Please Steal These Ideas! 30 Things to Write About
Don't just wait for an Amazing Idea™ to strike before you start writing. Sure, some writers can pluck spontaneous epiphanies out of thin air — but for the rest of us mortals, the process starts with writing about anything and building on that idea along the way.
To get you started (because starting is the most important thing) here are some ideas of things to write about! And if you want to steal them — go ahead! You have our permission.
Things to write about for fiction
For writers of fiction looking to move the hearts and minds of readers, here are 30 things to write about:
1. A popular story with an updated setting
Between myth and folklore, Shakespearean tragedies, and vintage classics, the stories that stand the test of time all have one thing in common: a message that has resonated with generations of readers. Refreshing the characters and setting of a beloved story is a great way to make a timeless theme or perennial plot your own, reviving it for a new generation. For some guidance, take a look at this list of novels inspired by Shakespeare — or just rewatch Clueless.
2. Your greatest fantasy, come true
Though it may seem like we all dream the same dreams — get rich, find love — human beings can be wildly creative with their fantasies. So, whether you dream of marrying a pop star, or hope they’ll hear you busking and join you in a duet that goes viral, why not delve a little deeper into yours?
3. Speculation about an event in your future
Much like a novel, the future is a wide expanse of possibility where anything could happen. But there are certain things you might expect (depending on where you are in life): you’ll get a job, you’ll retire, someone you love will be born, someone you gave birth to will fall in love. Charging your stories with real emotions and real people, by speculating about an event in your future, is sure to help your writing sing.
4. Something from a creative writing prompt
The internet is full of ideas for writers who don’t know what to write about. Some sources are better than others, and we think our resources are a great place to start — of course, we’re only a little biased. As well as a lovingly curated list of over 200 short story ideas, we also have a weekly prompts contest, where we provide five writing prompts based on a new theme each time. You can always join in with this week’s prompts, or explore the prompts of contests past!
5. A conversation, rewritten the way you wish it went
We’ve all been there: You have something to say, you’ve planned it out in your head, but you’re tongue-tied when the time comes. For days afterward, you think about how it might have gone, all the witty things you could have said. It’s torture, and a complete waste of time — unless you put it down on the page. Using real-life examples is a great way to practice writing dialogue — and you never know where that conversation might lead.
6. Something you feared would happen actually came true
The worriers among us are constantly (if inadvertently) coming up with things to write about — especially ideas for thrillers, suspense novels, and that part in a romance where everything goes wrong. Usually, these ideas come and go as soon as the thing you were worrying about turns out fine. But why not make those anxieties a (fictional) reality, and use them for the “rising action/all is lost” part of your story?
7. Opening lines inspired by each of the things around you
Those who wholly embrace the “pantsing” method often go as far as to write line-by-line. For this kind of writer inspiration might be as simple as “a storm” or “a rocking chair”. Curious? Try writing an opening line inspired by something in the room. If you like it, try the next line — it should feel necessitated by the first. And if that doesn’t work, move on to something more inspiring. Maybe a coffee cup holds the key to your next novel!
8. The plot of a song, embellished or re-invented
Many of the best songwriters are also incredible storytellers. But even the most narrative songs can be explored further. Has a song ever had you picturing its world and its people? Great! Listen to it again and dig into the lyrics: Who are the characters behind them? And what challenges are they facing? While you’re not trying to rewrite the song in prose — you want to get to know its people, circumstances, and setting so you can stretch them even further.
Need an example? We once set this as a prompt for our weekly writing contest, and the winning story was ‘Suzanne’ by Rachel Dzengelewski — an utterly enchanting story that inhabits the world of Leonard Cohen’s song of the same name.
9. A memory, but from the perspectives of others involved
One of the challenges faced by memoirists is that memory is mostly (and inevitably) unreliable. This isn’t a problem in and of itself — certainly not for fiction writers — but it can make it easy to fall into the trap of making yourself the all-conquering hero or all-suffering victim of the story. To dodge this trap, and have some fun with structure, try writing about the same memory from the perspective of each person involved. Changing points of view can be a very fun exercise!
10. An imaginary interview with a stranger who draws your attention
Character questionnaires are a great tool for character development. If you’re in need of a starting point, you can't go wrong with an intriguing stranger. Imagining a character’s answers to a series of questions helps flesh them out, and can even provide a great idea for a story. But if you want to get really creative, why not experiment and write a narrative that takes the form of an interview, interrogation, or therapy session?
11. A story about someone who has your childhood dream job, but they hate it
Want to feel better about your current job? It’s time to unpack the profession of your childhood dreams. Astronaut, popstar, lab scientist, or lollipop lady, trials and tribulations are faced by all — yes, even authors. That your character is in the job from hell is a given, but whether or not things are about to get better is entirely up to you.
12. A piece that starts with a sentence from the middle of a book
Grab a book off your bookshelf, flick to a random page, then point anywhere on that page and you’ve got your opening line. If it’s a complete dead-end, you’re permitted to try again, but try not to go hunting for something specific — this writing idea is all about randomness. You won’t be able to publish it if you’re plagiarizing that first line, so if you hope to publish the results, consider the random sentence to be a prompt, not an opening line.
13. Your life, if you had taken a different path
Whether or not you believe in fate, life is full of choices that dictate the paths we follow. Think back to a time when you made a decision that could be considered a turning point. Then, make a different choice. Where would you be now if you’d decided not to go to college? How might your life be different if you’d spent a year traveling? Feel free to take some creative liberties — this isn’t real life anymore.
14. Your favorite recipe, interspersed with whatever thoughts or narratives it brings to mind
There’s something about food that makes it a brilliant vehicle for reminiscence — whether it’s the smell of fish and chips transporting you to the seaside or the act of baking a cake unlocking childhood memories. So if you want to write something a little nostalgic or contemplative, try using a recipe or a simple narrative about cooking as an anchor for all your thoughts and (fictional or nonfictional) anecdotes. If you love the process, who knows? You could be publishing a creative cookbook soon.
15. A randomly generated plot to use as a story within your story
Writers love to write about writers, but it’s not very often you find the plot of a novel within a novel — and we think that should change! Instead of using our plot generator the bog-standard way, why not use it to generate the material for a character’s work-in-progress. Start with their weird and wonderful concept for a plot, then let it influence their life — directly, indirectly, or in a surreal, metatextual way!
16. A character who does all the things you’re not brave enough to do
Despite their active imaginations, writers tend to be indoor people who are often more likely to read about wild adventures than actually want to go on them. So, one way to write a story as entertaining as those you read is to make your character do all the wild and adventurous things you wish you had the spontaneity to do — and see where it takes them. (If you’re so inclined, you could do all the adventurous things yourself, of course, and then you’d have the material for a memoir.)
17. The 'untold stories' of old photographs
Whether you scroll on your phone, pull the family albums down from the loft, or search through boxes at a flea market, looking at old photographs is a great way to stumble across the setting, characters, events, or emotions of your next great piece of writing.
18. Wrong answers to Google’s most-asked questions
Sure, kids say the darndest things. But it turns out adults Google the darndest things. So if you want to respond to today’s most pressing concerns, or just write a quirky story, turn to mankind’s Google searches for questions like, Why were cornflakes invented?, Can we go to heaven with tattoos? Can dogs eat bananas? Strawberries? Apples? To see how it’s done, check out Tara Campbell’s Angels and Blueberries.
19. A piece inspired by an offbeat news headline
You know what they say: sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. And after looking up offbeat headlines, it certainly seems that’s the case. While some are only good for a laugh, hidden among the world’s weird news stories are some real nuggets of gold — perfect for a humorous piece of flash fiction or a bizarre inciting incident!
20. Your daily journal, but with an unusual twist
Writing in a daily journal is not only cathartic (just ask all those angsty teenagers), it’s also a great way to build your writing habit and nurture your creativity. But if documenting your life isn’t your style, you’ll need to think outside the box. You could try writing in the style of a journal from the perspective of a fictional character (in the spirit of Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin), or writing out of chronological order — anything that gets your creative cogs whirring and puts you on the path to a great idea!
Things to write about for nonfiction and blog posts
Need inspiration on nonfiction topics? Don't worry — just take one of these 10 ideas for things to write about:
21. Today’s headlines, told by the devil's advocate
The strongest content is highly topical, and the best of the best will also make readers question what they know. So when you run out of things to write about, scour recent headlines for one that interests you. Make sure you’re clued up on the topic, then generate debate by questioning the standpoint of the article. You don’t need to disagree, just probe the argument for weaknesses — there’s always at least one.
22. The last time someone changed your opinion
Getting someone to question what they know is one thing, but changing their opinion for good is an entirely different ball game. So when someone succeeds with you, it can be quite a momentous occasion. Think back to the last time you had your mind changed. What was it that swayed you? What was your existing opinion? And how do you feel about the subject now? Maybe you can change someone else’s mind too.
23. An in-depth visitor’s guide to your hometown
Visitor’s guides: whether it’s the dull tweedy books that collect dust in the spare room or the online listicles — neither option is quite cutting it. Give the people what they want and create an honest insider’s guide to your hometown. You could make top 10 lists, annotate a guided walk, or write a “week about town” handbook — get creative, and don’t be afraid to add a personal touch. (And, if you’re feeling particularly witty, don’t be afraid of satire!)
24. A new hobby, documented
If you’ve taken up a new hobby, no matter how obscure, chances are there are a bunch of people out there thinking about doing the same — and they want to know what they’re in for. So become that person — the one who can provide them with everything they need to know every step of the way: the beginner’s kit, the best place to start, the mistakes you wish you’d known before starting, and the thoughts and feelings of someone who’s been there, done that.
25. An honest letter to your younger self
The internet is full of advice on how to write a letter to your younger self — but authenticity may be the best way to approach such a deeply personal task. This exercise can be a really therapeutic way to heal old wounds, but it can also be a great way to poke fun at the clothes you wore in the past. Let your voice lead the direction of your letter. You’ll probably find that people relate to your writing without you giving them a second thought.
26. Room 101: your picks explained
Ever wish you could get rid of that thing that grinds your gears? Or curls your toes? Or makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end? Room 101 is a hypothetical place where things can be sent in order to be eliminated from existence. Whether it’s magicians, moths, or taramasalata, have your rant and create engagement by asking your readers whether they share the same pet peeves and worst nightmares as you.
27. An ode to your addictions
Maybe you’ll find yourself writing a humorous love letter to sugar, maybe you’ll write about your favorite TV show, maybe you’ll reflect on a more concerning kind of addiction. Whatever it is, think about what draws you back to this thing or behavior, the feeling of giving in or refusing to give in to your addiction, and how your life is different because of it. Then you can think about the broader implications of people having this addiction, how it changes society, or how it’s perceived by other people. From there, you may glimpse the potential for a longer writing project.
28. A famous quote, unpacked
From intriguing observations like Tolstoy’s “each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” to George Eliot’s “the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts,” there is no shortage of thought-provoking statements that can spark a reaction, whether you look for them in literature or in the daily news cycle. Find a line that speaks to you, and allow your thoughts and feelings to pour out. The result could be confessional, argumentative, or matter-of-fact in tone, but the idea is that you’ll come across an interesting thought of your own in the process, and then pursue that.
29. A blend of your own experience with research on a related topic
Is there an issue that you feel affects your life significantly? From gardening to loneliness among elderly people and animal rights, if there’s something you feel strongly about, research it online. Read a few newspaper or magazine articles (preferably written by well-established or unbiased publications) relating to this issue, or if it’s particularly complex and you have the energy for it, look at academic studies related to it. Start writing your reflections as a response to this information — does your experience confirm what you’ve read? How does it deviate from examples mentioned? Is there a particular aspect of this issue you haven’t read about, that you think is key? Start by answering these questions.
30. The act of writing itself
Time to go meta — a fun thing to write about is writing itself! Use these quotes about writing as a jumping-off point if you like, or simply reflect on your own experiences with putting pen to paper. Think about when you’re most productive, what the process feels like, what you struggle with or what you find most satisfying about writing. Ask yourself why you write, and answer as honestly (and extensively) as you possibly can. A little soul-searching can be fun!
We hope these ideas have been helpful in your journey to find things you can write about — even if you don’t see an idea that immediately jumps at you as fascinating, try having a go anyway. Inspiration sometimes takes a few minutes to arrive!