Friday, December 09, 2005

Writing What Matters to You

I did title this blog Writing and Life so...time to talk about writing.

I’ve noticed is that most of us who are writers write. We don’t worry too much about why we choose certain themes or characters and sometimes it’s because that’s what our contract says. And it usually works fine—until we get into an argument with an editor over changes or make changes we’re asked to make and realize we aren’t happy about it.

One of the things I stress in my writing workshops now, because I’ve learned it the hard way, is that it is useful to know why we are writing a particular story. And to write the answer down. If we get discouraged with what we are writing (and every writer does at times), we can look at that answer and it can help us keep going—IF the story matters enough to us. It can also help if we are trying to make plot choices or discuss possible changes with an editor or agent. If we have a clear vision of what we are trying to say, we are more likely to be able to find a solution that satisfies everyone—including us.

You may not know when you start to write why a particular story is important to you or what you most want to say or what idea you most want to explore. And that’s okay. What I am saying is that it is useful to ask the question because then you are more likely to get an answer and your story is more likely to be powerful in the way that you want it to be.

I am NOT suggesting polemics! I am not suggesting heavy handed theme loaded works! If we write fiction, our first job is to entertain. And paradoxically, if we entertain well enough, our ideas are more likely to find fertile ground. If our characters are real to our readers, if our readers can empathize with and understand why our characters feel and do as they do, then our readers are more likely to be sympathetic to whatever it is we are writing about.

So entertain. Keep that foremost in your mind if you write fiction. And also ask yourself what is important to YOU about the story you are writing. I have never regretted writing some of the things I never sold because I was writing what I loved. I have published works where I made changes I didn’t want to make and I was glad to have the sale. But the books I love the most, the ones I smile when I look at the covers, these are the books where I knew what I was writing about and why it was important to me. These are also the books that readers write to me most often about and which seem to touch the most hearts.

When we write what we care about, readers seem to instinctively know and gravitate to those stories. It is possible to do it entirely by instinct and heaven knows I have my share of those books. It was, however, more fun when I knew why I was writing a particular story--and you know how much I believe in having fun in whatever we choose to do!

So if you write, whenever you write, ask yourself: Why does this matter to me? And once you know, find a way to stay true to that answer.