Saturday, 7 August 2010

Step Away from the Keyboard

Anyone can be in my gang. Seriously. My community of authors includes YA, Children's, Horror, Crime, Fantasy, Chick Lit, Erotica, Sci-Fi, Historical, Literary and Memoir, plus stuff that doesn't fit any documented genre – and that's just my Writers' Group. I'm pretty inclusive, and I like to think I'm pretty encouraging.

I've come across a couple of posts recently where authors have tried to help 'writers' who don't know what to write about. To paraphrase one of these would-be writers – I know this is what I want to do with my life, I just don't know what to write about.

Let's think about that for a moment.

There are writers out there who burn with a vision that they wrestle with daily to find words to express; writers who only glimpse the truth in rare moments of lucidity and it’s a race against time trying to capture that magic; writers who only hope to come close to the pulsating story they envisage in their head, writing draft after draft to get closer to it.

There are writers who only seek to entertain, to make their reader laugh, to make them cry. To titillate them, to excite them, to take them somewhere different. Writers who are so sickened by the real-world they feel they can only express themselves by inventing another, others so appalled they seek to document it, to highlight it – and despite all this, there are some who look for the good in it.

Writers who see the exceptional in the mundane - a father who grabs his child before she runs in front of a bus. A young boy helping an elderly gentleman across the road. A woman sacrificing her dreams to bring-up her children right. Unnoticed, unheralded heroism.

Kids starved to death by their parents, young children killing younger children, strung out soldiers committing atrocities I can't even bring myself to repeat. Wars fought in our name we don't have to experience or witness.

And these people don't know what to write about?

We're all hacking around in the jungle trying to find our truth, and I believe there's some value in holding up a lantern and saying, here's something I've found that may be of use to you - otherwise I wouldn't be doing this. Yet there are times when sitting here trying to offer advice on how to tell your stories doesn't sit comfortably.

But as for telling you what to write, I wouldn't dream of it.

Except in this case. I know precisely what to tell these 'writers' what to write about. I think we all do.

I'd tell them to write exactly what moves them to write. Absolutely nothing.


  1. You, Mr. Killick, are on a roll!

  2. Wow. I'm hoping these writers mean to say that they're so saturated with subject-matter that they don't know which direction to turn, rather than saying they don't know what to write about. In which case, I agree with you 100%. Great post.

  3. Great post, James. We write what moves us so we can show others why it is so important. If you don't feel that burn, you're not a writer.

  4. Thanks for the support, guys. Felt a little edgey about this post, if I'm honest.

    @Ezzy - I think Ezzy in some cases you may be right. I was just quite amazed that some writers were seeking advice not only on HOW to write, but on WHAT to write too. Would be really interesting to get Roz's take on this, seeing as she's done a lot of ghostwriting - not only does she sort out the WHAT, and the HOW - she actually writes the darn thing for them!

    Perhaps I am a little intolerant on the 'inspiration' side of things. I've blogged on this before, but to me, the inspiration, the germ of the idea, is what makes a work original; what makes it unique, and gives it that hard-to-nail-down bit of magic. Craft can be learnt, and it's use from an accomplished writer becomes a question of style, but it's the writer's unique take/vision/idea that makes the difference. It certainly doesn't need to be a raging inferno of Van Gogh proportions, but a flame at least, an irritation, a itch that needs scratching. Without that, I think, you might as well write text-books.

  5. Oh, and welcome @Rahma, thanks for reading.