by Michael Prihouda
William Wordsworth once wrote: “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” Often, the first question we face as writers is what we are going to write about.
Simplified to sheer inanity, the commonest professorial answer is, essentially: “Write what you know.” And If we don’t know something, we are told to look it up. Because good writing is about good research (or so they tell us).
However, nobody, not even the veteran writers I’ve had the privilege of coming into contact with, does a very good job of getting beyond the surface level to explain what we actually write about. What we really need to know as writers is what unique subject matter we intend to tackle and how. Because not all forms are for everybody. Just as one person is awesome at croquet, and another is the world champion in ping pong, not all writers can, will, or should write the same things. Not everybody can lead Neil Gaiman’s life, energetically flitting from one form to another with as much grace as a ballerina made of warm peanut butter.
Most writers are going to have a niche, a specific genre, type, form, or whatever. Some are crazy about poetry, others creative nonfiction. Some writers pull their hair out to write a short devotional yet long to get back at their Dostoyevski-esque tome that almost serves as a gravestone and epitaph in one because of its gargantuan scope. Other writers are made for a life of critiquing people’s work while producing almost nothing original of their own. Yet others should write how-to articles. The writing community is about as diverse as a coral reef, and rightly so.
When it all comes down to it, we should write what we care about. If it matters to our heart it will matter on the page. I once heard a sermon where the preacher made the point that if something matters to somebody then it straight-up matters, no other prerequisites necessary.
So, pulling it back to what Wordsworth said, what we should really be writing about is the breathings of our hearts. Whatever style we prefer, whatever form, whatever genre or subgenre, our language and words must be built on things we care about. Because if we care about something, it matters. And if it matters to us, it will matter to someone else.
When we write about the things our heart yearns for and cares about, it will connect us to others with those same longings. That’s where words find their true connectivity.