|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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
[ 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."
- Record any large pattern that appears in reflection having to
do with politics or society. This certainly ranges from the absurd
to the sublime.
- Book readings. If you take the time to read something, at least
write out what the book expresses to you.
- Anything in the culture that inspires the best nature in yourself.
- Record instances of story. Don't even question why you write
them down. They are everywhere.
- Record conversations, including strange word usage.
- Write down words you come across that are exotic but
pleasing: heteroclite; aretalogi; exiguous; phanopoeia, for instance.
- Odd facts and statistics.
- 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!
Back to the Freelance Resource Page
For those new to the Net or overwhelmed by the nature of the
online job market I suggest you look at the Cyber Search Tutorial.There
are more job boards and classifieds from metro newspapers.
Don't forget to visit Sunoasis Joblog for
daily updates on the writing and publishing industry.