It’s the age-old question, isn’t it? Even the most seasoned authors ask it. You know you’re itching to write something, anything, but you just don’t know what. Maybe your mind is completely blank. Maybe you have so many ideas, you don’t know how to choose. Whatever the reason, I can guarantee that at some point in your life, you will ask the question:
What should I write?
I found the answer in the most unexpected place.
For school, I recently finished reading The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. (If you’ve never read it, it is SUCH a good book.) One of the protagonists, Skeeter, is an aspiring author, and she’s wondering the same thing we all are. What should I write? An editor from Harper and Row advises her this way:
“Don’t waste your time on obvious things. Write about what disturbs you, particularly if it bothers no one else.”
-Elaine Stein, The Help
I won’t spoil the story, so if you want to know what Skeeter decided to write about, you’ll just have to read it. But today, I have a list of tips to help you figure out what to write. If you’re already in the middle of a writing project, that’s awesome. Go you! But if you’re truly stuck, try some of these tips:
1. Make a list. Make a list of all the things that bother you. Don’t put every little thing on there, though, like “I hate the way my little brother pesters me all the time.” (Although, that would probably make an excellent children’s book!)
2. Cross off the obvious ones. In other words, don’t waste your time. If you’re going to write something, and write it well, you have to be passionate about it. No one could write a 500-page book about the behavior of particles on the subatomic level, unless they were in love with quantum mechanics.
3. Get specific. If “world hunger” is on your list, write about the child who has to work long hours to help his family eat. Write about the single mom with five kids who goes to the soup kitchen every night. Write about the man who gets a nineteen-year prison sentence for stealing a loaf of bread to help his starving relatives. (Actually, don’t do that one. Victor Hugo already did.) A statistical report on world hunger is great if it’s a school assignment, but if you want to capture the attention of humanity, write in the details.
4. I know, I know, not everyone writes about deep issues like that. But you don’t have to write about something sobering. I once wrote a book that was honestly very fun (and easy) to write. It was part comedy, part adventure, and part fantasy. I had a hilarious time, and yet I was still writing about something that bothered me. Nothing very sobering, just something I’d noticed that impacted me enough to write about.
4 ½. It might happen by accident. In my previously-mentioned book, deep questions of morality arose toward the end, even though I never planned it that way. Stuff like that usually happens to me when I write, though, so it wasn’t really a surprise.
5. Draw from your own emotions. What makes you deeply sad, anxious, or upset? What makes you cry? What makes you cringe in fear? What makes your heart break? What makes you twitch with agitation? Whatever the thing is, write about it.
6. What are the things that no one ever says? I can’t really define this one. But sometimes, it is painfully obvious that people aren’t saying what needs to be said. Other times, it’s no so obvious. Maybe it’s a certain facet of the Gospel that’s often overlooked in fiction. Maybe there are certain rules of writing that drive you crazy because you know they need to be broken. The point is, don’t always write about something obvious; that’s why Elaine Stein added that part about “particularly if it bothers no one else.”
That’s all I have for now. And that’s just one way to look at it. There are so many other ways to figure out what to write!