  55. Sometimes finding inspiration is tough. I keep a physical text note handy for ‘ideas’, when I’m out in the world. Sometimes I just surf the web for topics that interest me. I also subscribe to a lot of feeds so I can see the latest posts on my chosen topics. StumbleUpon is another great way to uncover random websites and new ideas.

  56. Sometimes finding inspiration is tough. I keep a physical text note handy for ‘ideas’, when I’m out in the world. Sometimes I just surf the web for topics that interest me. I also subscribe to a lot of feeds so I can see the latest posts on my chosen topics. StumbleUpon is another great way to uncover random websites and new ideas.