How to Write When You Don’t Know What To Write About

So you want to write, but don’t know where to begin

Your mind is scrambled. You don’t have an overarching idea to plan out. What are you meant to do? Should you write whatever comes into your head? Should you try to make your work a cohesive whole somehow? Should you really be trying to shoehorn your short pieces into a novel?

Don’t be scared. You’re not alone. This blog post deals with these questions.

500 words for 31 days

I signed up to write 500 words a day every day for 31 days.

No, I’m not setting myself a NaNoWriMo style task where I have to write a novel.

What is the purpose of this exercise, then? I’m just trying to get into a daily writing habit.

Are you wrapped up in your non-writing life? Come and join me for 500 words a day. Send me a tweet to let me know you’re in. 

How does someone become a writer?

With writing. A writer is someone who writes.

If you’re doing this along with me, that means you can write anything for this 31 dat stint. I mean, honestly, I just want to be a writer, and if a writer is someone who writes, then goddamn it sign me up to the writing-every-day bandwagon.

Emails don’t count. Blog posts  count. Poetry counts, fiction counts, magic realistic shopping lists count. So long as you have the spark of an idea, however small, you can work with it.

And the thing with small sparks is that sometimes they can ignite a mighty fire. 

Maybe we’ll find ourselves writing shopping lists in a dieselpunk world and suddenly BAM there we go with a novel idea: and we have our daily writing habit to thank for this.

Google is your friend

Of course I Googled ‘what to write about if you don’t know what to write about’ when I was researching this blog post. There’s a load of hits for this topic (unsuprisingly!), but one or two links stood out.

There’s Things To Write About over at Udemy, Stuck for Ideas? 20 Quotes Telling You What To Write About at the fantastic Write To Done, and a little gem that also came up: 5 Ways To Find Time to Write When Busy (I am busy! You are busy! Everyone’s busy! We all need this!).

Making the time suck work for you

Social media can help you out if you’re stuck. This probably sounds counter-intuitive, being that social media is the biggest time suck ever, but be constructive with it. Let everything feed your writing; stories that other people share on social media, for example, can be a fertile feeding ground for writing ideas.

Some social media sites help more than others, of course. Pinterest is especially good for writing ideas as everything there is visual. Instagram, too! So if you’re on Pinterest (follow me! we can be friends!), there’s a board simply called Writing Prompts which you’ll find very helpful. I’ll be writing about the image below later.

What inspiration can you find today?



The Water – a little flash fiction

This is for the Dark Fairy Queen Midsummer Night’s Dream Writing Contest.

It’s the first draft.

I don’t know where the idea came from, but it’s the first piece of writing that I’ve done in nearly a month.

Continue reading “The Water – a little flash fiction”

Little Nell’s Death Scene – Homage vs Plagarism


noun: plagiarism; plural noun: plagiarisms

  1. the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own.

Dickens and The Old Curiosity Shop (1841)

Little Nell's Death Scene
Little Nell’s Death Scene

She was dead. No sleep so beautiful and calm, so free from trace of pain, so fair to look upon. She seemed a creature fresh from the hand of God, and waiting for the breath of life; not one who had lived and suffered death. Her couch was dressed with here and there some winter berries and green leaves, gathered in a spot she had been used to favour. “When I die, put near me something that has loved the light, and had the sky above it always.” Those were her words.

She was dead. Dear, gentle, patient, noble Nell was dead. Her little bird — a poor slight thing the pressure of a finger would have crushed — was stirring nimbly in its cage; and the strong heart of its child-mistress was mute and motionless for ever. Where were the traces of her early cares, her sufferings, and fatigues? All gone. Sorrow was dead indeed in her, but peace and perfect happiness were born; imaged in her tranquil beauty and profound repose.1 (Chapter LXXI, p.524)

Homage vs Plagarism

At what point does a work you’re tipping your hat to become plagiarism in your writing? Little Nell’s death scene (above) from The Old Curiosity Shop is one of the most famous passages in English literature and evokes a sensitive, wilting sensibility that a female character of mine needs.

As this piece is old-school, as I explained before, I’ve been re-reading a load of 19th and 18th century novels for exact descriptions of clothes, linguistic patterns and sickness (there will be more about that. Oh yes. Consumption, here we come).

What do you think? If a writer wants to siphon the flavour from another but not copy, how far do you go? When do you stop? I have my own ideas, and hope that my work wouldn’t be seen as derivative, but I’d like your thoughts.

Winter Garden Photography – 55WordChallenge

Road in Malahide

The 55WordChallenge

The 55 Word Challenge is a contest to write a story in 55 words or less. The challenge begins at noon Eastern time every Wednesday and ends at noon Thursday. The story is based on one of three photo prompts. Read more about it here.

This is the first challenge that’s been posed of 2014. Of the three photograph prompts, I chose the one of the winter garden, above.


Seb and his lomo


Something About the Days Getting Shorter

Memorial of the Murdered Jews

Something About the Days Getting Shorter – a short story published in Dr Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure

Just before Ranulph begins shooting the crows, I tell Sarah that the birds know about the absence of light.

She stares out the window, transfixed by the wheeling cloud, her hands wrapped around her teacup. Her knuckles are the colour of boiled meat. With her head turned this way, in profile, she appears in silhouette, and doesn’t seem so insane.

“They wheel around like that to bring the darkness in,” I go on helpfully, “they drag the winter here. You never see this many crows in the wintertime.”

She nods. She understands. She is clever, despite the hereditary curse, with her slick brown hair and quick green eyes. She has a jewelled stare. Men in the street seek out her face, and watch the horizon there.

The clamour penetrates the double glazing, a raucous shrieking that overlaps in and around itself, amplified by the short distance between the earth and the sky in this particular part of the country. Sarah and I are cocooned by hoarse screaming.  It fills up the air between us and makes me feel slightly dizzy in a gentle way; the waves of vertigo that creep up from your knees at the top of the stairs.

Read more here.

I did an interview for

St Patricks Cathedral in the Fog

I did a Q&A with Irish writer and blogger Alison Wells. It’s been posted up now on, ‘the home of Irish writing online.’

The Q&A focussed on ESC, a literary and visual arts publication that I’ve been running with my friends since 2011. There’s an extract below, and you can read the whole thing here.

You are actively seeking submissions; can you tell readers what you are looking for?

All of their professional weirdness. All of those odd half-thoughts you have at two am and decide to scribble down in the dark. If you want the world to be different and have an idea, tell us about it. Obviously, though, the work has to be good. I mean, people have standards, right?  If you can be funny, and grim, and tear something open, and smile while you do it, then send us your work.