Writing a book is a huge endeavor. It means someone has decided to dedicate a certain amount of time to putting words on paper. But so many people don’t finish what they start. Maybe they’ve run out of ideas. Maybe they lost interest. Maybe they got hopelessly stuck. However I believe the core of all these issues lies in one thing: the writer doesn’t know why he or she is writing in the first place. All you have to do before you venture into the ever-tangled writing forest is leave a few breadcrumbs behind so you’ll know how you got there and you’ll know the way out! Lay them out by asking yourself the following questions about your work. Use them to challenge yourself, to get inspired, to put your writing front and center in your life. It’s hard to get lost when you know exactly where you are.
What Do You Have to Say?
Here’s another way to put it: what story are you telling? What is your point in writing this story or work of non-fiction? If you can’t answer in a concise way, take some time to think about your message. It can be a huge one, such as a belief about how we all should live. It can be simple such as, “family is important”. The big message in my novel was about the power of love in a family. I think I will always write about families because I believe the story of our families is the story of who we are in our hearts. I find the subject touching, challenging, inspiring.
As you think about your message, realize that ideally you shouldn’t have to write it down. It should come from the core of your being and you understand it because it is a part of your natural thought process: it is who you are. Take another look at what you have written in the past because your message may be showing up already in your work and you haven’t noticed it yet. This is the way August Wilson described the story that was at the core of his whole body of work: “I once wrote a short story called ‘The Best Blues Singer in the World’ and it went like this: ‘The streets that Balboa walked were his own private ocean, and Balboa was drowning.’ End of story. That says it all. Nothing else to say. I’ve been rewriting that same story over and over again. All my plays are rewriting that same story. I’m not sure what it means, other than life is hard.”
Who Will Benefit from Your Words?
You will find the motivation to return to your desk each day when you think about what may happen when someone reads your work. Will there be women who can be healthier mothers because you are writing about battling post-partum depression? Will there be men who might feel closer to their fathers because you’re writing the next Field of Dreams? When you think of your reader, it takes some of the pressure off of you because you realize the importance of getting the message to him or her. You think less of how you’re coming across.
Are You Writing in a Medium That Best Suits Your Message?
I used to write poetry. I loved it too, but somewhere along the line I felt the things I had to say became harder and harder to fit into the confines of verse. I moved over to prose and never went back. I wrote for magazines and experimented with essays before settling into novel writing. August Wilson had written poetry and was working on a novel, but his talents glowed when he wrote for the stage. If you’re having trouble completing a project, consider whether you are writing in a medium that is right for you and your message. Don’t be afraid of experimenting with other forms. You can always go back to what you were doing before if it doesn’t work out.
Step Down from the Soap Box
Writing is already powerful. The fact that people are reading what you write means they are already interested, maybe even absorbed, by what you have to say. You don’t have to get up on a soap box and belabor your points to get them across. A simple story can speak volumes about the big picture if you let it. Mr. Wilson once told The Paris Review, “I think my plays offer (white Americans) a different way to look at black Americans. For instance, in ‘Fences’ they see a garbageman, a person they don’t really look at, although they see a garbageman every day. By looking at Troy’s life, white people find out that the content of this black garbageman’s life is affected by the same things – love, honor, beauty, betrayal, duty. Recognizing that these things are as much part of his life as theirs can affect how they think about and deal with black people in their lives.” Get it? Small story, big picture.
One Last Note
I know I’m waving the “big theme” flag here, but what I really want for you is for you to feel the passion of what you’re writing. You may be passionate about a big message or you may be passionate about the simple question of “what happens next?” in your story (and you really want to know the answer!) Just connect with that passion and go with it because to me, this is how books get finished–when someone really cares enough to want to get to the end.