What to Write About

Yesterday a writer friend asked in passing, “what to write about?” which got me thinking: how as writers, do we decide? What happens in those moments when – say – we’ve just finished the latest project, and can finally start something new. That dazzling white page, fresh black ink….


It’s a precious moment – a time of new beginning, a time when our ears can open to the opportunity of a new voice, a direction we may not even know we wanted – needed – to take. How to hear it?

What’s worked best for me has been to pay attention. Not just when I sit down at the desk, but all the time. The inspiration – or at least, the first poem – for the series I wrote on Glenn Gould came when I was watching a video on Cuban jazz. On Georgia O’Keeffe, when I was staring at a rock in New Mexico. On construction, from my journals and a simmering need to explore the challenges and joys of that time.

Yesterday a friend who was about to spend her first week at a newly rented, long longed-for retreat space, wrote in a moment of panic, “What if I just lie there, alone, moaning?” I think the secret is, (and my fingers are crossed as I say this because, after all, the moment of fact can be very different from the moment of theory), the secret is to be patient with ourselves. If the mind and body, on retreat, need first to lie still, alone, moaning, then that is what we must let the body and mind do. And perhaps, if it doesn’t abate, or evolve after some time, a walk, a conversation with a friendly crow, a pause under a blooming tree, might nudge us gently along. Or not. Then we must wait longer. And listen. And above all, be gentle with ourselves.

Kate B.


4 responses to “What to Write About

  1. I am a perfectionist. Of all the people I tend to be hardest on, to be most critical of, to be most impatient with, it is myself. The hardest lesson for me continues to be going easy on myself. As many times as I learn this, I forget and have to learn it anew.

  2. I keep a file, Projects I’ve started to write and haven’t finished yet, stories that weren’t yet ready to come out. I also have a file for ideas that are waiting to bloom, ideas I haven’t started writing about, they are still, seeds, “What Ifs”. I hate gardening but this is sort of my garden of projects, I’m nourishing until their time comes. I never seem to run out of story ideas, like you, they seem to be all around me.

    Wally 😉

  3. I wish I could farm some of my ideas out to other people because I swear the things just keep multiplying. Scenes, conversations, characters they all jump into my head at random moments and I just can’t keep up with them all.

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