Note: this piece of writing is really two things: a piece about finding something to write about, and then the actual essay that I wrote after I found something to write about. My comments about searching for a topic and writing about it are in italics, while the essay itself is in regular type. I hope it helps you if you’re looking for something to write about.
I have nothing to write about as I sit down to write this.
If you’re a writer—or just a student who is struggling with an assignment and can’t think of anything—you might want to read this.
Join me as I look for something to write about.
So. Right now, I’m writing about having nothing to write about, and am looking for something to write about. At the moment, this is my thesis: I have nothing to write about, and need to find something to write about, and must now find something to write about. Follow me along as I build on this thesis, because it will change; soon, I hope, I shall have something to write about, and then I could submit this essay to a teacher or publisher.
When I have nothing to write about, the first thing that I do is look at my desk, and see if that will inspire me. There is a cigarette wrapper, so I could write about the fact that I now smoke again after a 20 year abstinence, but if I write about that, I will probably write deeply personal things that I prefer not to share at this moment.
Let’s be clear here: this is not easy. On some days, my essay will not get any further than simply writing about having nothing to write about, and how I’ve failed to find something to write about besides having nothing to write about.
At the same time, though, as I look at my desk, there is a disposable lighter. When I spin the spark wheel, it produces a perfectly average, acceptable flame. This makes me think of when that wasn’t the case.
So right now, this essay is changing. If I were to revise this to submit to someone, I’d cut this paragraph, and all the paragraphs that came before it.
And I’d cut this one, too, because it’s the paragraph in which I’m going to tell you: I think I have something to write about. So I’ll begin.
I have a disposable lighter on my desk. I use it to light cigarettes, but I’d rather not get into the fact that I smoke again after a 20 year abstinence. I plan to quit, and I will.
But let’s talk about this lighter. It burns with a perfectly average flame, perhaps the width of my pinky. And it makes me think of when lighters didn’t always do this.
Now, let me stop for a minute, and yes, this is a paragraph that I would delete when I revised this. This is just me talking to you if you have nothing to write about. What I’m doing, in journalism circles, called a “delayed lead,” in which I’m writing a paragraph or two to lead up to the main point, which I’m going to make now:
Disposable lighters, when I was a kid, were awesome. You could adjust the flame to an incredibly high level, and when you struck the spark wheel, you’d actually hear the spraying butane, and now held not a lighter, but a torch, the flame several inches high.
Okay, me again, writing another paragraph that I’d delete in a revision, because I’m talking about my writing. I’m just about to make the central point of my essay.
Of course lighters are no longer like this, no doubt due to a flood lawsuits from people who set fire to their hair while lighting their cigarettes. So okay, thanks to lawsuits, the world is a safer place, particularly for children. The trouble is, though, I don’t know if it’s a better place.
Yep, me again, writing another paragraph that I’d delete. I just made my point, and the good thing about it, I think, is that it’s a point that a lot of people would disagree with: that danger is lacking in much of childhood, and that by making children safer, we’re maybe shielding them too much from joys that accompanied my childhood. This is seriously controversial, what with my advocating for a childhood replete with adjustable flame butane lighters, but if I do a good job of making my point, the essay will be worthwhile.
The world has now has a message for children: stay inside. There are predators outside, and if you go outside and play with friends, there are predators who will snatch you up, and you will never be heard from again. And if you avoid the predators, there are all these hazards to life and limb: rocks, cliffs, flames, and pavement.
And, of course, there are germs, so it’s a good idea to bathe your body in hand sanitizer, and live your life in a germ free environment, a plastic bubble cut off from the world. Your only contact with the world should be virtual, hands free contact, in which you connect with friends via fiber optic cable, because friends, of course, have germs, and germs lead to disease.
Me again. So okay, I’m making the point that kids are overly shielded from the outside, and that this is the bad thing. But now that I’ve made this point, I’m going to build on it, and actually conclude with an even bigger point. And yes, I’d delete this paragraph from my revision.
The trouble is, there are dangers in that digital outdoors, and many of those dangers are even worse than the dangers that lurked outside in my childhood. Indoors, in that virtual world, there are cyber stalkers, and cyber bullies. And within the insular world of video games, there is a violence that is far worse than any of the violent dangers that lurked in my world of blowing up models with rubber cement and firecrackers (which was truly awesome, by the way).
In much the same way that factory farmed meat comes from cattle that suffer from the ailments of being locked in a room with no movement, so are today’s children, insulated from the free range world of lawn darts, cap guns, fireworks, and riding the subway alone, slowly withering, as their bodies, minds, and souls atrophy, withering away until they are husks with tiny heads and massive thumbs, the better to work their video game controllers with maximum dexterity and minimum thought.
Yes, the dangers of the outside world were many, but with those dangers came chances to grow. And there is no growth without risk.
And it’s me again. I’m just about done. See how I went from disposable lighters to making a huge statement about the state of childhood today? That’s what an essay is supposed to do when it concludes. Now I’ll wrap it up, and yes, yes, yes, I’d delete this paragraph.
So yes, lighters are safer, but with that safety comes the absence of the joy that came with risk and danger. And sometimes I wonder if the risks and dangers for today’s children—all born out of a desire to keep them out of danger—are even worse than the dangers they sought to address. As for me, I still carry the memory of keeping a blowtorch lighter in my pocket, and they are fond memories of my free range childhood; and free range cattle, as we know—succeptible to disease, yes, but fed on grass and fresh air—are far healthier than those that spend their life locked up in pens, with the only difference from today’s children being that they don’t have a chance to play “Call of Duty.”
So that’s it. That’s how you go from having nothing to write to having something to write. That’s what I do. That’s what you can do.
Go to it.
And yes, I’d delete these last three paragraphs.
And by the way, single sentence paragraphs are a no-no in most English classes, but they work once you get the hang of them. For now, write paragraphs that are at least three sentences, with a beginning, middle and end. That way, you’ll learn the rules, and then be better at breaking them.
So avoid single sentence paragraphs for now.
And sentence fragments. Those last three words were a sentence fragment, because there was no verb. Just avoid those for now; later, you’ll know how to use them for effect.
And yes, I’d cut these last four paragraphs.