by Sylvia Cary, LMFT
Brainstorming (def): The uncensored offering of ideas or suggestions.
Angle (def): To examine a problem from all angles; to give a specific bias, or point of view.
Writers say the hardest part of writing is knowing what to write. Once you nail down your topic, the next hardest part is zeroing in on your angle — i.e., figuring out what approach to take. For those of you who are mental health professionals, you may want to write a book about your area of expertise, such as addiction, post-traumatic stress, anger management, neuroscience, men’s issues, aging, eating disorders, abuse, bi-polar disorder, or depression. I read somewhere that there are about 1000 specialties in the mental health field, so it’s not like the topics are going to give out!
However, since most of these topics have already been written about, some of them a lot, it’s not enough to simply write “about addiction” or “about abuse.” You’ll need to come up with a new twist/angle/hook in order to get the potential book buyer’s attention. For example, instead of writing “about depression” you might zero in on a niche aspect of it and write about depression in children.
Think of the special topic that you want to write about as a branch on a tree, a rapidly growing, ever-evolving, living thing. What seems like a fresh, trendy, or “green” idea one year feels kind of old hat the next. The zeitgeist (or cultural atmosphere) just keeps on rolling along so you have to keep up by pushing out on your particular tree branch until you’ve come up with a fresh, new leafy take on your topic that makes others say, “Oh, I’d like to read that!”
7 Ways to Brainstorm Angles
Writers use tricks to help them brainstorm their topics and tweak them into something fresh and appealing.
1. Cruise the Online Bookstores: First, see what’s already out there. Search for your book’s topic online, go on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, look at the titles and subtitles, read the Tables of Contents when you can. The last time I searched for books on “alcoholism” (my specialty as a therapist), I found thousands of them! That’s pretty daunting and discouraging if alcoholism is what you really want to write about. Don’t fret. New books on alcoholism are still being published and are still selling, so the market obviously isn’t dead yet. Come up with a fresh angle, and you’ll have a chance. Look for “holes” in the topic that need filling; look for aspects that haven’t been explored yet. They are there.
2. Cruise the Real-Life Bookstores: Though many bookstores have gone belly-up, others are still out there peddling books. Go visit some. Looking through an existing book on your topic can be a great way to get ideas. Sometimes just a single paragraph from a book can trigger an idea in your head that you can actually turn into a quality book.
3. Read / Talk About Your Subject: Read everything you can on your pet topic. Ideas beget ideas. What’s hot? What’s not? What trends seems to be coming down the pike? Share your enthusiasm about your topic with others. Start discussions. Ask others for their opinions and views. Sometimes people ask a question that can lead you to a solution. Ask, “If a book on X, Y or Z were to be published, would you want to read it?” And, “If not, why not?”
4. Yellow Pad; Sharpened Pencil: I must admit that my favorite brainstorming technique is writing things down on paper. I write down my topic and then I start scribbling down all the ideas that occur to me about that topic. It’s a free-association process that helps me decide if it’s a good idea or not. If I get lots of associations, it’s a good idea. If I get two and then run dry, it’s probably not, so I’m likely to drop it. There are other times when I don’t know what my angle is until I’m already writing. I may think I’ve got a good angle or hook, and then a better one presents itself and I have to change horses in midstream. Writing is easier if you have your angle in mind up front, but if a better one comes along, grab it and make the necessary adjustments in what you’ve already written.
5. Shower Power: There are writers (I don’t happen to be one of them) who get ideas while in motion (running, jogging, walking), or while being quiet (meditating, contemplating), or even while they are showering. My late husband, a computer programmer, got solutions to programming problems in the shower when the hot water hit the back of his neck. Other folks say they can “instruct” their brains to give them answers in dreams: “I want to write about Freud but I need a Fresh angle.” So, whether it’s staring into space, meditating, walking, showering — or sleeping — the answers can obviously pop into your head at the most unexpected times.
6. Professional vs Personal Perspective: No matter what subject you know enough about to write a book, it doesn’t always have to be from the point of view of an expert or scholar. Maybe the best angle for you is the personal, writing a memoir or taking the narrative non-fiction approach where there’s dialogue in the book so it reads more like a novel. Many therapists are “wounded healers,” people who have become professionals and have an area of expertise as the result of some personal or family experience. Numerous compelling and important books are by authors who have had personal experiences with addiction, child abuse, bipolar disorder, and so on.
7. The “10 Things” Angle: Think about your topic and ask yourself, “What are the top 10 things I’d like the world to know about this subject? What hasn’t been said yet? What’s missing?” For example, “10 Things Your Clients Should Know About Obsessive Compulsive Disorder;” “10 Ways to Help People with Phobias” (or 7 Things or 15 Things); “10 Symptoms of Sex Addiction;” or “10 Misconceptions about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.” Your list of 10 can grow into a unique and solid book. There can be an Introduction, then a chapter on each of the 10 things you came up with — and then a Conclusion.
So count to ten, and you’ve got yourself a book!
There are many other ways to brainstorm angles and hooks. Not surprisingly, there are even books on the subject of how to help your brain trigger an “Aha!” which gives you the angle you were looking for. Once you get that angle and write that book, there are people out there who will want to read it.
Copyright 2015 by Sylvia Cary, LMFT – The Therapist Writer