Agitations: Answering that infamous question: What should I write?
There was a point in my life when I became so agitated by society’s race wars that I thought I was interested in people, not race. As I writer I figured perhaps there was a way that I could create race-less characters or maybe even tackle racial issues to show that my view was right and the other was wrong, but that’s not really what fiction is about.
I pitched a story idea to a philosopher who told me the ideas I had were much more complex and my gut told me, he was right. Words often fail us, our emotions fail us. Being reactionary isn’t helpful for life nor fiction.
Instead, I had to admit something about myself. I was in fact very interested in race and I began to explore the complexities of society’s issues and how they played out for different people. That place of exploration is the only genuine place to start fiction from.
Interest is something determined by those hard looks at ourselves. I say hard because we have to be honest about the things we keep coming back to. Sometimes it’s helpful to have other people take a look for us. (I swore for the longest time that I was an introvert. One day I saw (really saw) my friends’ faces when I said it. Me an introvert? Obviously not.)
I think looking from the outside in, anyone would tell me that they way I interpret my childhood experiences and family history, along with my prolonged interests are the reason I write about issues of race, culture, family. But it’s not just the big topic of race and culture, but the way that people make choices based on those things or are affected by them that intrigues me. I come back to questions like these: How do people become who they are meant to be in light of how they are raised? Why and how do some people break away from the status quo? Why is the past as real as the present for some and forgotten by others? How much cultural understanding do we pass from one generation to the next?
Those questions are not bound to race and culture, which is why what I write, though with a setting and cultural influence in mind, can also simply be read as an exploration of human flourishing.
How do you know what to write, where to begin? It will come to the surface as you write. It will bubble up time and again in the books that intrigue you, the family stories you can’t forget. Agitations are not always negative. They can be those feelings you can’t shake but that you are meant to dissect and write about.
Make a list of some of the things that consistently agitate you? Think of the reasons why?
Which family stories or memories stick out to you the most?
After you make a list. Dig a little deeper to find out which themes you may like to explore through writing.
Ashley Soden is the director of Write/Create, Inc. She's currently writing her first novel. When she's not writing, she's living life to the full with her husband and three energetic kids. You may also find her making lattes at Starbucks.