Last week I mentioned personal branding—figuring out three or so words that define who you are. That way you can determine the itch that writing scratches.
This week I turn to related topics. The first one is the most important.
Write about what really interests you
If you want to have something to say,
Have other interests.
If you address what you love in your words, the general rule is that your enthusiasm will be infectious.
I’ll return to this below, and it is indeed my big idea point. But first I have another.
Why you can’t just write
Don’t just be a writer. In fact, being “just a writer”—throwing down your latest novel and raking in the profits as your sole occupation—that represents a relatively new thing, historically speaking. Through most of western history people wrote as part of lives in which they did other things like teaching, or being a monk.
What are those other things? I have a friend who’s passionate about cycling and God. And so he’s writing the connection of those two. Another loves the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, the state of the soul, and the difference between final and efficient causation. An acquaintance is consumed with how to make your eight year old’s birthday party unique. Yet another is convinced he sees the connection between X-Men films and Christian theology. (Not all have the same size markets, but that’s why it’s important to have another way to make money.)
Going deep into your psyche
This implies something else. All this focus on personal branding and one’s “lust” from last week makes writing a very personal endeavor. You begin to go deep into your own psyche. (Or else you’ll just write tweet nasty things about other people to forget about the self-discovery.) So don’t be surprised that, when you write, you discover some weird stuff.
I’ll quote C. S. Lewis, who observed what happened when he—in a different context—looked inside:
“For the first time I examined myself with a seriously practical purpose. And there I found what appalled me; a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds. My name was legion.” C.S. Lewis
When this happens, you might want to find a friend, a spouse, or a professional counselor to sort through this stuff.
The bad and the good
So definitely use your personal exploration in your writing. How you’re jealous about the terrible writing you read that’s somehow made it to the New York Times bestseller list. How Jello makes you irrationally angry. Why the saying, “the Pope is a trombone,” amuses you for hours.
But I don’t want to suggest that the real me or the real you is all yucky. You might also find some good stuff. Like the fact that you really do love some learning about justice through reading every sermon by Martin Luther King, Jr. Or that you love knitting blankets so you can give them to moms and dads of newborns. Or that you like playing Scrabble and pinochle with lonely people at a senior center.
I close with a question or two-->How do you start? What are you doing today? What’s planned for this week? What other kind of work do you do? What’s your favorite hobby? Find some of the activities that you can reflect on. And put them into words.