The Hardest Question for a Writer: “What do you write about?”
– Article by Emily Coppella –
You’re a writer?
What do you write about?
I wish that they would have asked me any other question. Have you published anything? Do you write poetry or prose? Who is your biggest inspiration? Although I may have struggled with my responses to these questions, attempting to find the answer to “what do you write about” is quite possibly the most frustrating pursuit for me.
I sometimes see other writers replying to this line of questioning so nonchalantly it makes me envious. “I write mystery novels,” one profile article reads. “I tend to return to nature themes in my poetry,” says another. Even the vague, “I draw inspiration from the everyday” is enough to evoke envy in me.
Because I doubt that it is only my “every day” that congeals into ink on the page when I write. I am limited by my identity, by my perspective, by the experiences I have or haven’t had, but I am not limited by this elusive “every day.”
I write in the present but I am writing for the past, the present, and the future. At least I hope I am. Maybe I am writing about all of these things. Perhaps I would rather have this person read my writing than ask me about it. It’s easier to summarize the content of a work than to summarize its form. Content gives writing a shape, but it can only be tasted by consuming its form.
And after rambling on like this, stepping across lilypads of maybes, possiblys, and probablys, I am convinced that the answer to what I write about is similar to the answer to the question; why do I write?
I write because I have truth to share.
With myself, or with others. Usually both.
I freely proclaim that I return to specific themes in my writing. I am a supporter of those “big ideas” too, such as love, death, morality, and social commentary. But with all of my writing I never sit down and think “what am I going to write about” but rather, “what do I need to write?” The answer is always to tell the truth.
The truth found in the everyday. In courage. In how hatred feels. In the daydreams that staccato the moments between conversations and planning for tomorrow. The truth living in my grocery lists, in the eyes of the people I love and have loved and in the tips of my fingers when I’m too tired to type another word.
What do you write about?
I write about whatever I need to write about.
And we will always need truth.
And so, we’ll always need writing. Your writing.
About the Author – Emily Coppella
Emily Coppella is a writer, yoga student, and feminist from the GTA. She is currently studying English Literature and Language at Carleton University. She plans to gradate with a concentration in Creative Writing and a minor in Women and Gender Studies. Her poetry has been published by Coven Editions, In/Words, and has won 2nd place for the George Johnston Poetry Prize. Film, music, and social justice are some of her other passions.
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