A young writer who is between jobs and so, for now, has the luxury to write at least a little every day asked me recently for advice about taking his practice beyond musings on his daily life, beyond what are essentially journal entries—not that there’s anything wrong with journal entries.
Without thinking too hard about it, I found myself recommending a change of location, something it so happens I’ve been trying myself. It’s one thing to have a favorite writing space, whether a home office or a coffee shop, but had he thought about writing in a different place every day—a different spot in his house (chair, room, corner, window, view), a different park at lunchtime? Or a library one day, a bar the next, followed by a scenic overlook, a museum after that?
It doesn’t have to be new literally every time, but the idea is not to restrict yourself to the same place every time. If you’re unable to go too far afield, consider, say, four or five that you alternate regularly. Not only might the change of scene trigger thoughts beyond what you had for breakfast, but training yourself to write amid a variety of distraction levels can have value. (I’m writing this at the car dealership as ’80s pop plays—okay, neither planned nor ideal for me.)
If it doesn’t work, you can always go back to where you started. And begin again.
A few fertile topics for writing:
A ritual—wedding, funeral, graduation, christening, bris. People come together, emotions arise, relationships change or are cemented or something in between.
A transition—starting high school or college, a move, retirement, a new job, divorce. Leaving one world for another.
A surprise—news of an affair, a financial mistake or setback, a long-held secret revealed, contact from a birth parent or unknown sibling. How did you handle it?
Illness and death. These are, of course, transitions, too—and usually surprises. But they deserve their own category.
An animal enters your life. This has been done a lot. An animal departs your life. Ditto—and wrenching. So make it new.
Reflect on an abstract topic—a genre with a long history going back to antiquity. The subject could be loyalty, indecision, generosity, hatred, memory itself . . . . Carve out a take based on your experience and point of view. Be a philosopher who earns that role by telling really good stories.