How to Be a Writer (Part 2): What to Write About


By Ingrid Boyd

This may sound really obvious, and please, stop me if you have heard this before, but when deciding what you want to write, do take a moment to think about what you actually enjoying reading, or watching.

So you are planning to write the definitive historical romance, but with a contemporary twist? You haven’t sorted out what the contemporary twist will be, but there will definitely be one.

But, do you read historical romances? If not are you sure you want to write one?

So what do you like? TV drama? Excellent. Do that then.

If you decide to write for film or television you must be aware of the vast array of books written on the subject.

There are many, many books out there from the venerable Sid Field to the fantastic Linda Aronson. There are also courses, run by, apparently powerful Hollywood TV writers, who are so successful they are running 3 day workshops from a conference centre in Newquay to teach YOU how to write a script that SELLS.

Once you have read through a great big pile of books telling you “How To” (we are back at procrastination, aren’t we? That always happens. Trust me it’s normal. Go with it), you can come up with some ideas.

This brings me back to the other question writers get asked all the time: How do you get your ideas?

You will undoubtedly have heard the phrase “write about what you know”. Good. Now forget it. Sure, it helps to have an interest in the subject you are writing about, but to stick rigidly only within the, let’s face it, tiny parameters of your own young life seems a little narrow.

Yes, you do have to know what you are writing about, but you can always GET to know about something. It’s called research. I hate it too, but look, in this day and age it’s so easy! In the dark ages before the internet (you won’t remember, you were just a tot but it was AWFUL) we had to go to libraries and learn the Dewey Decimal system just to find stuff out.

Now we all we have to do is click a mouse and VOILA! Can’t find what you are looking for? Remember Google has more than one page.

Actually, though, even when you research online, you kind of do need to be able to substantiate that research. Wikipedia is great, and often correct, but not always, and facts do need to be checked to.

Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone to call people. For example, when researching a scene I was writing that took place in a police cell, I called the Metropolitan police to make sure I was getting the procedure right. You can do this. All large organisations have people who are paid to deal with press and media related queries, and they are usually very helpful

So, OK, so maybe you can’t get everything from the internet, but it’s a good place to start.

You now know what format you want to write in, and you have a good idea who your characters are going to be and what they are going be like. Now you just need to formulate a story, come up with the Big Idea.

Whatever you do, don’t turn off the computer, or put down your notebook in order to wait for the right ideas to present themselves, or for the writing mood to take you.

The writing mood is elusive, and often doesn’t take you until you are drunk at 1 am and you fill a notebook with amazingly profound ideas for a story, which, when read back in the morning turns out to be an overlong synopsis of Atonement, covered in chilli sauce.

Someone once asked me, following a performance of a play I wrote, which quite brought down the Scout shed, “How do you start writing?”.

I replied, “You just start writing”. She was confused. “But how do you know what you are going to write? Where do you get your ideas”?

And I said, again, Yoda-like, “You just, you know, pick up a pen or whatever, and start writing”

And IT’S TRUE. It took me years to get that, but, once you kind of know what and who you want to write about, and you have a basic story arc in mind (thanks Sid Field) there is no merit in sitting and waiting for inspiration.

The more you actually write, the more ideas you will generate, and the more you work, the easier it will get to wrench open that door in your mind that lets the creative stuff in. And the more that rusty ol’ door gets used, the easier it will become to just leave it a little ajar most of the time.

They say creative enterprise is 1 percent Inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.

This is completely wrong, of course as we have seen.

It is more like 100 percent desperation followed by a 50/49 split between perspiration and procrastination. The remaining 1 percent is tea and biscuits.

Ingrid Boyd

Ingrid is a native of Leeds and a graduate of the University of Westminster Film School, where she learned much about filmmaking; the most important lesson being never to admit a film crew into your house.

She has lived in Glasgow, London, Oxford and New York, and has worked (among other places)at Merchant Ivory Films, (doing the filing), in a diner, as a costume assistant on musicals, and in a department store, where she once sold a pair of socks to Bruce Springstein.

In 2007 Ingrid returned to Leeds to study writing at the University of Leeds, where she successfully wrote and directed a play, and began to compile an impressive portfolio of writing, from screenplays to short stories.

After graduating with merit in 2009, Ingrid began copywriting and blogging for a range of small businesses.


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