When facing a blank page, write what you know. But what if you feel like what you know is not enough—or way too much—to fit a page? Or what you know feels too foggy—or too dull—to write? Then what? Those are mysteries about to be solved.
Mystery 1: Dull life? Nothing about your life is dull. “You don’t have to have led an unusual or exotic life in order to write. You do, however, need to raise your level of perception above the ordinary. Writing what you know means being aware of your own world, both past and present, in as full a way as possible” (15%).
A trivial dynamic can have big implications for a plot. For instance, a mug of green tea might foreshadow a hero’s plight to rescue an uncle dying of cancer.
During trivial moments of your day, journal those moments in detail. Describe the swirling froth in the green tea, heaped on top like a bed of dull gray ice. You might find a way to weave the symbol in your story to denote a mood, character psychology, or some other nuance.
Mystery 2: How do you bring thrills into your life—and stories? Vary what you do. “You will not be able to see all and everything anew each and every day. However, you can use tactics to keep yourself alert: cross over the road and walk on a different side, or sit in a chair that you don’t usually use” (35%).
I once watched a video of an author who claimed that readers read to gain wisdom. By changing things up, we explore more of what life has to offer. And that may translate to wisdom.
Mystery 3: What should you pay heed to for exciting stories? Your senses. “If writing is a perceptual art then perception should involve all of the senses, not just the visual. You must also start to smell, feel, taste and hear the world you are trying to realise” (41%).
I read in psychology that the sense of smell held the key role in the taste of food. Can you believe that? Your nose matters more than your mouth when it comes to the taste of food.
I also read a near death experience story that said every blade of grass, every tree—even the blue sky—in heaven gave off a wavelength reminisce of music. If that sounds crazy, there exists a condition called synesthesia where people see colors in sounds. Your sensory world matters.
Mystery 4: How do you describe the inexplicable? Use metaphors. “We often need to use metaphor and simile to describe our perceptions. Even the most established writer struggles and strives to find phrases that can translate perception in an original and meaningful fashion” (71%).
Metaphors can get their inspiration from animals, nature, humans, mythic stories, and so much more, according to a book called Farnsworth’s Classical English Metaphor. I believe that any abstraction can be randomly linked to any physical thing, producing an original metaphor. The only trick is linking the metaphor to some meaningful context.
Mystery 5: What if you find yourself in sensory overload? Cue into a sliver within the woods. “Eventually, when coming to write your story or poem, you will realise that, like perception, writing is also selective. You will pick the details to be included and excluded: which detail acts as a useful repetition, and which detail might be redundant” (35%).
In scriptwriting, you want every word to advance the plot. The details you draft in the script must have significance, perhaps as a symbol of an emotional state or of a character’s backstory. Be selective.
Mystery 6: What if your details seem dull? Notice something new. “Details attain significance, for you and consequently for your reader, not just through being dramatic or unusual. Often they will attain significance because they are being noticed for the first time, because a usual or habitual perception has shifted” (35%).
When I go to sleep at night, I feel peaceful. But after writing an article on zombies, I noticed late night sounds of sirens and muffled screaming. I also felt an eerie chill where my toes peeked out from under the covers. As I noticed these new sensations, I thought, “That’s the last time I draft a zombie story.”
Mystery 7: Why bother with sensory details? They give your character depth. “On their own, sensory perceptions don’t tend to mean that much. They depend on a context in which they can be brought to life: for instance, that of a character” (49%).
What your character dwells upon is usually reflected in what they notice. If you’re revved about buying a sports car, you’ll notice a Corvette. Similarly, if you watch videos showcasing the beauty within other people’s souls, you may notice a glimmer of light in someone’s eyes you may otherwise have missed.
Mystery 8: What should you share other than your sensory experience? Pieces from your past. “There may be times when you will wish to use episodes or elements from your life experience more or less directly. Often you will use just fragments of your own past. You might like to use a single aspect of a character, or a place, for instance. You might like to use a turn of phrase that your grandmother used; you might focus on the feelings of being lost on the first day at a new school. There is no rule for how much or how little you can use” (58%).
For a while, I recreated my past into a traumatic event. I then underwent a spiritual transformation, so I now see more of the beauty and kindness I had enjoyed: the hugs, the birthday parties, the ‘I love you’s’, and so much more. Pieces of our past are scripts that reinforce our main narrative. But when our narrative changes, we may recall our lives much differently—for better or worse.
I met a woman who wrote a book about her abusive childhood. This woman was stunning—tall and blonde—and successful—the kind of woman who made you think, ‘I wish I was her’—but she hung her head in a trauma she couldn’t shake. I wish I could’ve awakened her to the joy of letting go—of refocusing on the good.
But that was the stage in life she faced. The fragments of our pasts we focus on reflect our stage in our journey.
Mystery 9: What if your memory is foggy? Tweak your memories for story-telling fame. “it’s important to realise that you will not betray the truth of any particular memory by failing to stick steadfastly to certain details, or by changing elements, or by not having a total recall of events” (58%).
We go through a process of “making sense” of our memories. We assign them meaning and magnitude. For instance, a bad memory of trauma can turn into a moment of peaceful forgiveness. What is trauma for one may be trivial for another.
I read that we often remember things wrong, too. That means many of our memories may be problematic. I think savoring our beautiful memories, and letting go of our heartaches, brings us the greatest life.
Mystery 10: What is the end-all-be-all of writing about yourself? What you write may shock you. “Often a different kind of truth will emerge from the activity of writing about elements of your past and your everyday life” (62%).
Many of my memories were skewed to favor my role. But other people may have different memories of the same event, skewed to their favor. For instance, a sister may be hurt by a brother’s words. But the brother may not recall those words, but feel justifiably hurt by the sister’s reaction. I think that’s the joy of writing: we unravel our own biases.
Writing what we know, places us along our path in our journey. Perhaps that’s why writing what we know feels like a mystery. We are all at a certain stage in our journey, and the act of writing might reveal where we need to be at the close of the book of life.