I agonize before my laptop every day. Like many writers, I desperately crave the satisfaction of a completed piece. It pains me not to write. The issue? I have no idea what to write about. There are words in me, but they lie unorganized and purposeless.
I’ve read numerous articles suggesting prompts and ways to find inspiration. I’ve used many of them myself. They’re great, and I am in no way discouraging this type of approach.
That being, there is somthing magical that happens when you write from your soul. Prompts and external topics aim elsewhere. They can occasionally provide catharsis, but this is a byproduct, not their main purpose. I can’t help but feel that most writers set out to free something from within themselves. Prompts are an incredibly hit-or-miss approach.
Then there is the flip side. We’ve all seen articles that are basically just diary entries. I’m guilty of this myself, and while this kind of content is highly cathartic, it isn’t as likely to resonate with an audience. It’s often just too personal.
The audience comes for what is relevant to them. Short of being a celebrity or a person of serious interest, the deep inner workings of your own unique experience are unlikely to resonate widely. So how do we hit the sweet spot between self-expression and relevance? To understand that, we have to dive a bit deeper.
What makes insight valuable?
Humans are perpetually faced with obstacles. As the philosopher Todd May puts it in his book A Fragile Life, we are always engaged in projects, and these projects are what impart meaning to our lives. It’s frustrating as hell, but it’s what makes life worth living.
That being, content that resonates is content that contributes to the life projects of the audience. Readers want to learn from writers so they don’t have to figure it out themselves. They want insight that propels them forward.
That’s why an article about the booming tech industry won’t appeal much to stay-at-home parents. It could have enormous insight, but it’s just not going to add much to their particular circumstances. Tech knowledge won’t make it easier to keep the house clean or connect with the kids.
In my opinion, the goal of good content is to impart meaningful realizations to the reader. We can see this in all formats. Great fiction imparts lessons that shape how we live. Great personal essays make us feel less alone by providing us insight into people like us. Great articles provide insight into the world and its workings.
What about style?
Just as important as the idea is its presentation. Inaccessible writing goes unread. Accessible but poorly written articles go unread. We want pizazz, sparkle, something to latch on to. This is where the importance of the writer’s self-expression comes in.
As much as we’d like to think we are purely logical creatures, emotion plays an enormous role in our understanding of ideas. It’s why we can hear cliches a million times and think nothing of them, only to realize their deep profundity after a major life event provides context. We need that personal element.
While good writers can absolutely impart style and personality into anything they write, it’s probably more mentally taxing than if they just chose to write about something they are already invested in. The small difference in effort adds up spread over many works. If you’re in it for the long-haul, this will matter.
In addition, when you write about what matters to you, you’re automatically imparting a unifying theme into your content. This theme is yourself. Rather than having to tailor your style to match a wide variety of audiences, this allows you to use your organic voice throughout all your work. It’s an easy way to build your brand.
With all this in mind, how can us writers consistently find ideas that are both insightful and personal?
Write the advice you need to hear
Shift your focus away from trying to find solutions. Instead, find the problem in your life that needs solving. What is troubling you? What areas in your life could use a breakthrough?
Set about finding the solution for yourself, then share that solution with others. By doing this, you can ensure that your content is actually relevant and useful. You can test it first hand. Is what you’re writing helpful to you? If it solves your problem, it’s probably going to help other people in the same situation.
What’s more, by putting your effort into writing the advice you need yourself, you’re in a fantastic position to impart your own personality. You can add the narrative of your own life into the piece. Pepper in anecdotes, build a story around how the problem arose, then provide the answer.
You’ll get the cathartic element of a diary entry, build common ground with your audience, provide meaningful insights, and improve your own life by solving personal problems.
And the well is endless. There isn’t a single one of us who has everything figured out. We are all in constant need of improvement. Being wildly successful in an area means you are probably aware of a few details that need fine-tuning. Being completely ignorant means you should probably learn more or address your lack of initiative.
This process might involve some unpleasant realizations. Good art often hurts. But by facing our own flaws head-on, we can gain self-awareness, grow as people, and provide meaningful content to the many others who might be avoiding such honest introspection.
We all have issues. Instead of running from it, we should embrace the endless instability of life. The key to great content might lie somewhere in the mess.
Your own life can provide a wellspring of profundity. The key is recognizing what’s troubling you. Write the advice you need and it will almost certainly be the advice others need as well. The result will be valuable to both your audience and yourself.