Writing is, at its core, a form of personal expression. Nevertheless, when considering topics to write about, many writers fail to consider the personal intimacy that writing entails. Rather than looking inward, they instead try unearthing the next “lightning rod” topic that will single handedly propel their writing forward.
The key to finding a good topic is in introspection rather than inspection. What themes evoke emotion within you (and thus likely other people as well)? What is something that you care about that has implications on a greater level? How can your writing serve as a deeper form of your expression?
This guide will present some “umbrella” topics that will provide some guidance in the process of self-reflection. Furthermore, because exposure to existing literature can often serve as a catalyst for new ideas, each theme is coupled with pieces of relevant literature.
As writer Jessica Valenti describes in The Nation, feminism is “battling systemic inequities; it’s a social justice movement that believes sexism, racism and classism exist and interconnect, and that they should be consistently challenged.” As such, feminist writing—and writing under any topic mentioned here—takes many different forms. Each of the works below is a short story, yet each is a radically different form of writing:
Suggested Reads: “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid and “A Pair of Silk Stockings” by Kate Chopin
The idea of using “races” as a biological classifier gained prominence in the 19th century as an empirical method of classifying people and their traits based on their skin tone. While it has since fallen to the wayside as a form of pseudoscience, the social values attached to “white,” “black,” “yellow,” and other races still proliferate today. The persistence of race’s capacity to divide is often the focus of works focused on racism, such as “Ten Indians” by Ernest Hemingway and “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” by Langston Hughes.
While religion may seem “out-of-fashion” in an increasingly secular world, over 80% of the world still classifies themselves as “spiritual” in some way. Indeed, in an increasingly fraught world, the security of some higher being remains as important as ever.
For a particularly gripping tale that draws inspiration from surrealist religious themes with regard to personal expression, see “Dream Meditation 9” by Jordan Zandi in The Adroit Journal or “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Conflict and War
For those of us who haven’t experienced it, war often seems like an abstract, far-away concept. Nevertheless, throughout all 5,000 years of recorded human history, war has been an ever-present theme. It is often used to offer some insight into the human condition and our tendency toward destruction.
Some of the most poignant accounts from war come from those who were in it, such as “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien and “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce.
“Heritage” is an umbrella word that refers to anything from one’s past generations—”traditions,” “inheritance,” “culture,” “customs,” “background,” etc. As such, it is often a defining aspect of one’s upbringing, ingraining certain cultural characteristics or traditions within one’s persona.
For instance, “Saboteur,” a short story detailing an unfairly-detained man in Communist China, was inspired by the author Ha Jin’s upbringing during the Cultural Revolution. Heritage and race are also often intertwined. In “A Plumb, Falling” of Issue Twenty-One, Latanya McQueen grapples with her identity as a black American by exploring the intersection between her heritage and history.
Economic inequality is often rooted in social issues (such as gender, race, or heritage) and is closely tied to societal status. Many pieces that focus on socioeconomic inequality grapple with the struggle for a better livelihood.
Consider “Job History,” a short story by Annie Proulx. The piece follows the life of a midwestern man, illustrating the clash between his culturally-ingrained self- and family pride in the world of economic decadence that surrounds him. “The Semplica-Girl Diaries,” a piece by George Saunders, is another great example of the clash between the fulfillment of familial love and socioeconomic status.
Although parenting is an extremely common aspect of the human experience, parenting is also heavily influenced by earlier factors mentioned here—religion, socioeconomic status, heritage, etc. As such, any piece inspired by the parenting experience, whether from a child/parent/grandparent’s view, offers a unique personal outlook on a particular aspect of life.
The parenting dynamic manifests in many different ways. For instance, in her short story “Sweetness,” Toni Morrison uses parenting as a medium of expression for other issues, principally race and gender. In Issue Twenty-One of The Adroit Journal, Charity Young also writes about parenting but does something completely different. Her piece, “Sabratha,” explores the physical and emotional relationship between daughter and mother.
Finally, consider the intent.
As already outlined, reading is the best way to inspire your writing. Consider your intent in writing, and seek to expand this by reading texts relevant to this theme.
Do you want to inform?
While there are many ways to provide information, many opt for the essay: a vehicle that unites several ideas into one thought-provoking package.
Suggested Reads: “Sentimental Medicine” by Eula Biss and “How Frightened Should we be of AI?” by Tad Friend
Do you want to horrify?
Consider reading the gothic genre, which center around horror, mystery, and grotesque themes. Edgar Allen Poe is a particularly reputable author in this genre.
Suggested Reads: “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allen Poe
Do you want to mystify?
From detective fiction to surrealist stories, many types of literature utilize mystery as one of their central themes.
Suggested Reads: “The Balloon” by Donald Barthelme and “Are You a Doctor?” by Raymond Carver
Interested in other creative writing ideas?
Read work from the latest issue of The Adroit Journal and browse other articles from Adroit, such as our guide for Tumblr writing.