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But...What Do I Write?

Of all the roles a writer plays, one remains a complete privilege. She stretches the possibility for any person who may read her. The writer is a teacher for the real world of men and women. They are unappreciated and underpaid. But, the privilege is a real one and can never be taken for granted.

Writing is connection. I love cars, you love cars. My role as a writer is to research new models, accessories, cost of gasoline, insurance issues, new places to drive, among other things and then get that information into your hands.

My love of cars takes me to more resource than you can acquire since you're tied up in a career or family. The more resource I bring to you, the more you will read my stuff and the more the publication carrying my stuff will prosper.

Everybody is happy.

>>>>>>>>>>>B u t   W h a t   T o   W r i t e ?<<<<<<<<<<<<

At a certain point the writer asks himself, "What to write about?" This is a quandary writers are often faced with at the beginning of their career. "Write what you know," the old pro will tell you.

Well, I know a lot of things so how do I pick and choose?

One way is to listen to the market. It speaks with a loud voice. It will tell you what the people want.

The machinery of publication is set up to link interests together so it's relatively easy to find those readers who your writing might appeal to. The writer can not control the will, desire, or actions of free people.

The truth is if you have a major interest chances are many other people will share it.

* * * * * * * *

There is loneliness to the profession of writing but it is offset by the magic of connecting to a large audience and falling in love with new subjects.

And when the writer falls in love with a new subject he patiently waits out its resistance. He seduces the subject until it plays deep in his mind. "I have the passionate desire to know this!" That's how it starts. And then a list of resources to bring him up to speed. And then come the inevitable questions that rise up because the subject is complex and travels along many horizons. The dutiful writer traces those horizons and before long he has created the deep circles he can begin to connect together.

There is, then, a still point at which time the writer is ready to communicate with a community of interest.

Ideally everything is open for curiosity. There is not an activity or subject under the sun that is alienated from the writer. The writer is here to be a witness and to communicate to those who want to know.

* * * * * * * *

The writer learns quickly that she must pick and choose what subjects to focus on but keeps any number of other areas on the periphery where they often provide examples, context, or metaphor.

Sometimes the fascination for a new subject comes into play through tragedy. You lose a loved one to a disease and become obsessed with the nature of the disease, its cure, and write stories about people whose lives have been altered by it.

Sometimes it's a profound experience. I knew a guy who turned completely against modern technology. He thought that it would be the death of the planet. It radically changed his life since he lived in the city, built up out of modern technology. He was in a painful dilemma. He had read about the migration of peoples over the Bering Strait down into North and South America and it stimulated him to think that human beings had lived and adventured without machines. The fact had been there all the time he was living but the fact did not come alive until he was curious enough to find it.

So, he and a few of his fellow Luddites walked from Tierra del Fuego back up to California, tracing the migration from the back-end. While he made his peace with modern technology, the experience changed him.

He wrote about his experiences and cultivated his fascination in the migration of peoples, their tools, their survival techniques as well as with some of the towns he walked through in South and Central America. All of this resulted in a productive stream of ideas for his writing life.

There are two approaches I like to refer to as the "belly-up" and the "head-down." From the belly-up the writer is simply following his interests, through his talent, to the final destination of publication. The writer may have an interest before she discovers she wants to be a writer. Or, a writer allows the interest to take her into the heart of the community of interest where all kinds of stories wait patiently to be discovered.

From the head down the writer defines himself as a writer first. He looks over everything in front of him and decides what is going to bring him closer to his goal. If he is driven to make money and be a professional writer, then he will discover what the market wants more than anything and open his curiosity to that interest.

M a k i n g   A   S u b j e c t   Y o u r   O w n 

Carla Kimbrough-Robinson wrote recently that, "Curiosity allows journalists to ponder the reality of the world around them. By putting aside assumptions of knowing how life is, great journalists can spark their desires to learn or know more about people and their circumstances."

Sometimes it is simply asking, "What if....?" Any situation that involves more than a few amoeba has the elements to spur that quality of curiosity. Line up all the elements and query each one with stimulating questions.

Every group, organization, or event has a variety of elements that can be a fount for story ideas.

Think of the event, Katrina: Many elements are still untold from that event. Already we've heard stories about race, global warming, corruption of city and state politics, incompetence at federal level, levee construction, innumerable sacrifices on the part of people, horrendous tales of deprivation, heroic acts on the part of anonymous souls and on it goes.

Look at every fear and avoidance you possess and then head straight to the core of them with the intention of finding story ideas.

A writer should not let fear take the upper hand. It doesn't matter whether that fear is of a place, a person, an issue, or a possible confrontation with authority. The more fearless a writer is, the better she will serve her community.

The better able she will make a subject her own.

C u r i o s i t y  

Wikipedia has some things to say about the subject. Curiosity has the effect of "impelling beings to seek information and interaction with their natural environment and with other beings in their vicinity."

Curiosity may have killed a few cats but if the writer kills his own curiosity it will doom his writing career.

This is why cynicism is a killer of the writing tribe. You can never learn enough. You can never fully exhaust any one subject. In fact, the process humbles you so much you feel like giving up sometimes. But don't! Be resourceful for an audience that will use your fascinations well.

Curiosity can bring you to many subjects but then how do you make the subject your own? In my experience it is the act of commitment that makes the difference. Commit to the subject, immerse yourself in it, find your limits, then go in and out of the subject as you need to.

As I note in this month's The Digital Writer, journalism is all about "taking care of the community. While living in cities I always thought if a writer could not extract dozens of stories out of the one square block he lived in, he was not doing a good job of it.

Remember, too, that any subject has assembled around it a community that is as real as the one you physically live in. In that community are experts, old-timers, new comers, anecdotes, legacies, and a multitude of horizons to develop stories. The internet is filled with these. And I need not tell writers to use the internet at every opportunity to deepen the resource of your subject.

A writer is different than a mere aficionado however. The writer must look at the subject critically and discover the facts, if not truth. Readers are dependent on this. And as we know facts can be elusive and hard to pin down. Any community has its self-interest and will protect it with soft lies. It will deny any wrong doing. It will always plead the victim.

While the writer may get ostracized from the community when she digs into its shadow more than likely members of the community will come forward and encourage the writer and give her information that is needed.

This intrigue happens in even the most innocuous community. If it has an organization, with dues paying members, and maintains a publication it can be very secretive and hard to penetrate.

Know your interests and know the market where those interests find an audience. If a writer does this she won't be worrying about sales of articles as long as she writes well and with an interesting slant. Nearly all journalists I have known have been "of a community," and shared many of the problems and interests of that community.

We will leave off the psychological components on what makes a person interested in one thing but not another. In this day and age we celebrate diversity. "Let a thousand flowers bloom!" It is a wonderful attribute.

Curiosity will lead to resource. Combine the two and the writer has a number of rich possibilities to cover one, two, or three subjects.

* * * * * * * *

It comes down to trusting yourself to move around the large world and absorb it while sifting out what is meaningful for yourself and what is not. If you get a lot of good "sift" you will have a lot of writing energy ready to convert to work.

               [ CODA ]

"What to write down." That was the title of the note I came across in my folder and it gave me a theme for this month's Sunoasis X. "You want all the freedom in the world in this notebook." "Take some politician to task. Take some floating idea to task. Record relations."

  1. Record any large pattern that appears in reflection having to do with politics or society. This certainly ranges from the absurd to the sublime.
  2. Book readings. If you take the time to read something, at least write out what the book expresses to you.
  3. Anything in the culture that inspires the best nature in yourself.
  4. Record instances of story. Don't even question why you write them down. They are everywhere.
  5. Record conversations, including strange word usage.
  6. Write down words you come across that are exotic but pleasing: heteroclite; aretalogi; exiguous; phanopoeia, for instance.
  7. Odd facts and statistics.
  8. In the nooks and crannies of a newspaper are several stories a day to shake out.

Write by producing acts of creative intelligence out of the massive database of any interest you may have.

The marketplace always follows the people's fascination.

If you have any questions about careers in freelance writing don't hesitate to ask!

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David Eide
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David Eide
copyright 2000-2006