The instruction to ‘write what you know’ suggests that it’s a good idea for authors to draw from their life experiences when writing, and in the last post in this series on how to write a novel I talked about ways to do that. One aspect of writing what you know is writing what you care about. Anything we care about, we’re likely to know a bit about, and we’ll also have the curiosity to do some research to find out more about the topic. Another good reason to write about things you care about, is that you’ll have a reason to write the book and a reason to finish it, and you’ll be more likely to be able to maintain your inspiration through the challenges of writing a book.
What keeps you going?
Writing a book takes a lot of time, and our life can easily take over our writing time so that the process becomes quite drawn out. Questioning our idea and our capabilities is part of the process. Many authors, if not most, have times when they lose confidence in their book. Also when we get to the stage where we need feedback on our book, we may find that our book has a lot of problems. We may be faced with a re-write so daunting that we wonder if it’s worth it. And then there’s the editing stage: first some self-editing that may have you wondering if you’re doing it right, and then the professional edit that will cost you money, so you wonder if your book is worth the financial investment. How many authors give up before they get the book to a publishable stage?
The big question is how do we keep our inspiration going in the face of these challenges? The answer is to write about something you care about, something you find important, something you feel people need to know about. Fiction is a great way to examine issues and deliver information in a highly readable way—just never dump your information on your readers. If you write something you care about into your fiction, you’ll be more likely to get your book to the publishing stage. Why? Because it’s important to you, because you care about it. If your book is important to you because of its examination of an important issue, it’s likely to be important to others as well.
Writing issues you care about into your story will add the kind of depth that can make an ordinary story into an extraordinary or important one. The depth of your concern will shine through and add another layer and more complexity and interest to your story.
You can add what you care about to a story you already have or you can write a story around something you care about. Either way writing what you care about will give your project an extra level of importance for you that will carry you through the tough times in the process of getting a book published.
What do you care about?
Ask yourself what you care about, and brainstorm a list of themes or issues, then see if one of the themes fits into your story somewhere or inspires a whole story. The easy way to add something you care about to a story is to have your protagonist care about the issue and the antagonist not give a damn.
The things you care about will likely appear in your writing to some degree or other anyway. Your job is to find them and draw them out.
I’ve always been concerned about bullying and abuse, and I’ve written two books with bullying as the central theme, one for young adults (You Can’t Shatter Me) and one for adults (Worlds Within Worlds).
The workings of our mind has always been a source of fascination for me, as well as philosophical and scientific views on perception and the nature of existence. Because of this all my writing has a metaphysical flavour to it, some books more than others. This interest area comes through all my writing and adds to my unique voice, it also gives me a sense that my books are important as inspiration and support for people facing difficulties. For me that makes them worth writing.
So let your areas of interest come through into your books. Don’t be afraid to put yourself into your writing, because that is what will make it unique. With so many books out there, a strong, unique voice is more important than ever. Your passion for the things you care about will connect with readers in a way that the story wouldn’t without it.
Weave it in
Writing what you care about doesn’t mean that everything you write needs to be heavy with some issue—that can be very off-putting—it just means that you should let what you care about come through into your writing in some way. Being aware of what you care about can be enough; you don’t have to have any particular intention to ‘add it in.’
On the other hand, it can be a whole story thread woven in around the central story, or it can be the main theme, or it can be something a character cares about enough that it has some relevance to the story, or has some effect on it or on how the character behaves in a certain situation.
Anything is possible. All you really have to do is identify what you care about and allow yourself to explore the themes or issues in your writing. The rest will sort itself out as you write or plan your story.
Why are you writing your book?
This suggestion also doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with a story without any deep and meaningful theme, not at all; I’m just pointing out that if a story has some importance for an author, they’re more likely to stick with it.
A story can be important to us simply because we think it’s a great story, or because writing and publishing a book is on our bucket list. We might have a sense that our characters are demanding their story be written, or the world of our characters might simply be so strong that we can’t get it out of our head until it’s written. These are all reasons for why writing a book might be important to us.
So ask yourself; why am I writing this book? Once you have your answer, write it down and put it where you can refer to it on those days when you’re feeling as if the effort may not be worth it.
Why are you writing your book?
This is part of a series of blog posts on how to write a novel. It won’t just cover the technical details, but also the emotional journey we take and the personal challenges we meet on the road from potential author to author. Join the journey now, and don’t miss a post, click here to sign up to get the revision checklist and links to the articles sent to your inbox.
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