**Note: This is the first in a series on writing. The next post will go up in two weeks.
If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.Toni Morrison
I fell in love with Morrison’s books in high school and this statement has become the guiding principle that shapes my work. To me, this simple idea that you should write the story you want to read has three components and they act as my starting point for any new project.
Reading is an intensely personal experience. Everyone has differing expectations and opinions on what constitutes a good book. I look for books that challenge me, that ask me to interpret between words and lines, stories that demand I think and feel. Like love, my favorite books give me something I would not have without them. Maybe it’s the wondrous magic of a new world or the visceral thrill of danger and horror. Maybe it’s an introduction to social ethics that makes me question ours. Or perhaps it’s a sense of intimacy, a kinship that occurs when a character’s experience mirrors our own. Whatever it may be, I open a book seeking a journey that carries me to a changed mental and emotional state.
Articulating what I value in books immediately establishes both a clear overarching goal and a basic aesthetic framework for me as a writer. Whether it’s Kendra’s story in the Ondine Quartet or another story I write in the future, I know what I’m aiming to achieve. I want to write the kind of books I love, ones that provide the journey I mentioned above.
Naturally, this leads to the next component - the purpose in aiming for this goal. Or to put it simply, why do I write?
I write because there is an urge that can only be satisfied with the act of putting down one word after another. I write because I love the rhythm of language and am endlessly fascinated by the arrangement of twenty-six letters into stories that have the power to take on a life of its own. I write to unearth questions and ideas buried in the depths of my subconscious and expose them on a blank screen. I write because it lets me say what I want in precisely the way I want, something that rarely happens in Real Life (I always think of Meg Ryan in the movie You’ve Got Mail).
So the question of why I write serves as an important reminder of my love for the art. All the reasons I’ve given are internal and related to how I observe, process, and interact with the world. Even if I chose to stop publishing my works tomorrow, I’d still write. Because I write for myself, just as I have for so many years before I published Whirl.
Neil Gaiman once said, “I would do my best in future not to write books just for the money. If you didn’t get the money, then you didn’t have anything. If I did work I was proud of and I didn’t get the money, at least I’d have the work.”
There is no guarantee of financial or critical success. Remaining true to your work and who you are as an artist is perhaps the only sure thing, the one certainty that remains under your control.
Clarifying what I want to achieve helps me to trust my own creative instincts. It allows me the freedom to be the kind of writer I want to be and to give life to the story that burns deep inside, the one that insists on being told. Understanding why I write preserves the continuous passion needed for art to flourish. It also provides the groundwork for the final component: conviction.
Passion feeds the belief you have in your story. Writing is not done by committee. While I believe feedback from trusted colleagues is important, there is a limit. After a certain point you can no longer listen to others or else you risk the story becoming not your own. Writing to please everybody results in something mediocre or as Vonnegut succinctly put it, “If you open the window and make love to the world, you’ll catch cold.” Believing in my story means being sincere in what I write. It means trusting my voice and work enough to be honest and genuine, even if it sometimes gets a little scary.
Goal. Passion. Conviction. I need all three as a writer. Take away one and the other two collapse. Revisiting these ideas at the start of every new project helps me to keep the bigger picture in mind and establishes a solid foundation to work from.