A Twitter follower asked me the above question the other day, and her inquiry sparked a blog post. What do you write about when you haven’t endured some sort of crisis? Is disaster a prerequisite for a good story?
I remember sitting in a conference and getting a little ticked off as I listened to a publishing house editor promote the idea that the best and only way to write is from one’s pain—not discomfort or struggle but tragic, devastating pain. Without that kind of pain, she suggested, it wasn’t possible to be an excellent writer.
Does pain give you something to write about? Absolutely. If life has tossed you around a bit, writing about your bruises can help others avoid getting hurt the same way. Your experience and wisdom can inspire others to find healing in their own lives. Share your story, your pain, your challenges and your triumphs. Doing so can benefit others. (Writing can also be a cathartic process that helps you deal with and move past pain. Or it can allow you to wallow indefinitely and keep you from recovering. But that’s blog post for another time.)
Must you have a dark past to be a great writer and tell engaging stories? Absolutely NOT. Empathy is one of the greatest tools writers can wield. We connect with readers when we make them feel something and when we make them believe we understand and relate to them. Sure, sometimes that means writing about the painful parts of life. But it can also be about joy, excitement, love, passion, discovery, possibility and so much more.
So what do you write about if your life hasn’t been marked by tragedy? Here are a few ideas…
Notice and write about what’s going on in the world around you. Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, the world provides endless fodder! The trick is to not only notice what’s going on around you but to also capture your ideas before they flitter away. The moment you have an idea, make a note in Evernote, or scribble it in a notepad or on a napkin or, if you’re desperate, your arm.
Write about your passions or what you’ve learned. Discovery sparks the imagination. If you intentionally keep learning and exploring, you’ll always have something new to write about. What are you great at? What do people come to you with questions about? What do you read about? Write about that.
Write about what’s working for you. If your life is basically good, ask yourself why that’s true. What are you doing that is working well for you? My guess is there is some wisdom to be shared from your life’s experiences. Maybe it’s your planning and organizational skills that keep chaos in check for you. Maybe you’ve learned coping or emotional skills that help you diffuse drama before it gets out of hand. Maybe you have found or created ways to save money, time or your sanity. It’s unlikely you’ve lived a life completely free from hardship. It’s far more probable that your positive attitude and the way you approach life helps you deal with challenges. That, too, can be worth writing about.
The point is: You don’t have to be in constant agony to be an amazing writer. Art doesn’t have to be about suffering. It can be about joy, hope and progress. How refreshing!
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