What do you want to write?
Published: February 22, 2006
|So you've decided you want to write. Your mind's brimming with ideas, but when you sit down to capture them, you have trouble staying focused on any one. Or maybe you can't quite figure out what you want to write. One day you're thinking of starting an essay, the next morning a great idea for a children's book or mystery pops into your head. |
If this sounds familiar, you're not alone-many writers find that selecting exactly what they'll write about and what form their work will take is an ongoing challenge. A little soul-searching, however, can help narrow your choices and identify topics and types of writing best suited to you.
When I teach workshops, I often have participants imagine they've been awarded a weeklong stay at a writer's retreat. All of their personal obligations will be taken care of, leaving them seven days devoted solely to whatever writing they wish. Yet many participants confess to feeling overwhelmed at the prospect. While they may have been fantasizing about having time to write, they haven't thought about what exactly they'll write when they do. To help them focus, I have them answer these questions:
What do you feel strongly about?
What excites you? Motivates you?
How do you spend most of your time?
What events have impacted your life?
What types of reading do you enjoy?
How much time can you devote to your writing? Most new writers only have limited blocks of time. If this is true, consider whether shorter pieces would prove more satisfying at first. A novel, for example, is likely to take at least a year's worth of steady work, while you can usually complete an essay, article or short story in a few weeks.
How steep is your learning curve? Writing a nonfiction book usually entails significant research time. If screenplays appeal, you'll need to educate yourself about format and structure. Keeping a regular journal, on the other hand, requires no formal training or writing background and can spark interest in other types of written projects.
What obstacles do you face? Are you afraid your work won't be good enough or you'll run out of steam once you get started? Figure out your biggest stumbling blocks and ways to overcome them. If you are your own harshest critic, for example, promise yourself you'll focus on getting a first draft down without worrying about its quality.
What are your writing goals? Finally, ask yourself why you want to write. Do you want to be in magazines? Sell a novel? Put your memoirs on paper? Understand yourself better? Share a powerful experience? When you have a handle on your goals, you should also get a better sense of what your first project will be. Setting writing goals can also help you maintain a writing regimen. Keep these tips in mind:
Be specific "I will write more" is too vague. Better: "I'll write 20 minutes a day."
Be reasonable You say you want to write a novel in six months? An overly ambitious goal may be counterproductive. Factor in job and family obligations, lifestyle and available writing time when setting goals.
Be gentle You missed a week? Don't beat yourself up-just start writing again.
Be accountable Sharing your writing goals with someone else-another writer, a trusted friend or spouse-can keep you on the writing path.
Contributing editor Kelly James-Enger is the author of Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create Your Own Writing Specialty and Make More Money (The Writer Books).