Pretty much everyone out there, particularly the creative-minded folks, are passionate about something. They spend hours researching that hobby or interest; they work and work at improving that craft or skill; they can get into furious arguments with dear friends over that one issue. We all have our obsessions. But we often relegate these obsessions to a small corner of our lives instead of letting our obsessions inform our work and our writing. Political junkies, for example, are experiencing their Christmas these days as we get down to the final days of the presidential campaign; they might spend hours a day going over polls and examining the data on FiveThirtyEight, but it wouldn’t occur to them to write about politics in their writing. Sports nuts can’t bear to miss the latest game, but for some reason sports never appear in their stories. Why aren’t we using our best resources?
Today I want to encourage you to actually use what you know best. This isn’t quite “write what you know”; after all, those political junkies may never have held public office themselves, and many a sports fan has never kicked a ball or held a racquet. It’s more about “write what you are obsessed with.”
Think about it. You’ve spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours thinking about that one little corner of the universe that you love. You’ve researched, whether deliberately or through observation and osmosis. You know the lexicon of the world (more on this and its importance in another post). You know what the challenges and tensions are within that obsession. You understand what people struggle with, whether it’s perfecting the bicycle kick, learning the reverse garter stitch, or capturing the coveted soccer-mom demographic. These are just the sorts of specific details that make writing feel rich and well-observed.
So stop trying to write a vague, ungrounded story about another failing marriage or death in the family. Instead, ground the story in your obsession. Give us a character who’s a math major and let him tell us about the fascinating mathematical theories you love. Make your character a champion Cricket player and let American readers into the world of a sport the rest of the world plays! As John Updike said at one point, we read to hear news of another world; the world that you’re obsessed with is the perfect place for us to start.