Article Writing Tips for the Anal Retentive – Tip 1

(Or It Takes One to Know One)

Writing Tip Number One

There is nothing more frustrating than staring at a blank sheet of paper (or computer screen) when you absolutely must write a blog post or an article for your email newsletter or autoresponder series. This isn’t the same as writer’s block. It’s more like how people often feel when deciding what to make for dinner.

A cook will go to the cupboard and refrigerator to remind herself what’s on hand. It’s a similar process for a writer. You need to remind yourself what topics you can access from your “idea cupboard.”

The best way to do that is to create a random, stream-of-consciousness list of every major sub-topic in your niche that you can think of (AKA brainstorming). If you know your niche well, this is a lot easier than you might imagine.


Deb’s Brainstorming Rule #1:

Work quickly, letting the ideas stream into your mind. Don’t try to force them and don’t just limit yourself to writing down clever thoughts. At this stage go for the first thing that pops into your head, regardless of quality. (See Deb’s Brainstorming Rule # 5.) 

Deb’s Brainstorming Rule #2:

Turn off your inner editor. You know who I’m talking about. It’s the little voice that says you must correct each spelling and punctuation error the moment you see it. And it’s likewise that same inner editor who has been known to tell you that you write like a third-grader and will never amount to anything as a writer. Flip the switch off or muzzle her. 

Deb’s Brainstorming Rule #3:

Write out your list in long-hand in ink, even if you’re the world’s fastest typist. It’s MUCH harder to edit a list on paper than on a digital device. And that’s a good thing. (See Deb’s Brainstorming Rule # 4.)

Deb’s Brainstorming Rule #4:

Do not edit your list in any way, including scratching off an idea or obliterating it. I’ll say it again:DON’T EDIT!! 

Deb’s Brainstorming Rule #5:

In this first stage of deciding what to write, you want to create the longest possible list of topics, no matter how lame some of them may seem at the moment. You are going for quantity, NOT quality. (You may need to silence your inner editor again. She can sometimes reactivate on her own. Just sayin’…) We’ll deal with quality in the next phase.

Deb’s Brainstorming Rule #6:

List every idea that comes to mind, even if you know you’ll never write about that topic in a million years. Why?

  1. Because if you don’t write these ideas down immediately, they will haunt you through this process until you acknowledge them, effectively blocking your creativity and ruining any brainstorming momentum you may have acquired.
  2. Because a topic that doesn’t interest you might be closely-related to one that does interest you, but which you might not have thought of otherwise.

An Example

My broad niche is writing, so I’m going to just start listing sub-topics here. And, no, I did not plan this out ahead of time. (Trust me, I’m not that organized.)

Article writing
Non-fiction book writing
Creative non-fiction writing
Short story writing
Novel writing
Finding story ideas

    In newspaper headlines
    Book titles
    Life events
    The seasons
    The calendar

Writer’s block

    Is there such a thing as writer’s block?
    Overcoming writer’s block

Story structure
Traditional publishing
Online publishing
Writing for digital devices
Writing prompts
Creative writing exercises
Writing quotes
Writing contests
Writing games
Sales copywriting
Repurposing your writing
Agents and Editors
Do you need an agent?
Should you hire a freelance editor before you submit your work?
Editing your writing

    Writing is Rewriting

Psychology of writing

    Your inner critic

Creativity and the writing process
The writing life
Making a living at writing
Author interviews
Author profiles

This list took less than five minutes to create. Notice I included possible article titles under some subtopics. Never let such serendipitous ideas escape. They’re too hard to come by. Write down any and all ideas.

Even though I’ve been writing on these and other topics for the past four years, I had to think hard about what my categories are, because my primary purpose is helping fiction writers who are stuck to find story ideas. This wasn’t a matter of words effortlessly flowing off my fingertips, by a long shot.

Priming the Pump

If you need to quickly prime the pump of your creativity, browse through your favorite niche magazine for its departments and column listings, or do a broad topic keyword search online. That should be enough to get you started. Your subconscious will do the rest.

Finally, if you are blessed with a loyal readership, two simple ways to get even more ideas for articles are to ask for topics of interest and to solicit reader questions.

As you continue to brainstorm, you’ll find that one idea sparks another — sometimes to the point that you can’t write fast enough to jot down one idea before the next one pops into your brain. That’s the beauty of stream of consciousness. The human mind, not to mention the mysterious ways it works, is wondrous.

For other articles on writing, including those on the categories listed above, I invite you to visit me at The Story Ideas Virtuoso. Come join the discussion and download a free small report.


  1. Hamish says

    Hello Deb,

    Great article. Love the analogy about a cook going to the cupboard to check out what’s there.

    Re the list writing/brainstorming – I totally agree that you’re better to do this with a pen in your hand. Somehow you’re just programmed to write something when you pick up a pen. Or is it just me?

    I did try one of those voice recognition software things. Still prefer a pen first though.

    Thanks for the tips. Enjoyed the read.
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