Tuesday, 25 May 2021

What to Write About

What happens when you can't think of anything to write?

It's funny because I've noticed this is quite a common problem - for the newbie and the professional alike, but usually for different reasons.

Often the newbie will be flushed with the conviction that she's a writer. She feels it, she knows it in her bones. And yet when it comes to sitting down in her writing space, she wonders what she should say - exactly what should she focus on? What should she communicate - or at least commit to paper?

The professional writer too can get stuck. He may have exhausted his current topics of interest and want to start on something fresh. Like the newbie, the professional may ask himself, what can I say that is of interest to my editor, my publishers or my fans?

Both the newbie and the professional may get stuck on what to write NEXT.

Create You Own Emergency

Deadlines and external pressure work for the professional. Often working writers have no choice but to slog along on their writing projects because at some point in the past they promised to do a piece for another person.

There's nothing like the imagined feel of a producer or publisher's breath on the back of your neck to get you, if not motivated, then at least pumping out words.

But what if there's no pressure?

In 'Becoming a Writer', the great Dorothea Brande pointed out that writers create their own emergencies. They alone decide that a piece of writing must be done.

They have to. In reality, there's no need for yet another piece of writing. The world won't care whether you don't write. Nobody misses the bestsellers that never were.

That's the irony of writing. Writers become successful for writing things nobody realized they were missing - until they read them.

Writers need to create first and foremost for themselves. They need to feel a compulsion to record something in words that is important only to their own conscience.

Here, I think we're getting to the heart of 'reasons to write'.

Because once you establish your reasons - or, for the professional, re-establish your reasons, then the issue of what to write about can fall into place.

Find Your Passion and Embrace it

I once read a column written by Stephen Fry. He's famous for being an actor mostly but is surprisingly adept at stringing a few words together. (Of course his one time comedy partner, Hugh Laurie, is now much more famous - as the gorgeous Doctor House.)

But in the article, Stephen examined the problems associated with having no ideas - and what it meant to the writer.

His conclusions were vague (as you'd probably expect) but I gleaned that the artist in him was satisfied that he had created something - after he had finished the article. From nothing, he had created something of - at least - curiosity.

And that's the way it is for writers sometimes.

Even when we sit down with no particular ideas, we can create something of value. Not because of the topic or the story necessarily, but because we have a particular way of writing - or creating, even thinking, that brings something unique into existence.

From watching would-be writers' careers for all this time, I've become convinced that it's those writers who maintain a conviction that what they write is important - at least to themselves - that eventually succeed.

And finding what's important to you is the key to inspiration.

Examine Your Reactions

What makes you mad? What gets you going? What do you want to change?

At conferences, you will often see successful writers talk about what they didn't like about other writers, other books, other TV shows and movies.

Their dissatisfaction compelled them to write.

They felt that an issue was not being given sufficient space - or that a common view was being given too much credence.

They write to redress the balance - and give their own take on issues.

Often too, you will hear writers say, "I write to find out what I think about things."

Writing has a way of clarifying thoughts, concepts and arguments. That's the very least of its functions but no less powerful for that.

More importantly, writing is a way of revealing truth. In stories, screenplays and in non fiction, writing gives answers, it examines and illuminates, often the mundane, but also the profound.

If you're having trouble wondering what to write about, look inside of you.

Think about the things you care about - the things you have seen and experienced that have moved you - the issues you feel need further examination - especially if they bug you!

Then start writing, even without a plan or an agenda...

And see what happens.

You may be surprised by the result.

Till next time,

Keep Writing!

© Rob Parnell