Never Forget WHY You Write

6 Apr

When you first begin writing, you do it for various reasons…  Maybe it’s an escape.  Maybe it’s for entertainment. Maybe it’s because if you didn’t you would just die.

Whatever the reason, it gets your butt into a chair and your fingers onto a keyboard. As you BICHOK away, you may or may not finish what you start…but ultimately it doesn’t matter because at this point you are writing mostly for YOU.

But then, at some point, you decide you want to write to get PUBLISHED.  Suddenly, your entire approach to writing changes–as it should!

You learn about writing.  You build your tool-box of characterization, plotting, scene-construction, outlining, voice, and more…

Then (or more likely at the same time) you start to learn about the PUBLISHING INDUSTRY. You accept that it’s not going to be easy, but by golly you won’t give up!

And maybe, if you’re obsessive (read: ME) you spend every hour researching agents, refining your query letter, joining another society/crit group/workshop–all meant to help you jump that first hurdle in publication: AQUIRING AN AGENT.

And then…one day–maybe one year down the road or twenty–you are retrieved from the slush.  Your MS is good enough, the agent makes an offer, and…

BAM! You have an agent! Now what…?

Oh, there’s still more for your obsessive nature to dwell on.  First, you’ll probably go through revisions with your Shiny New Agent, and then, lo and behold, you GO ON SUBMISSIONS.  To editors!  It’s out of your hands now, but that doesn’t mean you won’t check your email with psychotic determination.  That you won’t spend every waking hour daydreaming about that second giant hurdle in publication: SELLING YOUR NOVEL.

And then…one day–maybe one year down the road or twenty–your novel does catch the eye of an editor.  Your MS is good enough, the editor makes an offer, your agent negotiates the deal, and…

BAM! Your book has sold. Now what…?

And here, my friends, is where–if you’re really like me–you may suddenly have to revaluate everything. Technically, by all your friends and family, you’ve MADE IT.

Selling  your novel was your dream!  You’ve spent sooooooooo long and spent soooooooo much energy trying to reach this point, you never really thought beyond.

Um, well, if you wish to make this your LIFE (as must of us certainly do), then you’re going to have to write another book.  And another book after that and another after that…and multiply that by infinity.

But even harder, you have to write good books.  And that’s really freaking scary.

To quote my agent,

Second Book Jitters ares viewed as…cliche almost? Like it’s become such a normal discussion topic that many people don’t acknowledge it anymore. But that term has its roots, and in my opinion, is always worth bringing up.

The Second Book Jitters are undoubtedly real, and I think they come from the sudden realization that all that energy you’ve focused into steps 1 (Agent Acquisition) and 2 (Selling the Novel) has now got to go somewhere else: a good second book that readers will enjoy.

But truly, I think “second book jitters” could just as easily be renamed “First Book Jitters” or “Eighty-seventh Book Jitters” or how about just BOOK JITTERS!

Why? Because readers are notoriously hard to please, yet when we seek to be published, we take a vow to write for our readers.

And now we get to a point where you have to rediscover the “spark”.  You have to get back to the whole reason you started writing in the first place:

YOU.

That’s right.  Writing started with YOU, and now you’ve got to bring it back to YOU.

First drafts are for you. Revisions are for readers.

Yes, you may write for publication and for your readers, but when you BICHOKing out your first draft, you’re writing COMPLETELY FOR YOU.  You must tap into whatever it is that compels you to write, and you have to use it to get that first draft out!

I write because I have a feeling to share.  Just like a piece of music moves me, a story will burn in my heart until I have to tell it.  And finding those feelings, nurturing those stories, setting aside commercial-concerns and self-doubt for a few months while I hammer out a first draft–all of it is CRITICAL for me to write a novel.

And it took me a few months of chasing my tail to finally sort all that out…

But now I know what motivates me to write.

I know that, ultimately, writing is my career, and that means staying in touch with MYSELF.

I know I have to focus more of my time on WRITING than on All The Other Crud (social networking, obsessing over foreign rights, dreaming of selling future books I haven’t even written yet!).

Ah, now if only I had stayed in touch with myself throughout the querying/subbing process… I’d have saved a lot of time (and some crippling self-doubt) later on!

MORAL OF THE STORY: No matter where you are in the journey to (or on) publication, don’t lose sight of why you write.  Writing is for you; editing is for your readers.

So why do you write?

What is about storytelling that attracted you in the first place?

~~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.

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37 Responses to “Never Forget WHY You Write”

  1. Jan Patterson April 6, 2011 at 3:18 AM #

    I never thought I could come up with the new ideas-but I finally had to try-now, even if they are never published,I had the joy of creating something out of nothing..:)

    • Susan April 6, 2011 at 6:24 AM #

      I love that! “Creating something from nothing”–what a truly satisfying way to look at it. 🙂

  2. Carrie April 6, 2011 at 4:03 AM #

    Great message and just what I needed to hear 🙂 Thanks!

    • Susan April 6, 2011 at 6:25 AM #

      Good! You’re so very welcome, Carrie! ❤

  3. M. Howalt April 6, 2011 at 5:15 AM #

    Well said! When “hobby” turns into profession, I think it’s easy to lose sight.
    With hobby in quotation marks, I’m one of those people who write because I need to. I never decided to write. I simply write because I have stories and characters in my head, and it makes me happy to do it. I need a creative outlet in my life, and although I do other things as well, writing is what is most satisfying to me.

    • Susan April 6, 2011 at 6:28 AM #

      I definitely first started writing because the stories wanted to come out and it made me happy.

      But like you said, when it became a profession, I lost sight of all that spark. I saw it as WORK. And while, yes I have to stay motivated and keep on track, I also have to remember WORK can also be FUN and HEART-FILLING. 🙂

  4. authorguy April 6, 2011 at 6:56 AM #

    I write because everywhere I look I see stories. I suppose I did before I became an author, but now that I am, I’m aware of what I’m seeing, and I’m aware of what I’d be losing if I stopped writing.
    One minor point of disagreement with your post, though: I am always my first reader. I write for me, but I also edit for me. If I’m told something should be changed or doesn’t work, I have to find a way to make it work, so I still have to write. No revisions are purely mechanical.
    One of these days maybe I should get around to that ‘researching the publishing industry’ thing…

    • Susan April 6, 2011 at 9:38 AM #

      I can definitely relate to the “everywhere I look I see stories”. I’d guess most writers must feel this way! 🙂

  5. Jen Greyson - The Survival Mama April 6, 2011 at 8:20 AM #

    Are you in my head? LOL
    The last month has been incredibly tough for me on this subject. Last week I actually had to sit down and write this out, “I write because…” and forced myself to answer the question to help me figure out why I’m struggling now, after writing for almost 8 years.
    Writing for publication is opening myself up to feedback, and failing to be in touch with the WHY leaves room for pain, heartache, and heartbreak. For my writing to be good, there must be an element of vulnerability == and if i’m not in touch with the WHY, that can be a very bad place to receive feedback I’m not prepared to hear.
    I’m dialing in the WHY….thank you SOOOO much for putting this out there.
    Jen Greyson
    a href=”http://thesurvivalmama.com/”>The Survival Mama

    • Susan April 6, 2011 at 9:40 AM #

      Wow, seriously…we are definitely in the same place right now!!

      You’re so right, though: we need to be in touch with the WHY to deal with the inevitable criticism. It’s easy to lose faith and focus in the face of negativity or stress or never-ending revisions (;)), but if we remember why we love writing…then that can help us pull through and push the hard stuff to the sidelines.

      And I’m so glad you managed to figure out your own WHY. 🙂 Happy writing!!

  6. Jan Patterson April 6, 2011 at 8:29 AM #

    Reading has always been important to me,& it wasn’t until a year ago I even attempted to take a class.I intended to publish the funny stories my Mother had written,but couldn’t seem to do anything until I realized I had my own story coming out instead. When I forgot my plans and let it out, I had my 1st draft done. Before I could start editing it, I woke up 1 morning with the first page in my head for another one. Because my writing group meets every week-I am excited about sharing the new pages.it is a challenge to take the next steps (rewrite,edit,etc) but it’s an exciting challenge,& it’s part of me now.
    Oh yes–I still plan to work with Mom’s stories someday when I can add my own memories to it.
    Sorry this is so long-it took me longer to realize what I need to do.

    • Susan April 6, 2011 at 9:42 AM #

      Oh, what a fascinating way for you to discover writing! I love that it’s opened up this giant MUST inside you! That’s so exciting–good luck with all your stories!! 🙂

  7. Meredith April 6, 2011 at 8:51 AM #

    This is so, so true! Because, really, you can’t write solely for readers at ANY stage of the game, from beginning writer all the way to award-winning/best-selling novelist.

    I’m sure it gets harder to stay true to yourself once you’ve sold a book because of all the PRESSURE! (Hopefully I’ll get to struggle with that myself one day, lol.) But I think you’ve come up with a great solution: Draft 1 is for you. Drafts 2 and on are for them. That’s a great way to look at it!

    • Susan April 6, 2011 at 9:43 AM #

      Thanks, Meredith! I can’t express to you how much better I feel since I decided to just write whatever the heck I wanna write. I’m so much more proud of my first drafts because they’re so much more GENUINE now. And yeah, my WIP will need a LOT of work at the end to be reader-worthy, but my passion for the story will stay on the page!

  8. Bee April 6, 2011 at 9:27 AM #

    Gorgeous post. I write because I *need* to write. It’s like breathing. I have things to say, stories to tell and I can’t not do it.

    • Susan April 6, 2011 at 9:45 AM #

      Thanks, Bee! Your comment reminds me of the Isaac Asimov quote: “I write for the same reason I breathe. If I didn’t, I would die.”

      I love that line, and I love hearing other people feel just as passionately about their craft. 😀

  9. K@ April 6, 2011 at 10:02 AM #

    I can always depend on you to bring me back to what matters, Sooz. I’ll keep that close to heart, because the first drafts really ARE for me. I never thought of it that way before, but that’s probably why I don’t show my books to anyone until they’re finished. Because they’re for ME. And then I revise and share them with others.

    😀

    • Susan April 6, 2011 at 11:07 AM #

      That’s soooooo true–I don’t share first drafts or even second drafts with anyone either!! For one, I’m embarrassed because I’ve basically just vomited words on the page for two months and it ain’t pretty. And for two, the story hasn’t been fully realized–I haven’t tapped into all the inspiration–until the second or even third draft (I add more layers/subplots with each draft).

      And then I revise like crazy and share it with others (i.e. you). 😉

  10. Lynn Rush April 6, 2011 at 11:03 AM #

    Great post! I love writing because it allows me to step into a different world. The real world melts away and I can control what happens in my make believe world. I love that!! 🙂

    • Susan April 6, 2011 at 11:09 AM #

      Wow, yes! Being in control is a nice thing! And so is letting the story take control over our minds and fingers, but knowing ultimately, we can fix it if it goes awry!

  11. Aurora Blackguard April 6, 2011 at 11:05 AM #

    This is such a great post! We get lost a lot of the time when we drown ourselves in the publishing industrial mess. Sorta like how hippies and tie-wearing stooges are anathema to each other, creativity and the business side of it all sorta screws with each other.

    Storytelling is a way of life! I mean, stories are told everyday in a thousand and one ways. I wanted to capture that in words and basically, it’s the one thing I KNOW is a part of me as compared to maybe half of me 🙂

    • Susan April 6, 2011 at 11:12 AM #

      You said it perfectly, Aurora: “Sorta like how hippies and tie-wearing stooges are anathema to each other, creativity and the business side of it all sorta screws with each other.”

      And yet, we depend on publishing to share our stories, so we kinda have to just DEAL with it, you know? But you’re so right: storytelling IS a way of life, and it’s apart of everyone, I think. Just for you and me and other writers, it’s a VITAL part. 😉

  12. Dawn Brazil April 6, 2011 at 2:51 PM #

    Great post. Writers sometimes lose sight of this. Thanks for yanking us back to reality.

    • Susan April 6, 2011 at 3:32 PM #

      It’s so EASY to lose sight of it–I’m notorious. Hopefully I can cling to my new found “reality”. 😉

  13. lbdiamond April 6, 2011 at 4:09 PM #

    Great post! I SO needed to read this–thank you! 😀

    • Susan April 7, 2011 at 5:49 AM #

      You are so very, very welcome!! 😀

  14. Erin April 6, 2011 at 5:47 PM #

    I write because it’s what I’ve always wanted to do. Ever since I was ten and got bit by the bug, I’ve been creating stories. This year I decided to take it from a hobby to a future and I’m finding out it’s a lot more work and a lot harder than I expected it to be. Query letters, synopsis, researching… I just have to tell myself it will be worth all the hard work. And while I’m waiting, I can start the second book!

    • Susan April 7, 2011 at 5:49 AM #

      That’s a great attitude! Yes, while you’re waiting, get cracking on the next. 🙂

  15. Ashley April 6, 2011 at 5:56 PM #

    This came at the right time. As a human I am prone to moments of self-doubt and I forget the original reasons I began writing in the first place. I started writing as a way to fill voids I thought were empty, and it eventually grew to a passion, dare I say talent:). I’ve got stories I want to share with the world as well, and I won’t stop my journey until I do. Thanks Sooz! 🙂

    By the way, love your new author photos, don’t think I told you that yet. 🙂

    • Susan April 7, 2011 at 5:51 AM #

      First, I’m so glad you like the pictures!! ❤

      Second, rock on! We should make this our mantra: I won't stop my journey until I do.

  16. Gabriela Da Silva April 6, 2011 at 8:24 PM #

    You call it second-book jitters, I call it post-partum depression. Ok, they might not be the same thing, but…

    Anyway, I think I’ll go and get “Writing is for you; editing is for your readers.” tattooed somewhere I can read it even if I don’t want to. My forearm, maybe. I’m an extreme perfectionist, to the degree that it sometimes hurts my creativity, my writing and myself.

    Good post. Gave me plenty to think about 🙂

    • Susan April 7, 2011 at 5:52 AM #

      Hahaha, nice analogy.

      And if you get that tatoo, I want a picture. 😉 Seriously, though, I’m a perfectionist too and it make first drafts brutal! But…no more!

  17. Juni Case April 6, 2011 at 8:31 PM #

    I write because my imagination tends to get wild and create a back story to anything that catches my eye from an abandoned scarf or dropped note. That and despite trying to quit writing at fourteen (because it was a “useless” hobby)…I found myself buying/reading/studying writing resource books FOR FUN six years later. Couldn’t really deny that writing was something I HAD to do.

    But this post seriously came at the right time. I’ve been working on my first story for the past five weeks writing everyday–the longest I’ve ever stuck with something. I’m 3/4 done and my first draft is so horrible that I cringe when I’m writing it but my goal is to get it done and THEN go back and revise/edit. The most important thing for me is to just finish.

    • Susan April 7, 2011 at 5:54 AM #

      YES! You can SO do this, Juni! You’re almost to the finish!

      I am super impressed with your daily resolve–that’s the way to get it done. AND, like you say, you can go back in polish until it gleams! I spend much more time revising than I do writing, but it’s because I find working with words already written (no matter how bad they are!) much less daunting than creating new words.

      Good luck!! I have faith you’ll finish!

      • Juni Case April 7, 2011 at 2:20 PM #

        Thank you so much for your support! I’ve also told my friends what I’m doing so that they can add pressure and ask me if I wrote for the day yet.

        I was just wondering. After I complete the first draft, how long does it typically take to complete revisions and edits? Or how long should you spend?

  18. Heather Anastasiu April 9, 2011 at 12:48 AM #

    Absolutely! I just felt like shouting yes! all throughout this post. Writing has to start with our passions. Starting book II recently, I had things plotted out, but then i sat back and thought–but what story and charcter elements to I just Looooooove? What are the bits that make me the most excited? I know that THIS is the kind of passion that translates through to a reader on the other end. ANd I have to focus on the passion that drives me to write the first draft, or it will be a dead and dull book. We writers are what spark the life in books, and if we don’t have that spark in ourselves…. well, I imagine it’s just doubly as difficult to produce a book in the end.

  19. Gina December 29, 2013 at 10:35 PM #

    I know this post is over two years old, but I just wanted to say “thank you.” I cut and pasted your words of advice to print and hang on my desk as I venture into writing my second novel. I am *terrified* it won’t live up to the first and I’m very happy to know I’m not alone in those worries. 🙂

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