Mike Stiles is Senior Content Manager for the Oracle Social Cloud and a writer/producer/performer/ filmmaker for the Atlanta sketch comedy troupe Sketchworks. He's also worked as the executive producer of a national radio comedy network, been a top-rated radio host as well as on-camera and voiceover talent. What I most admire about Mike is that he is one of the most prolific writers I have ever know. He always has a wealth of ideas that he can quickly and efficiently turn into sketches, scripts, jokes, columns or even monologues at a moment's notice. Today, he dishes up some tough love on how YOU can do it, too.
Advice from writer/author/content manager Mike Stiles
Don’t Be One of Those “I Don’t Know What to Write” Writers...
Newbies and pros do it. They want to be writers, they like to think of themselves as writers, they feel like they should be writing, and yet they’re uninspired to do so…by anything.
It’s not a valid excuse. You’re just being lazy and ignorant.
The world and everyone in it are bombarding you around the clock with things to write. The problem is your senses aren’t on. Instead of asking what you can write about, you should be asking, “Why aren’t I aware and making something of everything that’s being given to me?”
Here are 11 things for you to mull over while you’re busy being stuck:
1. If there’s nothing you want to say, why are you a writer? Writers have a need to point something out, make fun of something, explore an unexplored notion, inspire people, vent, educate people, etc. The world doesn’t need more words just for the sake of having more words. If there’s nothing you want to say, it’s okay to be silent.
2. You may know full well what you want to write; you’re just too chicken to do it. A lot of great writing personally confronts and challenges the author as it’s being written. You might be reluctant to go through that. Plus there’s the fear of what readers will think.
3. Much hinges on your ability to story-tell. No matter what you’re writing, you’re trying to take the reader on a trip from title to final word. How far they go depends on how good you are at making them always want what’s next. Is your not knowing what to write just lack of confidence you can get them to “the end”?
4. I should exercise. There’s no reason in the world not to. But to me, it’s hard. So I make up and believe whatever excuse I can come up with to avoid it. “I don’t know what to write” is an excuse for those who find writing hard. Writing is a muscle. Don’t exercise it for long periods and it’s that much tougher when you do finally hit the keys.
5. The world is feeding you material daily. There’s more information and more sources of information than at any time in human history. Some writers, nose in the air, actually boast of being largely unaware of current events. Don’t disconnect then cry about lack of inspiration.
6. Your own emotions and experiences are feeding you material daily. A heightened awareness of what you feel and what made you feel that way is invaluable in informing your work. If you aren’t real, your characters can’t be.
7. The people you interact with can feed you material daily. If you’re a recluse, please don’t complain about not knowing what to write. Every human being is a library of hugely relatable stories. BUT…to surface them you have to have real relationships and real conversations. Small talk with casual acquaintances will leave you dry.
8. Seek out experiences. Unfortunately, many of us carefully craft our lives to only experience the familiar and comfortable, to only associate with people who think and believe exactly as we do. This makes your world a really small place, with really small writing to match.
9. Comedy’s about angles. Make a habit of processing what you see by viewing it from angles “normal” people just don't. Drama is about fostering relationships between the readers and characters so readers care. Informative writing is about making sure the reader walks away with actionable intelligence.
10. Keeping an idea notebook is still enormously valid. But it doesn’t work if you don’t note the ideas NOW. You’ll forget. Things like Evernote supercharge the idea notebook by letting you compartmentalize, add to and flesh out ideas. Some won’t flesh out, but others will build up into worthwhile concepts.
11. If you truly can’t think of anything to write, instead of spending time worrying about how you aren’t writing, shift to another medium. Draw, paint, write a song, any other method of expression. It at least keeps you creating.
When the entire world is utopian perfection, and neither you nor anyone in it have a single personal challenge, and when everyone has all the knowledge there is to be learned, then perhaps you can complain you have nothing to write about.
Until then, plug in, connect, turn on all your senses, experience, and say something about what you take in.