How to choose what to write about

The world has changed. Does my writing have to change with it?

Russ Heidorn

I used to write a lot of little essays about the weird things in my life like bad traffic or awkward social situations. I also used to write short stories and flash fiction to try to get published and maybe to amuse my friends.

But all that has changed. Life is so much more serious now. Whether It's the pandemic, or climate change, or social unrest, or political division, or now military conflict, the world seems darker and more bleak than ever before.

And as a writer I don’t know how to deal with it. My attitude has changed. I feel like my writing has to matter more. I feel like the only thing worthwhile now is to talk about the heavy topics that have affected us throughout the world. I feel like I need to add my voice to help drive change in this world. 

But what do I say? How do I talk about it? I mean, there is already so much out there. And with so many other people already contributing - people more impacted or far more knowledgeable that I am - what could I possibly add to the conversation?

So then I wonder, maybe people are just getting over-exposed to it all. Are people tired of all the arguing and rhetoric and ranting? Are people exhausted from the tension they feel every day and maybe what they really need to just escape it all for a while?

So maybe the best thing I can do is continue to write my fluffy, meaningless pieces to help people find a distraction from the day's problems. 

But how do I do that when I'm having the same struggles? I don’t feel like writing about it anymore anyway. Besides, how can I write about crappy traffic when I work from home now. And social situations? That's pretty much been banned since the pandemic.

So do I just give up? Perhaps I should stop writing because what difference does it make anyway?

But I know that's not right. Communication is the glue that keeps our society together. Writing is how we share and feel connected to one another. And even though we have differences, we need to be more connected than ever. It might be the only way we can get through this. 

So maybe that's it. Maybe the answer isn't what you write about, it that you keep writing regardless of the topic. Whether you write about the new Batman movie, or the crisis in Ukraine or how to raise your kids or the failings of our democracy. You need to live, write and share. That's the only way we can get through all of this together.

 

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

6 Comments

Leglessme

But all that has changed. Life is so much more serious now. Whether It’s the pandemic, or climate change, or social unrest, or political division, or now military conflict, the world seems darker and more bleak than ever before.

I’m 62, 63 in four months. This struck me hard, right between the eyes. The world was always dark and bleak. The Vietnam conflict spilled into my living room on the news every single night, as did images of protests, beat downs by police, riots, and precautions of when the “big one” would shake L.A. to the ground, break it off from California and make it an island floating up into the San Francisco Bay.

I write romance because it is the only type of fiction that ends in a hopeful situation. When I’m feeling bleak about the future my writing goes into overdrive because I know this is the type of story I would want to read when my life is exploding. It’s my “get me out of my head for a while” go to. This is because it gets to the most essential connectedness a human being hopes to find–a loving relationship. However, I was also told to make a “sweet spot mind map” by Holly Lisle to pin point the things I love to write about. Romance and paranormal elements were at the very center, followed by speculative fiction and horror.

However, I do understand the dilemma of how to choose what to write if you’re writing commentary

When a person write’s commentary, I always point to the writing of Pulitzer Prize winner Dave Barry. He would take a look at what was in the news and talk about it, with humor, from an angle. If we can’t laugh at ourselves, we run a grave danger of losing our collective perspective. In many ways I feel we are losing it and have been since the 80s. I have no gift for commentary, so I don’t write it. I have the gift of the connection between two people and I do write, in a positive, hopeful way, about that.

Jul-01 at 01:25

Wendyg

I agree with @Leglessme in that the world has always been dark and bleak – some aspects of it. There has always been plagues, human wars, famines, natural disasters, personal crises, illness, and death.
The world has also always been funny, lighthearted, and happy, bathed in bliss and comic relief. Love and laughter exist in times of war, pandemics, personal crises, whatever. Open the door of a random house and tragedy exists amidst some of the greatest and best moments in history.

So, has the world changed or, perhaps, your own perspective on the world has changed instead? You still have options about what to write though. Can your words make a difference: to inspire, to influence, to matter? Yes. And yes, there are others writing the same sort of stuff, but there always has been. And yes, some people of tired of the tension etc. and just want a warm-fluffies type of escape. Others want to pick the causes of the tension to pieces and try to see something new in it or they just find comfort in looking.

No, you don’t have to have been the most ‘impacted’ to be the most effective writer on a topic – sometimes an outside perspective can offer insight purely because they are indeed an observer of events, rather than the [victim? experiencee? sufferer?]
And no, maybe you can’t find it within yourself to write about the traffic if you’re not driving, but can you find it within yourself (instead) to write fluffy meaningless pieces about working from home (stuck for topics? Get a cat. Heaps of people want to read about cats, watch cats on zoom meetings, see cat photos on facebook etc.).

There is an audience out there for both ends of the spectrum you mention and everywhere along the rainbow in between.

So do I just give up? Perhaps I should stop writing because what difference does it make anyway?

Ah, the writer’s eternal cry through the centuries. What if you do give up… then what? What if you deny someone the insight, or inspiration, or moment of mirth or light in their darkness, or whatever that they were searching for?
What if it doesn’t make a difference anyway. What if it does.
To [badly] misquote Dr. Seuss: To the world you may be only one writer, but to one person you may be the only writer.

I wouldn’t say writing is the ‘only way we can get through all of this together’, as there are a tonne of ways to get through any crisis (and remember, for some people the pandemic and lockdowns have been a blessing). But yes, i agree that we should keep writing (regardless of topic). Take a break from writing when you feel like it, or when nothing inspires you. Then write again. If you are a writer then you will always write something more eventually.

Write to make a point, write to entertain, write to complain, write to escape, or just write.

Jul-01 at 03:20

Trevose

the world seems darker and more bleak than ever before.”

I don’t believe this for a second.

The world is not perfect. It never has been, and it never will be. There will always be poverty, physical sickness, megalomaniacs that precipitate violence and wars on international scales, criminals, accidents, pandemics, etc.

When you take a holistic view and compare broader timeframes such as decades, it is hard to imagine any decade anyone would prefer to this one, which is the same view people would have had a decade ago.

I could go on at length, but just think about how much better our lives are now from the technology available compared to 10 years ago (does anyone want to go back to the “smart phone” you had in 2012?). Several of my children are dealing with an autoimmune disease…the number of treatments available to them (again thanks to technology and sophisticated computers and ever-smarter doctors and scientists) has dramatically increased in the last few years, which greatly helps their quality of life.

I am teaching one of my children to drive. Six years ago I did it in the 18-year-old car I still drive for one of my older kids. Now I’m doing it in my wife’s 3-year-old car. I’d never really thought about it until I started explaining all the safety features in my wife’s car to my kid. Then I realized just how sophisticated and how much safer cars are now. It prompted me to look up fatalities per mile driven in the US and how it has changed since I was born. That statistic is amazing – drivers are now about 1/4th as likely to die behind the wheel than they were when I was born (and I ain’t that old).

And when I was born America had the draft – a form of slavery – which has been abolished.

We now have writing communities via the internet (how cool is that?). And we used to learn about the extraordinary extent that the Gutenberg Press democratized knowledge and as a result probably did more for freedom and lifting people out of poverty than ever before. Now we – anyone of us – can publish a book for free to a worldwide audience…for free! What an extraordinary achievement in the history of humanity.

For $200 I put up a couple of solar-powered day/night security cameras around our home, which anyone can do. In our case, they are more to watch the wildlife than anything else, but the point remains that for a few hundred dollars now we can better protect ourselves and our loved ones.

Yes, there are always threats. Always. There are personal threats, threats to our way of living, there are long-term threats to and from our governments. There are dangers of international conflict. Threats come in all sizes and shapes, and writing about them is a fine thing to do if that is your gig. Personally, I’m reluctant to turn my fiction into a didactic diatribe, but there are subtle ways to press home a message (which can be very influential when done well, which is rare). There are other forms of writing that might be more amenable to such things, though those tend to circulate in echo chambers to my perception.

Our view of the world around us does change over time as we grow and age. To generalize… In your teens, it is a great adventure and so much you see every day is new. In your twenties, you are going to conquer the world. In your thirties, the daily grind starts to set in. In your forties you are keeping up with it all and starting to think about someday you will retire and there are things you still want to get to with a vague sense that you are not going to live forever. In your fifties, some of your friends have died, your body starts to hurt, and people half your age are not smart enough to understand the world around them…

When I was a kid and my parents would watch the Academy Awards there would always come that portion of the show when they would play somber music and show clips of famous old actors who had died. My parents would sit in silence except for the occasional, “Oh, my God. I didn’t know he had passed.” Or, “I didn’t know she had died. I loved her movies.” I’d get bored and leave the room to find some snacks or let the dog out. At this point in my life, it is almost unbearable. The world is getting bleaker for me. My icons, my fellow travelers are dropping off, and that is sad and lonely. It will happen to all of us. But that is not the world at large. That is my perception of the world in which I have lived.

And as I age, what used to horrify me – criminals with guns, dictators with armies, someone homeless on the street harassing me, etc. – now makes me sad. So much potential for happiness has gone. So much opportunity for each individual to grow and flourish in their own way has been denied. These thoughts do make the world seem a sad and bleak place, but we have to take in the whole. We can’t lose energy or hope because the world is not perfect, and we should celebrate because the world – again, though far from perfect – is a far better place now than ever before. Writing can be one way to help us collectively and individually find a way to an even better place. And that is good.

Jul-01 at 13:17

Dabbler

I thing the reason everything seems so bleak is because every single one of us now has a microphone that can reach everyone else. People who shout the loudest, with the most inflammatory rhetoric influence the national mood more than ever before.

You could focus on a small target audience and write pieces that appeal to your small tribe, as we used to do in the past before the invention of social media.

Jul-02 at 10:34

Esantos

I say write the stuff that is everything but the news headlines and the doom and gloom we hear every day that is suffocating humanity. Life is so much more than that and no matter how challenging it will get, humans need to smile, laugh, be themselves and stop trying to control everything and everyone. The short, comical, every day life stories are what will get a lot of us avid readers through all the heaviness and negativity. I love nothing more than to read an article about the choices we must make when ordering a coffee these days; the weird behaviours of your child or pet; the stupid things you say when your stuck in a lift with a stranger who you are attracted to and make a fool of yourself; why it is so damn hard to open those plastic fruit and vegetable bags in the supermarket without having to lick your fingers first. The simple things are the most rewarding to the mind.

Jul-06 at 11:45

Fidleyrose

RIh3800 - I agree with you 100%. I also enjoy writing light-hearted humor pieces on every day life, the so called “fluffy” stories. And with everything happening lately, I do feel my pieces carry less and less weight compared to hard-hitting stories about anti-abortion, Ukraine, etc. Oftentimes, I’m like: who cares about pet unicorns anymore? But I continue writing it. Because it is who I am and because I enjoy it. Like you said - people need a distraction from all the bad happening in the world. So please keep on writing.

Jul-13 at 20:50
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