I was looking over some writing tips on other people’s blogs today when I came across a tip I’ve seen elsewhere, too: Don’t try to write what you think will sell. Write what you want to read. Write what moves you. Write to understand the world around you.
These words made an impression on me because that’s pretty much what I do. I try to keep in mind the elements of good storytelling, true, but I am often not sure where to query one of my finished stories because I didn’t write it for a specific market. I wrote it for me. Thus I must research the (seemingly) bazillions of magazines that accept short fiction in order to determine which one will be a good match.
I’m willing to bet I’m not the only writer who does this. Because (as advised by part two of that tip above) most of the writers I know write to their passion. Their stories, characters, plots and settings move them as writers for reasons that are no doubt quite personal and probably inexplicable. When I sit down to write a specific tale, the characters and settings and plot often twist in ways I had not foreseen. They take on a life of their own and while I am steering the boat, they have a great deal of input in where we go as a team. I often look at a finished story that came from my head and think, “Wow, that’s nothing like the concept I set out to write.” But—and here’s the thing—it always holds meaning for me, usually with even deeper symbolism than I originally intended. The characters, their challenges, their resolutions, always touch me in ways that I could never fully explain. If they don’t, the story often goes unfinished.
Some of my works started out as ideas prompted by my attempts to understand the Mysteries of life around me. “Dancing Man” (non-fiction, but relevant nonetheless) was written while I tried to make sense of my own relationship—and responsibility—to homeless people. “That Shining Moment” came about when I tried to imagine what it would be like to be personally affected by random gun violence. Other stories, like “Shark” and “Switch,” both arose fully formed in my head when I wished for something I didn’t have and wondered what price I might have to pay to “wish” my desire into existence; let’s face it, nothing comes without a cost. “Upshot” and “Murder of Crows” were born in my love of birds, and my curiosity over an interactive relationship between a human and wild Nature. There are more, but you get the picture.
I suppose if I wrote to a specific market, I would find it easier to submit my works. But it seems to me that a tailor-made piece like that might feel flat. Robert Frost said, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” I happen to agree. I feel like a story that doesn’t move or excite me as a writer will never appeal to a reader. My heart wouldn’t be in it and my readers would know that.
For me, the soul of a piece of fiction arises from passion. I’m sure there are plenty of examples that prove me wrong. But I have not reached the point in my writing career where I can enliven a project that holds no personal meaning or that does not appeal to my spiritual nature in any way. Perhaps that means I’ll never get rich through my words, but that’s okay. I might have had that glamorous expectation when I began, but it isn’t the money that keeps me at it. I write because of the joy it excites in my heart, and because I can’t not. Though it would be nice to make a living doing this thing I love so, no monetary figure can compare to the ecstatic feeling of completing a story that says something meaningful.
Every writer is different, and each of us has our own special way of awakening the creative juices in ourselves. What makes you feel most inspired? What sparks the Muse’s fire in your work?
See you next week!