Using Meaning to Help you Drill Down your Book Idea

Choosing the right idea to write and focus on for your book is truly the first step when you decide to write a book.

It’s also the step where so many brilliant, would-be authors get stuck. Do you identify as a highly creative souls with many potential ideas you could write? If you’re like most of my clients, you do. 

The problem comes when you move from idea to idea in a spiral of overwhelm. Then, in an attempt to narrow your ideas down and actually decide, you’ll do some research which spurs more ideas, deepening the overwhelm.

So how the heck do you decide?

I’ve written about diving into your why to help you narrow down and choose the right idea. Knowing your why is hugely important to sticking with writing, but it’s not all there is.

When it comes to thinking about our capacity to write a whole book, we also need to look at meaning, for ourselves, in our ideas, and for our readers.

The act of writing itself has meaning. When we’re writing a book which is for a reader, our ideas must have meaning both for us as the writer and for the reader. This is a piece of our “why,” but we also need to look the meaning behind our idea as well as the meaning behind the creative act of writing.

Take a minute to think about the following questions:

  • How do you create meaning? 
  • What gives an idea meaning? For you? For your reader? 
  • What makes an idea meaningFUL or meaningless?
  • What makes the act of writing or sharing your writing meaningFUL or meaningLESS?  

The Process of Meaning Making

When I first started to blog way back in 2012, I wrote to find my voice and gain confidence in sharing my words. I posted twice a week on whatever I felt like writing about. Sometimes it was about my writing and the book I was working on at the time [link to OD]. Sometimes it was about parenting, teaching, or quilting.

It wasn’t the content or the ideas that gave the posts meaning; it was the purpose for writing

It was the ACT of writing and sharing that had meaning for me.

In this case, the purpose for writing gave the act meaning, not necessarily the ideas themselves. 

You might sit with your journal for a bit and think about projects or writing that have been meaningful vs. those that were meaningless.

What makes a project meaningFUL?

When I did this exercise, I discovered that for me a project is meaningful when:

  • I enjoy the creation of it
  • It might be hard but the challenge feels invigorating
  • I have an idea to explore or something I want to say. I may not know what that is until I’m IN IT but I feel pulled to delve in and figure it out
  • There’s freedom of expression and
  • It gets me out of my comfort zone in some way, not in a terrifying way but it pushes me to explore my own boundaries and fears
  • I’m excited to share it with readers or colleagues and get their responses to deepen my own thinking and meaning making
  • It’s full of discovery and options, and I don’t know where it will end up – that exploration and play with ideas is deeply meaningful to me. I love to play with ideas, find connections and actually begin to discover meaning; AND this process in and of itself is meaningful. It’s where I find out what it is that I want to say

This list hits that “gut” piece. When an idea for a book meets these criteria, I’m excited to work on it, to explore it. I know I can stay with it for the length of time it will take to write the darn thing which can be a long time, like years long.

Your list might be quite different, but if one of your goals is writing a book that feels meaningful to you, that lights you up and excites you, create criteria for your own meaningful projects.

Then, think about how your different ideas feel when you evaluate them according to your list.

When you look at your list and the characteristics of meaningFUL projects, does a book fit? If so, start drilling down and choosing your idea and looking at the meaning of your ideas.

If not, perhaps a book isn’t the best vehicle for your ideas. Maybe it’s an article, a video, or a series of social media posts.

The Meaning of an Idea

While the process of creating or writing can give a project or an idea meaning, the idea itself can also hold meaning for us. 

Something is meaningful when we are able to understand and make sense of our world with that idea. 

When you look at your list of potential book ideas, which ones help you make sense of the world? Which ones will help your readers

Remember, a book is first and foremost for your reader

When we look at our own lives, we can see where we have added meaning to events or situations where there is none, and we don’t want to write books that do this. 

We want to write books that share how we’ve discovered meaning for ourselves, or times we’ve guided others in making meaning of situations or life. Does your best idea allow for either sharing your own meaning making or guiding others to their own meaning?

If your book is a how-to book, will your idea allow for you to share the meaning of the process your teaching? Is there room for the reader to make their own meaning in that process?

We want to create meaningful work, work that matters. 

These are big questions: Which of your ideas matter to you? Have resonance for others? Support readers in creating meaning?


One final note before I conclude this. I’m not talking about trying to connect to readers through a book-length “vulnerability post,” eg. the tearful selfie followed by a cringey oversharing of an intimate and challenging moment. 

While this might create momentary connection, I’m talking about a deeper level of meaning and resonance that will be woven through your entire book, a much longer message.

I’m talking about looking at your ideas through the lens of meaning and how crafting that idea into a book will create meaning for you through the process of writing, how it will create meaning for you through developing the ideas, AND how it will create meaning for your readers and help them navigate or understand the world in a new way.

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