Oh geez. It’s been a busy week. Uh. What do I say this week? I didn’t have time to fixate on a topic. I gotta make something up, pull it out of my…
So stuff’s been going on, but inspiration…didn’t really strike, but kinda pushed an idea forward, shrugged, and said “Why not?” Therefore, for today’s topic, I’ll be talking about…well, topics. Or more specifically, the art of talking about topics.
Now, this doesn’t really need much of an explanation; EVERYONE is capable of talking about things, and going on at length about their chosen subject. But when struggling to come up with a topic, I realised it’s also something we take for granted when it comes to wanting to say something. And that goes double for discreet people who prefer to talk when they need to, as opposed to having a desire to broadcast their opinions on the internet.
It’s one thing to just have an extroverted personality and a craving for attention (or rather, to bring something to attention). But what about when it has to be a special decision, or one carried out consistently and with discipline?
That’s where this comes in. So we interrupt our regular schedule of fantasy, sci-fi, and nerddom to give you…ADVICE ON HOW TO COME UP WITH AND DELIVER TOPICS! AND WHY THAT HELPS!
Phase 1: Conception
Plan ahead, have an idea of the sorts of subjects you can reliably draw from and talk about beyond a two-sentence review of “So I liked/hated it.” When it comes to topics, it depends on what you have to say about it and what you consider worth saying.
For some people, they are perfectly fine with being one in a million face-value reviews, because they care about giving THEIR review. For others, they feel more withdrawn about talking about something, even if they really like it, because they don’t have much to say, like if their review of Guardians of the Galaxy was simply “Oh, yeah, I really liked it. …That’s all.”
For comfort’s sake, draw from topics and things you are knowledgeable about and/or enjoy, because unless you’re a science blog, I doubt you can pull a topic out of quantum physics. On the other hand, you COULD also draw inspiration from beyond your comfort zone depending on how daring you feel or how willing you are to take on a new challenge. That being said, just because a bunch of people talk ENDLESSLY about things they know NOTHING about as if they’re experts, I’d still recommend you do at least some cursory reading and use that to inform and shape your opinion, instead of doing some cursory reading and using that as a seal of approval for a vastly uninformed opinion with only the smallest connection to it (“Hey man, I’ve watched every episode of Star Trek, so I’m qualified to talk about climate change!”).
Even if you don’t have an idea of SPECIFIC topics, at least you’ll know where to look or what you want to be about. If you know you want to talk about the fantasy genre, then you know where to look and research for inspiration, such as talking about specific authors, franchises, or conventions. And once you’ve got ideas flowing, you can start writing them down in brief, easy-to-digest points so that you can have them on standby for later.
Phase 2: Creation
Firstly, I’m not going to shy from admitting it: inspiration is a BIG help in getting started and going through with a topic. That usually comes from finding something that really sticks with you, and the thoughts percolate all through the week, and your planned topic blooms.
But what about if you DON’T have inspiration? What if the week’s been a real pain, and you’ve ended up too occupied and/or tired for it? Or if you have topics, but don’t feel like writing about them?
Well…strictly speaking, you could just not do anything and take a break. It’s not like you HAVE to do it. Maybe you just need to recharge without the pressure of talking.
But on the other hand, if it’s a discipline thing and your mind is made up, then my advice is simple: Just sit down and start writing/talking anyway.
It might be that getting started in the first place is what you need to realise you had topics ready for you, like finding a topic you had intended to work on, or finding out you actually had something to say about something you saw recently. Sure, you might not have started the week with any thoughts about Thor: Ragnarok which you saw on the weekend, but sitting down with thoughts you find acceptable is a good first step.
Or if you have no foundations waiting in the wings at all, then just write about the first idea that sticks in your panicked last-minute-of-the-exam mind. Odds are if it’s occupying all your thoughts, then you must have a thing or two to say about it. Pretty much like I’m doing now.
So What Does This Get Me?
What, you mean besides actually getting a topic written out? Well, perhaps these helpful BULLET POINTS shall show you doubting Thomases!
- In the first place, there’s discipline to be gained. It’s one thing to just come up with a topic when you feel like it, but working on these things when you’ve inflicted yourself with a self-imposed deadline will train your ability to work promptly, work on demand, and yes, bullshit by pulling points out of your butt. Oh, and I wouldn’t worry too much about lying (though, obviously, you shouldn’t lie); when the time comes, you’d be surprised how much last-minute-panic can reveal you knew. Who knew you had that much truth and insight in you?
- It hones your mental flexibility. Anyone can read off a list they painstakingly created and shaped for maximum outreach and point-making: the game and movie reviews where the highlights and critiques are surgically dissected, set apart, and reattached to create a discourse that was weeks in the making. All that’s left is just filling in the spaces between the points. But coming up with something AS YOU WRITE IT robs you of that advantage, leaving you with only what you can come up with on the spot. Then you can see just how inspired you can be about your topic that was chosen as a last minute replacement because Chad had a cold and your team needed an even number for dodgeball.
- In contrast to the aforementioned flexibility and freedom from pre-planned structures, it paradoxically ALSO trains you to be MORE structured at the same time. That’s because as you’re doing it, you STILL need to have a beginning, middle, and end, working out your points and then arranging them in a way that makes sense. Otherwise you’re just rambling on about whatever point comes into your head with no idea of where you’re going or what you’re trying to say.
So those are the benefits. And I understand some of them may seem redundant; after all, if we’re already coming up with planned topics, and insights for those topics, and outlines for those insights, aren’t we already naturally capable of doing those?
Well, of course. But here’s the thing: Writing a topic on the spot teaches us to make do without those things. The training wheels are off, the safety net is gone, we are no longer filling in the blanks of a Mad Lib post.
Structure is good to have, and necessary to be understood. And preparation is a MAJOR help in having a solid supply to draw from. But speaking from personal experience, it can be possible to feel TOO safe in them. Having them doesn’t weaken your actual skills as a writer…but it CAN make you take them for granted, and forget what it was like to actually do it by hand from the ground up.
For instance, most of my posts tend to have at least some degree of planning and structure ahead of time. Topics are given a generous period to stew, those thoughts are recorded in advance in quick points in an order which I then fill in. It’s also how I tend to write my own stories: I quickly write down the broad strokes, then fill in the broad dialogue, THEN work on the actual descriptions and prose.
It’s good to do those things. Doing them didn’t weaken my abilities as a writer. But the more I got used to them, the more I kind of relied on it as my OWN safety net of seeing topics as something I could safely package, defrost and garnish for later consumption. That is, until THIS topic, which was indeed made from nothing. I probably have one or two others done the same way, and the actual writing process might be more fluid than that, but the point still stands.
And it’s the same thing with my own writing. Sure, the broad picture helps, but it DID make me forget (or at least postpone) the actual act of WRITING EVERYTHING IN-BETWEEN. I’d gotten so used to writing a broad “The bad guy reveals the big plot twist and teleports away” and the accompanying dialogue that sometimes I’d forgotten what it was to actually describe what was going on until it was actually time to write it.
So by all means, plan ahead and be structured and orderly! But don’t forget that any blueprint and map will need your own sweat and effort to complete your project or journey.
And finding your way home without a map will leave you with a HUGE sense of accomplishment…as well as a better appreciation for the fact that the map makes things WAY more efficient and safe! And now you can use it with your superior tracking skills you learned from the wolves that adopted you!