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I Want To Write But I Don’t Know What To Write About

Updated: Aug 31, 2021

People ask writers how they come up with their stories, how they pluck characters and stories from thin air, how the ideas come to them. I can’t speak for other writers and I really have no idea how the ideas, plots, people and places bring themselves together for my pen to describe. However, I don’t how a car works but know what I need to do to make it work. Similarly, I know what I need to do to have the writing happen – here are some of those things:

1. Get out of your own way

We know not whence our ideas come from.

“Ripple on still waters, where there is no pebble tossed, nor wind to blow,” wrote and sang Gerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead. The ripples (ideas) come when there is nothing to disturb them.

I know that the ideas come when I still my mind, when I let the world, its disturbances and expectations go … when my pond is left to settle, to be still and smooth.

That is when my ideas come.

And then my mind gets in the way and asks – how did I think that? Where did that thought come from? Why am I thinking this? What should I write next? – the thoughts tail off.

And when I judge – that’s weird, what a silly idea, that’s a great idea – they tail off.

Left to themselves – unquestioned and unjudged – they flow through my pen and go where I could not expect.

It’s worth pond-ering, don’t you think!

2. Focus

When you’ve heard the call from the depths of your soul – the call that is illogical, fearful and breathtakingly beautiful – you’ll find your focus shift to possibilities with words or whatever your soul is calling you to do.

I have a friend, Darryl, who builds stretched limousines. He’s done it for many years and has stretched every type of vehicle imaginable. He’s passionate about his amazing creations and his mind is constantly on the lookout for new and interesting ideas. Whether he’s in a shop, a house, a train or anywhere else, he’s constantly scouring door knobs, windows, shapes, colours, technology and every other thing that comes to his five senses, to be adapted to his next project. Because of his focus, he’s never short of ideas – they just seem to jump out at him in ways we can’t imagine.

Similarly, a writer is constantly scanning their world for sights, sounds, smells, feelings and ideas that can be turned into an interesting string of words. In fact, this chapter was inspired by one of my students who suddenly discovered that I have a life outside the university lecture room, a secret life of writing. She asked me, “So, how do you find things to write about?” Most other people would do little with such a comment but it has spurned over 2,000 words from me. That’s what focus does – it takes the banal, the ordinary, the commonplace, and turns it into something creative.

Comedians are able to observe the same world as you and I and turn that into something funny, in ways you and I can’t. Similarly, writers take what most people see as rubbish and turn it into fertilizer for their next word-project.

This consistent focus, this constant search, may seem like hard work. It’s not hard work at all. For Darryl, there is nothing so enjoyable as finding several new ideas and then going to the drawing board in his mind – or the one in his workshop – and tinkering and calculating and adjusting and experimenting and, eventually, coming up with something more beautiful, clever and/or practical than anyone else has ever created before.

For me it’s fun. I enjoy hearing comments and/or learning different things that have no apparent relationship to each other and then putting them together in ways no one else has thought of. It’s also more than fun. It’s become so natural I sometimes catch myself doing it and then realise I’ve been doing it all along, without conscious awareness. It becomes effortless, natural and constant.

I am continually amazed that soap-opera writers can create new episodes, every day, on TV and they never repeat themselves – a never-ending supply of events and dramas. Or song-writers who churn out song after song. Creating their episodes and songs may seem like hard work – and it is sometimes – but they are so focused on their passion, their constant focus has the episodes and songs popping out of thin air.

Both Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson committed themselves to writing a song every day for a year. They didn’t know each other at the time and, coincidentally, made the same commitment to themselves – they wouldn’t allow themselves any breakfast until they had finished each day’s song. Obviously, a part of this is Rule # I – Turning Up At The Page1. From 365 songs, some of them had to be winners! Also, completing a daily project, every single day, is hugely satisfying. The work involved is linked with the satisfaction of completion … and then work becomes identified with satisfaction, not unpleasantness. They transferred the act of song-writing from one of hard, unrelenting work into one of sheer pleasure and, after a year of that, neither wanted to stop the pleasure … and neither did.

So, the news of the day, ladies and gentlemen, is that focus can seem like hard work – and it sometimes is – but as we practise it, as we exercise our focus muscle, it becomes easier and more pleasurable. Eventually, it becomes automatic and we don’t want to stop.

The other news, ladies and gentlemen, is this: if what we’re doing comes from the deepest, most peaceful part of our being, it comes to us as gently as a butterfly landing on our shoulder. That gentle landing onto the place of our passion and peace can only come when we give ourselves permission to do so … which is the subject of the next chapter.

3. What annoys you?

So, what comes up from the deepest, most peaceful part of your being?

Weirdly, it is likely to be something very un-peaceful! Think about the thing that most annoys you. That which really upsets you. That which constantly niggles at you … what, in this illogical, insane, abusive and destructive world really gets on your craw?

Often, the answer comes from your childhood. Did you feel you weren’t listened to, were abused, were belittled were … whatever? Even with perfect parents, friends and teachers, everyone still dredges up and carries aloft some grievance.

Maybe it’s abuse of woman, of the environment, of children, of men, of money, of – yes, the list can go on and on.

So, think about:

• What you mainly complain about,

• Of all the dramas in the world, which ones seem to gleefully follow you, day after day.

That Point of Pain – yes, we all have one – can trigger your most passionate, transcendent and translucent writing.

So, still yourself, observe wat you focus on and what bothers you. That is your starting point – you!

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