How to write about a big subject

pexels-photo.jpgWant to write but have nothing to say? We’ve all been in that situation. In English we call it “writer’s block.”

Years ago I lived in Italy. It was beautiful, as you’d expect, but I couldn’t write about it. I didn’t know where to begin. Life in Italy is such a big subject. Difficulty with tackling a huge topic is one kind of writer’s block.

If I had a Tardis I’d go back in time and tell the younger me to think about entry points.

All big things are made of little things. Each little thing is a potential doorway into the subject. Life in Italy is food, architecture, landscape, climate, language, culture, history and people.

Those are still big topics so let’s break one down further.

Food in Italy: savoury dishes, sweet dishes, traditional recipes, modern creations, international cuisine in Italy, regional traditions, popular restaurants, cooks known to the writer, the writer’s experience of Italian cooking, the organic movement, farming in Italy, which foods match which wines, Italian vegetarian cooking …

We have turned a single subject into at least 13. That’s enough for a year of blogging! The individual subjects could be split up even more. Here’s one.

Regional traditions: sweet and savoury recipes from the 17 regions of Italy, how invasions and foreign takeovers shaped Italian cooking in the 17 regions.

Ecco ci qua! That’s enough material for 34 blog posts about Italian regional cuisine.

A writer can make headway into almost any subject by slicing it up and beginning with a single section.

Here’s a writing exercise for you. Write 500 words about your life. Is your existence  a single, big subject or a library of individual memories? Focus your article on a single memory. If you’re stuck for ideas, try one of the prompts in the list.

My first day at school
The day I quit my job
My first day in a foreign country
My earliest memory
My first trip to the cinema
The day my first pet came home

Journalists also use the phrase “finding the hook.” This is a little different to an entry point. The entry point is a small, manageable way in for you as a writer. A hook is an entry point that hooks the reader’s attention and reels them in like a fish.

In journalism a hook can be many things, including a fascinating question attached to a big subject.  e.g. “Will China or India lead the fight against climate change?” The narrow focus of the question is the hook that gives the writer and readers a way to enter a massive topic.

If you feel up to the research challenge, try writing 2,000 words about one of the hook questions in the list.

Is it too late to save the Arctic?
When will humans live on Mars?
Should the United Nations give human rights to elephants?

You are welcome to share a link to your writing in the comments section below. Remember, don’t blog anything you wouldn’t want your boss to read in 2025!

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