Everyone has a book in them, as the phrase goes — but are you wondering what topics to write about? Perhaps you’re keen to get a first novel out but aren’t sure of the focus, or worse, maybe you’re struggling with second novel syndrome, feeling the pressure of satisfying your readers’ expectations, now they know you’re awesome. You’ll need a list of new topics for your follow-up.
This guide will get to the root of your writer’s block and tap into your inspiration.
Don’t forget to grab a notebook — we guarantee you’ll be overflowing with ideas of things to write about by the end of this article!
How to decide what topics to write about
Have you been asking, "What should I write a book about?" Most writers who can't think of a sharp angle for their story usually fall into one of two categories. Which are you?
Too many topics to write about
If you like shiny objects, you might flit around from one exciting idea to the next without giving them enough time to develop.
Does this sound like you? Your best bet is to work out how to narrow down your focus and take a single idea to the next level — in other words, you actually commit to writing about it!
Struggling for things to write about
Of course, the opposite problem is equally frustrating. When you can't think of anything worth writing about, it can feel like you've lost your mojo! If all your ideas seem a bit lifeless, we'll show you how to conjure up and explore new topics.
7 ways to come up with things to write about
Have you long been asking, "what should I write a book about?" but find your internal creativity fountain has run dry? We've put together a list of techniques so those book topics easily bubble to the surface.
1. Brainstorm topics to write about
Brainstorming is a very good way to come up with topics for pretty much any type of writing — fiction or non-fiction books included. It works by unearthing all the ideas floating around your head, and it's also a fantastic way of developing new topics from scratch.
Here's how it works: set a timer for five minutes and start writing down any topics that you think of, no matter how small or random. Remember: there are no bad ideas. Keep writing like this until the timer runs out, and then go through your list and highlight the topics that stand out.
These are the topics you should explore further.
Pen and paper is probably the most traditional way to brainstorm. If you'd rather use a digital approach, try using a mind-mapping tool like Stormboard, and you can save your notes for later! Alternatively, you could use a large whiteboard or flipchart.
2. Use your personal experiences
What is the one thing that will set your writing apart from other authors? Your unique life experiences, of course.
The best part? We all have them!
These could be positive experiences, such as a memorable holiday or overcoming a challenge. Or they could be negative experiences that you've turned into a learning opportunity, such as a relationship break-up or dealing with illness.
Your personal experiences are topics you know intimately and can write about with confidence and passion. They will also make your writing relatable and authentic so you connect with your readers.
If you feel reluctant to weave elements of your personal history into your writing, you might even find it cathartic. Harvard Business Review reports that writing increases resilience while decreasing depressive symptoms and stress. So, if you're stuck for ideas, see if you find writing healing!
3. Repurpose stories
It's ok to be inspired by storytellers from the past. After all, there's a reason why certain myths and legends have been passed down through the generations.
One way to find topics to write about is to take a story you love and give it a modern twist.
For example, suppose you're a fan of Greek mythology. In that case, you could write a contemporary version of the story of Achilles. Or if you're into fairy tales, you could reimagine Sleeping Beauty as a businesswoman who falls asleep at her desk after an 18-hour workday.
Not only will this give you something interesting to write about, but it will also show off your creativity and imagination.
One example of a successful, repurposed children's story is "The Gruffalo" by Julia Donaldson. The author took inspiration from a traditional Chinese folk tale called "The Fox And The Tiger" and created a whole new story with unique characters.
The book is hugely successful, selling more than 13.5 million copies and being adapted for stage and screen. Not bad for a borrowed tale!
4. Keep an idea journal of topics to write about
Grab a pocket-sized notebook, label it, "What should I write about?" and keep it handy at all times. You never know when topics will pop into your head, and trust me, they have a habit of popping up at random times. So, it's essential you capture them when they do!
Whenever you think of interesting topics to write about, or have an idea for a scene or character, jot them down in your notebook. Refer back to your ideas when you're ready to start writing and flesh them out further.
Pro tip: keep your notebook on your bedside table too. If you’ve ever noticed your best ideas come to you during sleep, there’s a reason for this.
The hypnogogic state happens when we transition from wakefulness to slumber, and this stage of the sleep cycle has close links with creativity.
In fact, Mary Shelley claims that she concocted the idea for "Frankenstein" during a waking dream. That didn't turn out too badly for her did it?
5. Create interesting characters based on real life
Deciding what to write about is one thing, but character development is quite another. You'll want to craft characters that your readers engage with. They should love or loathe them, but definitely don't feel indifferent towards them.
One way to create interesting characters is to base them on people you know in real life. Seinfeld co-creator Larry David did this when he wrote the part of George Costanza based on himself!
Alternatively, this could be a friend, family member, or colleague – anyone you find intriguing. Do they have an unusual turn of phrase you'd love to use in your dialogue? Or perhaps they have a unique fashion sense you could use to describe them?
Don't worry if no one springs to mind – you can always try this memory trick: think of the people who have had the most significant impact on your life, either positively or negatively. These are the individuals who have shaped who you are today, and they make for excellent topics to write about.
6. Listen and people watch
Borrow from others if you're struggling to take inspiration from your own life. And the most simple way to do this is to get out there in public and do some serious eavesdropping. No judgment here!
Head to your local coffee shop and become part of the furniture. Sit quietly, watch the world go by, listen to people's conversations, be naturally curious, and take note of everything that piques your interest.
Make up stories about the people you see as a way to get your creative juices flowing! Use these musings as a starting point for further research later on.
7. Enjoy a change of scenery
A change of scenery is as good as a rest and can also do wonders for your creativity. If you usually write at home, try going to a local library or café instead. Or, if you're used to working in an office, take your laptop outside and enjoy the fresh air while you type away.
You could even try writing in a completely different location to mix things up. Booking a writer's retreat could be the perfect way to combine a change of scenery with much-needed peace and quiet.
10 most interesting topics to write about
Still asking, "what should I write a book about?" Here are ten quick prompts based on popular genres. Use them to get started on your next project:
If you want to write a more light-hearted romance, you could try something in the chick-lit vein, such as Bridget Jones' Diary.
Do aliens exist? If they do, what do they look like, and where are they from?
If you want to take things in a more scientific direction, you could explore the topics of space colonization or first contact.
Who doesn't love a good mystery? Write about a crime committed and the twists and turns as the protagonist tries to solve it.
If you love the idea of a detective series but aren't sure what to write about, you could even base your story on real-life events!
Heist fiction might be the best option if you're drawn to topics to write about that are fast-paced and action-packed. What better example than "The Great Train Robbery" by Michael Crichton?
Plan out the perfect crime, then follow your characters as they try to pull it off. Will they succeed, or will the whole thing come crashing down around them?
Time travel is a fun genre to play around with. You could write about a character who travels back in time and has to prevent a disaster from occurring or someone who uses time travel to fix things that have gone wrong in the present.
Not sure where to start? Think about which time period you feel most attracted to.
Horror is all about suspense, fear, and tension. This is the genre for you if you're looking for topics to write about that will keep your readers up at night!
Stephen King is the master of horror, sharing a natural affinity for the macabre due to witnessing a traumatic incident as a child.
Writing horror could be the perfect way to channel your creativity if you love tapping into dark topics.
Consider writing a comedy novel if you're a natural comedian who loves to make people laugh with your wit, sarcasm, and amusing anecdotes.
This genre is perfect for those who have a knack for satire and can see the funny side of even the direst situations.
The coming-of-age story is a classic genre for a reason – we've all been there! It's relatable, heartwarming, and often humorous.
Why not write about your own experiences (if you can bear to relive them!) navigating the ups and downs of adolescence? Remember to include more digital devices and messaging apps if you're penning an updated version!
Erotica is a popular genre for a reason and will certainly add a bit of spice to the writing process!
"50 Shades of Grey" by E.L James proves how much appetite there is for this type of writing!
If you're feeling particularly creative, you could write about a world drastically different from our own – a dystopian future.
The most apparent example of this genre is "The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood. But there are multiple possibilities when it comes to exploring a dystopian world in your writing.
You have all the answers to “what should I write about?” - now what?
By now, you should have the perfect list of interesting topics to write about, so the only thing left is to bring one of them to fruition.
Walk through your idea, brainstorm, commit to it and outline your book. Once the foundations are in place, try sense-checking with your literary agent or publisher to see if they feel strongly connected to the topic.
Related articles on writing a book
Did you find the topic helpful? Learn more by checking out these related articles.
- 6 Steps For Writing A Book Outline
- A Step By Step Guide On How To Become An Author
- 12 Ideas For The Best Places To Write
Choose which topics to write about that resonate with you!
Remember: writing a book is a long game. There are no prizes for speeding through the process; it takes as long as it takes.
So, don't despair if you're starting from an empty blank page. Keep your mind receptive to new ideas, and let your creativity do the rest. And remember to find out more about writing routines and good reading material for authors, to help you as you write.