What to Write?

By William E. Dempsey

I’m staring at the dreaded blank screen, page one of my next manuscript, wondering what to write. The most common, albeit well worn, advice is to write about what you know. The problem is that many people know what I know. How can I find a way to make what I know exciting enough for others to want to read about it?

The first important element to remember is that this tome will be fiction. It doesn’t have to withstand the scrutiny of an over enthusiastic fact-checker. I prefer historical fiction, so the underlying story must be factually correct. I have now narrowed my thinking somewhat. The next logical step is to pick an event or era to serve as the foundation of the story and the starting point for the necessary research. Ah, since I’m a lot older than most people on the planet are, maybe I do know some things the younger masses don’t.

Last night on TV, I watched a man interview young people on Malibu Beach. It was President’s Day, so his questions involved American history and her presidents. He held up a picture of Abraham Lincoln and asked a young woman who it was. She guessed, “George Washington.” He then asked a college-aged man, “Who won the Civil War?” The immediate response was, “America.” I’m on safe ground, better prepared for this task than I had imagined.

I make a cup of coffee—thinking always makes me thirsty. Okay, how about World War II. Most Americans alive today were born well after the war ended. That might make it interesting reading, but thousands of books have already told those stories. Maybe the Korean conflict? No, same problem; lots of writing has already been done on the subject. More coffee. How about the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962? By Job, I’ve got it. The event happened over fifty years ago, so it meets the time requirement of the genre. I was remotely involved, which always helps. That’s it, keyboard—ready; mouse—ready; fingers don’t fail me now:

“It was a dark and stormy night when the crisis began …”

One thought on “What to Write?”

  1. What to Write

    For many years I wrote poetry alone. Poems would come to me at inconvenient times, the middle of the night, while driving on the expressway, at the doctor’s office, while shampooing the dog.

    Just like Ruth Stone they would fly through me, and I had to jot them down or they would disappear forever. Some poems poured from my fingers onto the keys completely intact. I never had to change a word.

    Others labored for days, months, and sometimes years before they were finalized and fit to be released to the poetry world. I never sit down at my desk with the intention of writing a poem. It doesn’t happen that way for me. It somehow finds me, and I begin to write.

    I was told by a close writer friend whenever I attempted to write a story to stick with poetry and art; that he was the story writer. I believed him, until I took a seasonal evening job working at the IRS as a Tax Examiner.

    In order to get through the tedious training, I would jot notes down studiously as if paying attention to the instructor. I would take the notes home, and in the morning send out an email of the previous night’s curious and hilarious practices of IRS training to my old co-workers, friends and family.

    After the first couple of days of emails, I was a bit late in getting my daily email out. I received a number of emails expressing concern that they had not received their email of the day. It turned out to be the first thing they looked for each morning, whether home or at work to be devoured along with a cup of coffee.

    I learned that if the subject matter is interesting enough to keep your readers coming back for more, then you can write about pretty much anything, even the IRS. Of course the IRS Chronicles has been edited over time, as I learned to be a better writer, but I had the kernel of the story intact, and it was eventually published.

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