Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Creative Writing 101: Answering 'What am I supposed to write?'

What am I supposed to write?

If I had a penny for every time a writer asked me this…I could probably buy a Starbucks to fuel a chapter’s worth. If I had a penny for every time I asked myself the same question I could make that coffee a large one.

Back before I started getting under-way with my own writing this question would crop up a lot. And when it did it was a sudden and as sharp as an all-too-hot mouthful of coffee down the ‘wrong hole’, leaving me spluttering and gasping, reaching for the napkins to clean up the mess I’d made on the papers…

…please, people, let’s keep this clean and not read into that statement? I might have handed you a double entendre on a plate, but there’s no reason to slow-cook me over a spit roast of my own oddities.

Returning to the matter at hand. What are you supposed to write?

I don’t know, why are you asking me? But more importantly, why are you asking yourself?

Writer’s write because they want to. Because they can – because they have a story to tell. If you’re wondering what you’re supposed to write, look a little closer at your story plan and wonder what’s missing. That might be why you’re asking yourself this in the first place.

But, and this is a BIG BUT, if you’re asking yourself ‘What am I SUPPOSED to write?’ then you need to dissect your intent. Is it because you want people to like your story? Is it because you want to be the next ‘50 Shades of a Vampire’s Sparkly Skin with a side of Philosopher’s Stone’?

If that is the case…STOP! Put down the pen before you hurt yourself, I beg of you.

The dangers of trying to write the next big thing are an endless catalogue that’d make thumbscrews seem like a pedicure. There’s no harm in big ambition, actually I encourage and applaud it, and if you’re taking a not-so-popular trope and prodding it toward the limelight then good on you. But penning yet another ‘that’s popular so it’ll sell well’ book might actually leave you out in open water, with a longer swim back to shore once the tide’s abandoned you.

What I’m trying to get at here is: when you write, the first person who is going to read your work is going to be you. And for most writers your biggest critic is always going to be YOU (unless you have a dog like mine who you subject to orating first drafts to). Imagine this: between worrying so much about ‘what you’re supposed to write’ you end up scrawling something you think the reader will like, but when you end up going over it you in fact detest it…

The tide moves pretty fast out there in the sea of writer world, doesn’t it? And low and behold the sharks of doubt have started circling.

WRITE what YOU WANT to WRITE. I cannot stress how important this is. If you don’t enjoy the process how do you expect to get to the end? The reader will pick up on the fact that you’re second-guessing yourself, and the story itself will lack the conviction and honest delivery it truly deserves.

So the next time you ask yourself ‘what am I supposed to write?’ answer, simply, with this.

‘My story’.

That, or hire a dozen monkeys and force them to the typewriters.

((Note: No monkeys or sharks were harmed in the writing of this post, but my dog did get a little bored of hearing me speak out loud as I typed...and no, that's not him in the picture.))


  1. Hi D,
    I've tweeted, LinkedIn, FB'd and Google+'d this all over the place :)

    1. Hey Chris!

      Sorry I haven't been in touch recently - busy times on my end (check the blog post prior to this for more details). How's things with you? The site going well?

  2. Replies
    1. Cheers Wrik, thanks for stopping by!

  3. Love this! So enjoyable to read and true!!

    1. Thank you! I keep trying to tell my dog that I'm not just waffling on ALL of the time! :P

      Glad you enjoyed, and hope to keep you entertained with further posts.

    2. Fair warning! I am not stalking you, but have added you on Google+ and on my blog. I think your writing is fantastic.

    3. Wow, thank you! I really appreciate the support. Hearing things like that definitely puts a spring in the step of this self-published author!

      Do you have facebook? Feel free to add me there - get all the usual updates on my insanity and whatnot.

  4. Hey, fun post. I smiled a couple of times while reading.

    "What I’m trying to get at here is: when you write, the first person who is going to read your work is going to be you. And for most writers your biggest critic is always going to be YOU (unless you have a dog like mine who you subject to orating first drafts to)."

    Yes! Writing a novel is a long, lonely process, you have to write what you're passionate about. I can't imagine making a long term commitment to write for the market, especially if I don't care about it--I'd get board and the market would move on to something else: it might swing from 50 Shades to I'm a Prude and That's Hot.

    I have so many stories and characters in my head, all clamoring to be written; I think they would get angry if I didn't write about them, and who knows what they would do to me. Actually, what would they do to me? Sounds like another story in the making.

  5. Now that sounds like a good plot! Characters coming to life to drag you back to writing about them. Could end up like some sort of Jerry Springer special about neglect!

  6. After giving my first draft to a friend, the bits I was most sure about were the bits she loved best - no exceptions! Second-guessing yourself (or on the other hand, being clear and confident in your vision) really does come through in your work. This was a great post. Also, I like your sense of humour.

  7. Thanks Zee, I really appreciate you stopping by! Stay tuned, a lot of my posts end up descending into this quasi nonsensical-but-still-makes-perfect-sense idiosyncrasy.