This is a guest post from Kate Lord Brown, author of The Beauty Chorus. I am totally in agreement with Kate on this topic. After years of being blocked by thinking I had to write literary fiction, I looked at my obsessions of religion, psychology, travel and action-adventure thrillers and finally wrote with passion!
Maybe you’ve come across the tired old line ‘write what you know’? It’s standard advice in a lot of How To Write manuals. I’d like to suggest you ignore it, and instead write what you love.
If I was going to ‘write what I know’, I could tell you about juggling work and family life. I could tell you about what I cooked for dinner last night, which film I watched. In fact, that is pretty much what I do write about for blog posts and articles. I’ve published internationally writing about parenting, travel locations, art exhibitions. For short sprint writing, drawing on your own experience is a great start. You can add to this with simple research about products, details about travel connections or opening times to package up a neat few hundred words.
However, for the endurance race of a book length manuscript I think you need more than that. If, like me, you juggle writing with all the other demands of work and running a home, it has to be a burning question that will get you running to your desk instead of putting your feet up when everyone else is asleep. If you urgently want to find the answer to something, that drive and enthusiasm will be felt by your readers.
Sometimes you’re lucky, and you stumble on the key to your new story. I came across a tiny obituary for a woman who had flown Spitfires during WW2, and that sparked months of research for my debut novel. I wanted to know why people had forgotten about these incredible women. I wanted to know everything about their lives, what it was like to be a young woman in a man’s world during the War. I knew nothing about wartime aviation – but I loved their story, and I wanted to know more.
With ‘The Beauty Chorus’ I was lucky. The story came to me. But there is no point waiting for the Muse – as Jack London said: ‘You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.’
If you are searching around for a subject for your next book, or wondering why your current project has hit a wall, why not try the following:
- Take a big sheet of craft paper and some markers. Draw a circle at the centre and put your name in it. Radiating out from that centre, draw a line for each thing you love, and write it down in a smaller circle. Get really specific – not just ‘flowers’ from that write ‘roses’ or ‘tulips’. Brainstorm everything that excites you, really thrills you.
- Come back to your drawing a few days later, and see what jumps out at you. There may be two or three things, which is fine. I never need too much excuse for a new notebook, I don’t know about you, and this is time to reach for one. Write on the first page your chosen subject.
- Over the coming weeks, you’ll find you spot more and more information about this subject you love – it’s amazing how synchronicity kicks in and you will suddenly start seeing roses, or tulips, or WW2 aircraft wherever you look. Write it down. Paste up pictures and photographs in your book. Follow up tantalising leads. Tune into your story.
Within a very short time, you will find you have a resource book that can be the powerhouse of your new book. Just flicking through the pages of your notebook should excite you. From this seed a whole story can blossom – whether it’s about Crusaders bringing home roses, or the nefarious dealings of tulip traders, or the brave and beautiful young women who flew fighter planes.
Kate studied Philosophy at Durham University, and Art History at the Courtauld Institute of Art. She is currently taking a Masters degree. She worked as an art consultant, curating collections for palaces and embassies in Europe and the Middle East, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. She was a finalist in UK ITV’s the People’s Author competition in 2009. Her debut novel ‘The Beauty Chorus’ is published by Atlantic in 2011.