I recently took some time to dust off some of the craft-writing books sitting on my shelf and as I'm coming back to writing after taking a few months off - I figured it would be a great way to refresh myself with why I started writing in the first place. One of the books, The Writer's Guide to Persistence was one I hadn't even cracked open, but boy am I glad that I decided to. It was SO full of great advice and ways to come back to the core question of: why. Why do you want to write? What does it mean to you? I did the exercises and while they are really personal, I figured that this would be the perfect way to share a little piece of me. So here it goes.
GETTING TO KNOW YOUR "WHY"
WHY DO YOU WRITE?
I write to explore questions or what-if’s that I have. I write because I think I’m good at it. I write because it’s what makes sense to me. I write because I want to feel THINGS the way I feel them when I read. I write because I have all these ideas/voices in my head and this is the best way I know to get them out. I write because at times it feels therapeutic. I write because sometimes it’s hard and I like a challenge. I write because I want to be heard – I want someone to read what I write and say, “yes! I feel that way too.” I write because I want validation that I’m a good writer, that I’m worthy, that what I say has merit and value. I write because I don’t know how NOT to write. I write because it feels natural. I write because sometimes it’s how I make sense of some things.
TOP 5 REASONS YOU SPECIFICALLY WRITE:
- I write to explore questions or what-ifs
- I write because I want to be heard
- I write because I have voices/ideas in my head
- I write because I want validation
- I write because I want to FEEL things like I do when I read.
WHAT STANDS IN THE WAY OF MY WRITING?
The fear of failure often stands in the way. The fear of not finishing the story. The fear of it not being like it is in my head. The fear of finishing and it’s complete crap. The fear of everyone not just everyone hating it – but thinking I’m a shitty writer and I should just stop. The fear of not making any money off of it. The fear that my writing is never improving – that I’ve plateaued as a writer. The fear that I’ll never write a book that makes me feel the way Whiskey & a Gun did.
DEVELOPING YOUR WRITER'S CODE
1. KNOW THE VALUE OF YOUR WRITING - WHEN YOU EXPLORE IN DEPTH WHY YOU WRITE - IT WILL LEAD YOU TO YOUR VALUES
I write to explore questions or what-ifs:
Sometimes, I get these questions or what-if’s in my head and there’s no answer (or at least, no GOOD answer) to them and it makes me want to write about it. Or if it’s a question/what-if that has been answered, how would I answer/respond to it. A great example of this is when I wrote Whiskey and a Gun. I, like many other people wondered “why do women stay with men that hurt them?” I knew the answer wasn’t simple and since I personally hadn’t had the experience to answer it, I thought maybe I could get the answer through research and exploring it in my writing. And I did find somewhat of an answer. At least enough to satisfy me. This deep longing to know more, to find out answers dovetails with my love of learning. So it makes sense that this is one of the deepest drivers of my writing.
I write because I want to be heard:
This seems self-explanatory but it’s actually hard to answer. Why do I want to be heard? Doesn’t everyone? But in this case, when I found that I loved writing and then someone responded favorably to it, I wanted to do it over and over again. I wanted people to hear what I had to say. Maybe because I’m not a great public speaker and I trip over my words and I’m not the greatest at explaining my thoughts/opinions. But when I have time to percolate, when I can formulate them in sentences, I feel much more confident. I suppose I write to be heard for the same reason people speak in conversations – they have something to say and they want someone to hear it.
I write because I have voices/ideas in my head:
People laugh when writers say, “there’s this voice in my head and it just won’t shut up.” But it’s true. There have been nights when I can’t fall asleep because a character keeps talking, or I get visions of a certain scene in a certain place with certain dialogue. This is not me thinking about it. This is them inserting themselves into my head. It’s as if I have no volition of when they come or how or why. They just do. The same thing with ideas. Once an idea pops in my head, it’s like my brain decides to fixate on that idea and there’s no letting it go until it decides to leave on it’s own. Luckily for me, I don’t think my “well” of ideas will ever go away and that’s a huge part of why I write because I just have SO. MANY. IDEAS.
I write because I want validation:
This has changed so dramatically for me in who I seek validation from – but the core of it has always stayed the same – that I simply seek it. I realized that I could never be one of those writers who writes quietly just for themselves. When I was younger and someone would read something I wrote and tell me how good it was, I wanted more. I craved it. I believe we all crave validation/praise when we do something right or good. Especially when it comes from a place where we started the project without expecting validation. I used to seek validation from everyone, but as I’ve grown more cynical in my worldview and my views of the publishing/writing industry as a whole, I seek validation from other sources. Don’t get me wrong – it hurts just as much when I don’t get that validation, but it also helps me focus in a little bit. I think this falls in line with a quote (that I will not appropriately phrase) from Stephen King, “write for yourself and ONE person. That one person is who you are trying to impress, captivate, encapsulate. They’re who matters.”
I write because I want to feel things like I do when reading:
Only other readers and writers understand that magical moment you get when you’re reading a book and you’re transported into a different world. Not necessarily in the sci-fi/fantasy sense but in the way that you feel what the character is going through. You experience the pain, the joy, the sadness and hope that they do. You cry for them, as if you knew them in real life. From the first time I experienced this (maybe it was Old Yeller? I don’t remember…) I craved that feeling from reading and as I grew older and into my love of writing, I desperately wanted to recreate those feelings in my own writing. I want people to read my writing and cry or yell or scream or be hopeful. I want to give them the same feelings I feel when reading.
Would it be nice to have money and fame from writing? Sure. But in addition to my wanting to explore the what-if's - the biggest driver for me is the desire to leave someone with intense emotions when they read my words. That's what I strive for when I'm writing.
2. KNOW YOUR WRITING RHYTHM
This one is really hard for me because I don’t feel like I have a peak time. I’ve done lots of data mining, and while the data shows that evening to late evening seems to be my peak time, I also know that’s when my brain is most fried from the day. And I have to wonder if even though that’s when I’m most “alive” for writing, if I need to force myself to shift to a time that may work better for my schedule. I do have the luxury to switch up when I write and perhaps I need to experiment again, under the new circumstances of my life situation to see which “session” produces the best results. In the last year, I’ve been very lax in the time and scheduling of when I write. I’ll say “oh I’m going to write today,” without setting a time or length to the session. Then it often doesn’t get done. I’m aware of this behavior and know I need to change it.
3. KNOW WHAT YOU’RE WILLING TO RISK
This is an interesting thought because it’s much different now than when I first started. I think that I’ve risked and conquered much since I began writing seriously. But I know that there are greater things ahead and risks I’ll have to take to get there. Although I’m very weary and cautious about traditional publishing, there is some interest brewing there. The risks seem much greater there in many ways. Risk of loss of control. Risk of loss of time (because it takes so long). Risk of rejection. Risk of not finding an agent/publisher. Risk of disappointment. Would taking this risk allow me to stretch and grow? I don’t know. That’s what’s so hard about it – not knowing if it’s something that would benefit me long-term thus making the risk something that’s up in the air.
I do know that the next logical steps for me are two-fold. Producing more books and getting better at the craft. They sort of go hand-in-hand. I believe the risks for either of those are well-worth the outcome. To get better at craft, I know that I have to continue to write and put myself out there. I may even need to risk setting aside time to work 1:1 with a coach or editor or course to better my craft.
4. KNOW WHO YOUR CREATIVE SUPPORT TEAM IS
While I whole-heartedly agree with having a creative support team, I also think that they are only as good as you let them be. Meaning, sometimes, they are exactly what you need – they say and do the right things, they respect the place that you’re at and lend a helpful ear or advice – but if you’re not in a place to receive it… it won’t matter. I have learned the hard way that my creative support team works only if I let them. Sometimes, I can’t see further than my own thoughts enough to let them help me, which in turn, seems like they’re not helping. Or they’re making me feel worse. That’s not the case. It’s me standing in my own way.
5. KNOW WHAT PREVENTS YOU FROM WRITING
Outside of the other things I mentioned above that are standing in my way, I think it's excuses, really. I’m the worst at this. I do become the “Martyr” to avoid writing sometimes. “Oh, I need to finish X’s formatting before I get to writing this scene.” “Ugh the house is SO dirty. I need to clean it and then I’ll just be ready to start writing.” I am SO fortunate and lucky to have a business and a career that is so intimately intertwined with the writing world, but I also use it as an excuse. I do spend a good portion of my day talking, working and helping writers -- sometimes I feel like I need a moment to NOT be around it, even when it's something I love to do. But that's me putting everyone else before myself and something I need to work on.
So there you have it. A little looky-look inside of my personal thoughts about my writing. I think it's important for writers to do this sort of introspective work every now and again. It really puts into perspective where you're at in the process and showcases the holes in your thinking. After doing this exercise, I realized how many excuses I use to not get writing done when it's so important to me. But revisiting WHY I write gave me little jolts of inspiration and warm fuzzies. Hope you enjoyed getting to know me a little bit more!