Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What to write about

There are a number of myths about writing, and I'm sure you've heard many of them. Writer's block is one - some insist there is no such thing, others say they have been blocked for years. Working writers who have deadlines can't afford the time to even think about blocks! Another is that writing can't be taught. I happen to think it can - if an artist can go to art school and learn craft and techniques and skills, so can a writer. I often say to students that one of the best things about being in a writing course is meeting other writers, sometimes making lifelong connections. I found one of mine through the Chatauqua Workshop.

But a danger of a course is relying too much on the teachers to guide you or, more to the point, guide what you will write about. Class exercises are great - they oil the cogs, give you much-needed regular practise, and can sometimes spark off a bigger idea. But they are definitely not all there is to writing. Over on my ebook4writers site I've been running a whole month of writing prompts. But if someone relied on my prompts to keep them writing, they'd fall into a hole, because what interests me as a prompt may not suit you at all.

"Write what you know" is another myth. It's one that fantasy writers scoff at, and merrily go off to create another world. We can start with what we know, but if we can't then leap forward through our imaginations, why are we writing? How do we expect to still be writing in five or ten years time, if we don't learn to use the greatest tool we have? Our youngest students, those straight from high school, are both blessed and cursed. They often have the free-est imaginations, but the least life experience and the narrowest views on what life is about. I hope one of the things they learn is how to generate their own ideas, ones they feel excited and passionate about, ones that will sustain them through thousands of words.

Years ago, I heard a writer talk about hunting ideas. They don't just come and knock on your door - you have to go out and hunt them down. To this end, I, like many writers I know, carry a notebook with me, but my favorite hunting ground for ideas is the daily newspaper. Sometimes I cut things out (usually images rather than articles) and sometimes I read an item that sticks with me and later I make my own notes about its possibilities. One thing I have learned is never let an idea get away. If I don't write it down, even just one line, an hour or two later it's often gone.

Where do you go for ideas? How do you know when you've "hooked a big one"?

7 comments:

paul's pen n paint said...

Hi Sherryl, I love your comment on "hunting down ideas". I have an idea for a book that I thought of years ago and will (I hope) finally get down to writing it. To have a notebook with you at all times sounds like a GREAT IDEA, for not letting any big ones get away!

Merlene said...

Ditto Paul. It is the harvesting of ideas as they come before the fruit withers on the branch knowing they can ripen later.

Sherryl said...

Good to hear you've got the notebook going, Paul - I use mine for just about everything. I stick photos and reminders and all sorts in it!

Sherryl said...

You're right, Merlene, once you've got the idea down in some form, it does start to "ripen"!

Kristi Holl said...

Just popped over to say HI from one of your lifelong friends from Chautauqua. 8-)

beauty queen said...
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arman said...
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