On too many accounts have I seen writers hear the old age adage ‘write what you know’ and take this too literally. They insist on writing about bird watching because that’s what they have done their whole lives, and for the large part that’s okay. However, personally I believe when you write about something you are familiar with you miss out on a huge resource of inspiration and the ability to view something brand new, just like the audience would to your film. Say you have never gotten round to go bird watching but the idea has always interested you and you think it would make a great setting for a comedy. Immersing yourself in that world as an intrigued outsider will introduce you to a lot of characters with stories and pieces of advice that will be priceless for your story crafting. In some instances the plot may begin to write itself, however if you have experience in the subject you may bypass this process as you consider yourself to know enough already.
It might seem a tad rudimentary to remind people to be interested in something before they start a writing project, surely they are or why bother? Well, you’d be surprised how this basic pre-requisite slips through the net with some people (yes, this blog was inspired by my many previous mistakes). So, case in point, a few years back I plowed through a marathon of Mike Leigh films and subsequently penned what I thought was a killer social realist short drama. It wasn’t, it was mostly drivel. I was too hung up on trying to be like Mike Leigh that I didn’t stop to realise I didn’t care at all about the lives of taxi drivers (the occupation of my protagonist) and so the end result was an insincere and insipid attempt at being authentic. It is only when I stepped back and considered what I actually wanted to write could I begin researching and crafting a much more personal and organic stories. I cared more deeply about whom and what I was writing about and thus the stories became mine and dare I say it, original. What I’m encouraging here is to take some time to think about it. Try and step away from the obvious choices, but don’t rush things like I did. Research is a wonderful part of the writing journey, capitalise on it and discover a world you had never considered before.