How to Write About Something That Really Fires You Up

What’s your personal soapbox topic?

Come on; we’ve all got at least one.  A subject that gets you so heated, so animated, or just so plain enthusiastic, that you have to rein yourself in during polite conversation…

…so that your manic hand gestures and increasingly high-pitched voice don’t make others back anxiously away from you.

I received an email recently, from someone who wanted to start writing about mental health.  They’d suffered from debilitating personal issues for years, but for all the recent media coverage, they hadn’t seen their real experiences properly explained anywhere.

“All those bland Facebook posts and bits of advice to “just be kind” REALLY fuck me off, because they don’t help anyone,” this person wrote.  “People don’t get what my everyday life is like – and what does “just be kind” even mean?  I don’t need help with my shopping, or someone telling me I look nice.  I need genuine support from people who understand.”

(This person went on to say that they weren’t sure how to begin writing about the subject – which is strange, since they’d done such a fantastic job of articulating it in their email!)

My latest book, I’d Rather Get a Cat and Save the Planet: Conversations with Child-free Women, is the result of a coaching chat I had at the start of my writing career.  I wanted to spend time on personal writing projects as well as client work, but I was having trouble coming up with anything that felt interesting enough.

My coach patiently ummed and ahhed her way through my bland list of suggestions, and then she fixed me with a question: “What really annoys you?”

“All those people who think I’m a ‘working Mum’, just because I’m a woman who works from home,” I replied instantly. 

I fleshed out the idea, and the rest is history.

Whether you love or hate your own personal soapbox topic, it’s a great starting point if you’ve always wanted to write, but weren’t sure how to begin.

Why?  Really caring about the subject means your words will be imbued with emotion – the kind that helps readers connect with what you’re telling them.

How to Get Started

Once you’ve homed in on your subject, start identifying all the little things that get you so fired up about it.

In my case, it wasn’t just people assuming I’m a working Mum; it was the fact that my choice not to have kids seemed to produce the same old conversation pieces and lazy assumptions. 

I made a list of them:

“Who’s going to look after you when you get old?”

“But it’s different when it’s your own!”

“You’ll never know love quite like it.”

“You must be inherently selfish, not to want a child.”

“Not having kids is unnatural for a woman.”

“So, how many cats have you got?”

“I bet you love all those long holidays!”

“What exactly do you do all day?”

(Sorry; I got a bit carried away.  But hopefully, you get the idea!)

If you prefer, you could record yourself talking about your subject, or ask a (brave) friend to ask you some questions about it.

Once you’ve got your own list, think about how you could expand on each item, then weave everything together in a complete piece of writing.  Most of the comments I’ve mentioned above became chapter topics, for example.

Do Your Research

Has anyone else written about your subject? 

If so, how could you approach it differently?

Plenty of people have written about their choice not to have children.  But the vast majority of the resulting articles and books have either been heavy and long-winded, or loud and aggressive. 

So, I decided to write my own book using a supportive, light-hearted tone, ironically echoing the chatty style that books about motherhood are written in.  To make sure it didn’t end up as a long personal rant, I also roped in a few contributors (most of whom were a lot cleverer and wittier than me, which helped!)

This is the advice I gave to the person who wrote that email I mentioned at the start of this piece, and I really hope they take it.  There’s nothing better than fired-up writing to help you connect with a subject, and maybe even understand the world from a different point of view.

With all that said, I’ll ask again: what’s your personal soapbox topic?