How to Find Your “How To” Topic

Geek!This is Evan Brammer’s submission for the HP Magic Giveaway. Feel free to leave comments for this article as you see fit – your feedback is certainly welcomed! If you’d like to submit your own how-to, what-is, or top-five list, you can send it to me. Views and opinions of this writer are not necessarily my own:

As I was mulling over the possibilities for my entry, while tossing ideas back and forth with my wife, I realized that I just could not think of anything. What should I teach everyone “how to” do? I don’t know. I suppose it would be good if someone were to post something on “how to” come up with a “how to” topic? That would be good. WAIT! That’s what I can do. I’ll do a “how to” on “how to” discover exactly what your “how to” is.

Step One: Just Start Typing (Free Write)

If you are unsure, as I was, of what to write about – just start writing. Put your fingers to the keyboard or pen to the paper, and let the words fly out from beneath your fingertips. It doesn’t matter what you write about. You are free. Just keep writing, no matter what. If you cannot think of anything to write, then write that: “I cannot think of anything to write. I cannot think of anything to write.” Not incredibly useful, but…

As your fingers move, so will your thoughts. You’ll discover that when you write just anything, you can write anything! Next, you have to focus that “anything” into “something”.

Step Two: Focus that Anything into Something (Focused Free Write)

With your fingers blazing, begin to let you thoughts drift away from the aimlessness and onto a specific course. Just like a kayak on a big river, you can go in any direction you want – but if you want to reach your destination, than you have to chart your course. By allowing your mind to start in the river of aimlessness and then traverse into the bay of specificity, you open yourself to the wideness of possibility and are able to settle on what works best.

To focus your mind, ask yourself a few directing questions, such as: “What do I enjoy?” or “What am I good at?” Use these questions, and others, to bring your free-write into a more purpose-built writing exercise. If something doesn’t immediately come to mind, keep free writing until something does. As your ideas become more focused, the possible topic for your “how to” will emerge.

From there, you will need to refocus your focused thought.

Step Three: Refocusing your Focused Thought (From Broad to Exact)

Now that you have a general idea of what your “how to” could be, figure out if your topic needs to be refocused. Sometimes, the topic at which we initially arrive is entirely too general or broad. To continue on that course to actually writing the article on such a topic would be disastrous, as we cannot write about everything successfully in equal terms.

Think about making your “how to” topic more specific. Your original thought might be, “how to take over the world.” Now, can that topic really be covered in appropriate detail in such an article? Most likely not. So determine one aspect of the general topic and use that. Instead of focusing on “how to take over the world,” try just one part, such as: “how to harness the communicative tools currently available on an Internet that is transitioning from a static web of hyperlinks into a more social 2.0 conversation to bring the world under total domination.” Now that is an article that can be written and enjoyed, I am sure. Just… pick a better title.

With that, we have discovered the three basic steps to discovering what needs to be discovered. From here, we can all learn “how to” write a “how to” for anyone that might need to know “how to.”