What to write about, how and where?

Being a writer is hard work. It's probably not hard work in the way that most people think of hard work. The hardest thing about writing, I think, and I imagine about most creative pursuits, is the ambiguity and uncertainty. At least for me, the actual getting words down onto the page, once I've decided what to write, is not that hard. The hardest part, for me, is deciding why I'm putting words on the page, and who I expect to read them.

In my former life as a researcher, the writing I did was almost always project-based; by definition I had a given topic and audience. Now, as a writer all on my own, I have neither a set topic, nor a predefined audience. I am not given a format to work in ("we need a brief about this topic to give to the Minister of Health") but am instead free to choose from many (Should I write short stories? Maybe "creative non-fiction? Should I try poetry?). Do I write in a way that addresses the current state of the world, or do I write stories that stand on their own, about life, and/or nothing in particular? Do I write completely independently, through blogging and self-publishing, or do I target specific publications or publishers? Should I do both? Where do I start? Can I even do this? Does anyone care?

These questions are only exacerbated by the fact that I am open to all these possibilities. I don't wake up in the morning only driven to write stories, or research-based non-fiction, nor am I averse to trying anything in particular. And, while I do realize there isn't anything preventing me from doing anything or everything, at this point in my development as a writer I feel like I need some focus, to work towards succeeding first at one thing, rather than failing gloriously and catastrophically at many things.

I am reasonably certain that, given a particular writing project, I can write well. I've had a number of people tell me that they like my writing and they think I am a good writer. You would think that would be enough. But I still find myself stuck, staring at submission guidelines for contests and publications, wondering to myself, "What on earth can I write that anyone would be interested in reading?"

I'm getting better at accepting the inevitability of failure as part of the learning process. I've even got some stories largely fleshed out that I am soon going to submit to a couple of contests. And I'm going to write a 50,000+ word novel in November, for National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo). There is a very good chance that it will be dreadful, but it may eventually be edited in to something worthwhile. And I expect I will learn a lot about writing along the way.

In the meantime, I am going to continue to blog about ideas, about the writing process, and anything else that happens to set up housekeeping in my brain. My hope is that someone might find some of it interesting and/or useful, and that perhaps, over time, I can can connect with some kindred spirits, with whom I can share experiences and lessons from this crazy writing journey.