How To Create An “Idea File” And Pick Your FIRST Niche

Dickie Bush & Nicolas Cole

Ultimate Guide Table of Contents

Ahoy and happy Monday!

Welcome to another week of Start Writing Online—where every week we dive into 1 of the 10 biggest problems all writers face:

  • Distractions
  • Over-editing
  • Perfectionism
  • Procrastination
  • Self-confidence
  • Generating ideas
  • Impostor syndrome
  • Writing consistently
  • Finding time to write
  • Loose feedback loops

(And, of course, if you want to crush all 10 of these AND master the fundamentals of Digital Writing in just 30 days, we'd love to have you in the next cohort of Ship 30 for 30!)

This week, we want to help you generate 35 ideas for 1 specific topic that you are most excited to write about .

Are you stuck trying to “pick a niche?”

Do you feel like you could write about a handful of different topics, and don’t want to narrow down on just one—yet?

After teaching over 6,500 writers in Ship 30 for 30, we (Dickie & Cole) have learned that picking a niche “too early” ends up creating more problems than solutions. Furthermore, we have learned that the best way to think about “niching down” isn’t to pick ONE niche. It’s to walk into the exercise knowing you are going to pick your FIRST niche—not your “FOREVER” niche. And this small shift in thinking, we think, is incredibly important.

And we want to give you a streamlined process for getting there.

Your 1st Niche = The Topic You Have The Most To Say About (Right Now)

A “niche” is just a specific topic.

Which means, how you ultimately “become known for a niche you own” really just comes down to you, talking about the same topic, a lot. That’s it. In fact, you could not even tell people “this is my niche.” The mere fact that you write about that 1 topic, a lot, is often enough for people to begin associating you with it—and it with you.

Which means there’s a VERY easy exercise you can do to streamline this process.

The easiest way to validate which topic you have the most to say about, right now is to create your 1st “Idea File”

An “Idea File” is a raw text document with tons and tons of things you could write about—just on 1 topic.

  • It will show you just how much you can say about 1 topic.
  • It will force you to get all your ideas out into raw text, first.
  • And it’s the foundation for building a loyal audience, an email list, a digital product, etc.

Once you have an “Idea File” created for 1 topic, you will realize HOW MUCH OPPORTUNITY you have as a writer—and how you could create one of these for ANY topic you wanted to write about, and continue to reinvent yourself over and over again anytime you wanted.

Let’s go!

Step 1: Pick 1 topic you want to write more about (and narrow it down).

Just one.

  • This is not “your niche.”
  • This is not a “marriage decision.”
  • This is not “the topic you have to write about, every day, forever.”

There’s no sense block your own path with these obstacles when just starting out.

Instead, just pick a topic you want to write more about. Pick something you know a lot about. Or pick something you’ve personally experienced. Choose anything that gets you excited to talk about.

Now, take your topic and add at least 1 modifier to it to get more specific on the WHO (the audience), and the WHY (the desired outcome).

For example:

  • Topic V1: “Journaling”
  • Topic V2: “Journaling for people who have never started a journal before.”
  • Topic V3: “Journaling for busy college students who have never started a journal before.”
  • Topic V4: “Journaling for busy college students who have never started a journal before, so they can be more grateful and less stressed.”

And f you aren’t sure how you want to narrow-down your topic yet, you can just make your topic “journaling” or “productivity” or “cooking,” etc. (big categories).

Step 2: Create 7 subtopics!

Subtopics are the things you can write about “inside” that 1 umbrella topic you’ve chosen.

Here’s an easy way of thinking about it: subtopics are verbs. Verbs are the “actions” your target reader (the person on the other end consuming your writing on this topic) wants to take. They want to “master” this skill, or “develop” this framework, or “improve” their proficiency, etc.

Whatever you want to write about, your Subtopics are verbs.

  1. Mastering
  2. Developing
  3. Improving
  4. Building
  5. Overcoming
  6. Achieving
  7. Optimizing

Take the 1 topic you want to write about, and then combine it with the 7 “verbs.”

Next, it’s time to start filling in each Subtopic with all the things you could write about!

Step 3: Generate 5 Proven Approaches for each Subtopic and frame them as a question.

If Subtopics are “verbs,” then Proven Approaches are “nouns.”

They are the things readers want/need IN ORDER TO achieve the outcome/verb.

Here’s how this works:

  1. Tips (noun) → …to build (verb).
  2. Mistakes (noun) → …to avoid (verb).
  3. Lessons (noun) → …to achieve (verb).
  4. Steps (noun) → …to master (verb).
  5. Reasons (noun) → …to optimize (verb).

Now, staring at a list of Proven Approaches (nouns) might be a good way to generate ideas, but we’ve found it’s even easier if each Proven Approach is framed as a question.

For example:

  • V1: Journaling tips to build your self-confidence
  • V2: What are 3 tips you would give to someone who want to build their self-confidence?

As soon as it’s framed as a question, it’s much easier to imagine yourself “writing the answer.”

Do this for each of your 7 Subtopics.

7 Subtopics x 5 Proven Approach questions for each = 35 things you could write about!


You’ve done it!

You have successfully created an entire Idea File for 1 topic.

Which means now it’s time to start answering all these questions you have, inside each Subtopic, and turning your answers into content… so that you can keep gathering data and learning what readers find most interesting.

That's it for today!

Chat next week!

–Dickie Bush & Nicolas Cole

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