Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Write What You Love

Have you ever seen parents with children who don’t like children?

Sometimes it’s the mom who dresses up her little girl like a doll and tries to cover up her scratches and bruises with tights and makeup. Or it’s the dad who doesn’t have time to play right now and probably never will. Or the couple in the ice cream shop who figures it’s easier to give in to the tantrum and buy the chocolate sprinkle cone than to face their five-year-old’s wrath.

These people like the idea of kids. They usually love their own kids. But kids in general? Not so much.

And you can tell.

Guess what? There are writers who don’t like writing.

There’s the writer who dashes off a picture book because it’s “easy” but doesn’t get excited about writing for children. Or the frustrated wannabe who tries to follow all the trends but just can’t find the momentum to finish the stories she starts. Or the writer who gets so frustrated by rejection letters that he wants to give up the whole thing.

You see, just like with parenting, there are a whole lot of myths associated with writing. Some people expect to become rich and famous, others don’t like the discipline that’s required, and others overestimate their talent and expect the publishing world to thrust contracts their way after minimal effort on their part.

And just like parents who don’t love children, writers who don’t love writing will quickly become disillusioned and frustrated.

So, how can we fight back? Well, it’s actually pretty simple.

You’ve heard the saying “write what you know.” I say, not a chance. What I know is everyday, eat a bagel, brush my teeth, write an exegetical paper, play board games, trip over stuff, buy groceries kind of things. No one wants to read about normal people doing normal things and having normal conversations. (Or, in my case, a fairly abnormal person doing normal things and having abnormal-but-not-riveting-or-dramatic conversations.) Don’t write what you know.

But do write what you love.

If there’s a certain audience that you care about, write for them. This is why I love writing for older kids and younger teens. I’m one of those crazy people who think jr. highers are awesome. Because I love them, I spend time with them. Because I spend time with them, I know what they want to know and what they sound like and what would send them running in the other direction. There are no shortcuts.

If there’s a topic or theme that gets you excited, write about it. Now, I’m not saying you need to preach. Many, many bad books and short stories have been written by people wielding mottos and morals like clubs. However, if you care about something and have spent a lot of time thinking about it, you’ll probably see traces of it in your writing.

For example, you can look at my major writing projects and tell what my favorite class was the semester I wrote it. One manuscript has Ethics and Technology all over it. The sequel reflects themes of identity that we talked about in my African American Lit class. This year’s will probably have a good dose of Biblical Theology and Contemporary Christian Belief.

This should tell you two things. First, I’m a nerd. Second, what you care about will come through in your writing without any attempt on your part.

I could go on and on about this. If there’s a genre you love, write in it (making sure to branch out every now and then). If there’s a genre you hate, parody it. If you think someone you care about needs a certain message, write to that person like you’re having a conversation. If there’s a plot idea that excites you but that seems too intimidating or too unlike your usual style or too unmarketable, give it a try anyway. Write what you love. It makes a difference.

Of course, to do any of this you have to have things (and people) that you love. If you can’t really think of anything that gets you excited about writing, I have some advice for you. This is hard to put in the context of a blog, so you’ll have to help me out here. Grab your shoulders. Shake yourself firmly. Then yell, “CARE ABOUT STUFF!”

That ought to do it.

I have a firm belief that the passionate will win the day. Sometimes, this idealism comes grinding up against the cold, hard machinery of reality. But most of the time, it’s true. The people who care are the ones who made a difference to us in real life, right?

All of the characters I love are passionate people. And I bet the authors were too. There’s just something about a love of words and plot and character that can’t be hidden—it bleeds through the page and makes the scenes come alive.

Literary agents and editors say this is the one quality that makes a manuscript stand out. Like ‘em or hate ‘em, it’s also the reason why most classics were canonized. And readers turn pages when the authors care.

Don’t be a writer for the sake of being published. That makes about as much sense as writing love letters because you want to practice your handwriting.

We write love letters out of love. Maybe we should try writing our stories for the same reason and see if it makes a difference.

1 comment:

  1. "Don’t be a writer for the sake of being published. That makes about as much sense as writing love letters because you want to practice your handwriting."