Is the main problem with your writing career (the one that you dream of), the fact that you just don’t know what to write? Never fear. It turns out that this isn’t the problem after all. Not knowing what to write, as we shall discover, is actually another problem in disguise.
But thinking that you don’t know what to write can be the barrier between dreaming about being a writer and actually being a writer. So let’s knock this issue on the head for once and for all.
It’s Not That You Don’t Know What To Write
As I said above, the problem is actually quite different to the one you think you have. The issue is not that you don’t know what to write.
The issue is that you already have a million and one things that you could write about and you are totally unable to choose.
No really! My mind is totally blank! I hear you cry.
Your mind might feel blank while you are staring at a blank page in a word processor, or while you’re thinking about what story to write while doing your day job. But your mind is not totally blank. In fact, your mind is a reservoir of memory, experience and emotion that has a vastness unmatched by the oceans of the world. If you have lived even 18 years on this planet you have unfathomable depths of knowledge and experience tucked away inside your head. If you have lived as long as 50 years it would be impossible to ever fully understand the greatness of what you have experienced, felt and lived through.
Have you ever googled something like short story ideas, and then read through a list of 100 different ideas on what to write, but decided that none of them are quite good enough?
There we go. 100 story ideas on a plate and you still think you don’t know what to write about.
The problem is not that you don’t know what to write. So I want you to stop saying that to yourself.
I Can’t Find a Good Enough Idea
While we’re here, we can bust this myth too. There are successful stories written about the most insane and unlikely subjects you could ever imagine.
As an example, the BBC National Short Story Award in 2013 was won by Sarah Hall, with the story Mrs Fox. She took home £15,000 after writing a story about a man who is shocked to discover his wife turns into a fox.
Let’s just mull over that fact for a little while.
A story about a woman turning into a fox won the first prize of £15,000.
Do you think, if you were sat at your computer trying to decide what to write, that you’d think it was a good idea if I suggested you write a story about a wife that turns into a fox?
Of course you wouldn’t.
You’d tell me not to be so ridiculous. But why is it ridiculous?
It’s Not What You Write, It’s How You Write It
The point I’m trying to make here is that it’s not what you write about that matters. You can write about 18th-century life, a murdering next-door neighbour, or a dog who believes he’s a human. The subject isn’t actually the important part.
What really matters is how you tell the story.
And for this very reason, you need to stop worrying about not knowing what to write about. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what to write about.
Repeat that to yourself over and over again until you believe it.
Everything that you DO write, in the worst-case scenario, still counts as practice. Everything you get down on paper (digital or real) is honing your ability to tell a captivating story.
That’s what a reader really wants. A captivating story. The reader wants to be taken out of their day and into your world. They are holding their hand out and saying “lead me, please”. And it doesn’t matter if one person has no interest in (say) historical fiction. There are plenty of other people that do. There is an audience for every kind of genre.
And the way to connect with an audience is to write in a way that they love to read it.
And that’s much less about the subject matter, and much more about the quality and craft of your writing.
Concentrate on The quality of writing, not The Subject
If you’ve ended up here after googling for not knowing what to write, looking for inspiration that will give you the perfect storyline, I can tell you you probably aren’t going to find it. Or – you may think you’ve found it, but then after a couple of weeks or months the novelty will wear off. And your half-written story about a woman who discovers a secret door at the end of her garden will suddenly seem trite and pointless.
This is because you’re basing your worth and your perceived talent on the subject of your writing. Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying plot isn’t important, because it is. But the plot is different to the subject. You should be able to take your subject and craft something brilliant out of it. Whether it’s a war over who can grow the best tomato at the village fete or the story of a fighter pilot in his last hours of life, it’s how you write it that matters.
Think about your favourite author and then imagine how they would write about their first driving lesson.
Stephen King might have a sinister driving instructor freshly back from the dead. Nicholas Sparks could weave a tale of love between the two characters. Isaac Asimov may be more interested in the eavesdropping capability of the self-aware car.
The most important part about writing, for any new writer (and even established writers) is to write something in the first place.
There is no story without words, and that is what you have to get down.
So, stop procrastinating, and telling yourself that you can’t find the right idea. Instead, pick any old idea (now don’t get hung up on this!), and…