Back in college, I bought myself a book that I supposed would teach me how to write. Excited to finally learn the secret to what I had been doing so (I thought) inadequately all my life, I started the first exercise.
The exercise required that I write about an exotic location I had visited and try to remember all the details. Color me stumped—I had never been anywhere more exotic than Arkansas.
So I skipped it and went on to the next exercise. This one required me to write down all the details about my first horseback ride. Again, no sale: I’d never ridden a horse.
So I skipped that one, too, and then when the next exercise required me to write about swimming in the ocean, which I’d also never done, I closed the book.
I felt pretty grumpy by that point. Clearly, I had never done anything, visited anywhere memorable, or, well, experienced anything worth writing about. Like Christian in Moulin Rouge!, I thought, how could I write about something I’d never experienced?
But then I thought, Well, but I once tried to ride a goat. And when I did take swimming lessons they made me dive off the diving board even though I hadn’t actually learned to swim.
So instead of the exercises in the book, I started making a list of experiences that I had had. And I wrote about those instead.
You may think the same thing as I did: But I’ve lived my entire life in Wookey Hole, Nebraska! How can I write about STUPENDOUS AND SHOCKING EVENTS OF INESTIMABLE PROPORTIONS when nothing interesting has ever happened to me?
Well, whoever said you have to is lying. You don’t have to write about anything but what you feel passionately about. What do you feel most passionately about? People, places, and events close to your heart.
You might live your whole life in Wookey Hole, Nebraska, but guess what, a whole lot of people live in towns like Wookey Hole. When you write authentically and (this is important) with surprising insight on the experience of living in Wookey Hole, many, many people will recognize something new in their own experiences. Something they never saw meaning in before. That’s when you start holding up a mirror to society and asking readers to look in that mirror.
So the next time you realize you have absolutely, positively, nothing to write about, instead, write a list of experiences you have had. Pick one that jumps out at you and write about it. Better still, ignore the facts and riff off that experience. What should have happened? What might have happened? Show your readers.
And someday I just might share the story of when I tried to ride that goat.