So, when you’re sitting down with a fresh notebook and brand-new pen, or you open your laptop and start a new blank document, and you’re going to get in there and write down all your ideas and formulate some sort of plot and a bunch of characters, what do you write?
When you come up with these ideas, who are you writing them for? Are you writing them for your audience? Or you’ve heard of this fantastic agent who wants ABC, and even though you write XY and Z, you want to try to force something out of you and see where it goes.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with trying something new. Branching out and experimenting in your writing in various genres can be fun and rewarding in many different ways.
But the simplest answer to the question: who are you writing for? Is this: You should be writing for you.
Think about the last big story idea you had. How excited were you to get those ideas out on the page? How much did you fall in love with your characters? How much did you want to live in the world you created? All of these things have something in common: it’s that you believed in them. You believed in your story’s worth. And when you have that, you have the passion you need to write it.
I’m a firm believer that no good story was ever written without passion behind it. Think of all your favourite authors and the books you enjoy by them. What about them made you keep reading? Was it the character voice? Was it the emotions coming through the page? Maybe the beautiful world building? None of those stories were written by an author that was humdrum about their idea.
Now, of course you have to have the ability to translate that story in your head onto the page, and those are tools that you pick up along the way. You learn from taking courses, programs, attending conferences, from mentorships, from your peers, and of course—from reading.
Ideas can come from any number of places. I personally keep an ongoing file where I have all of my story ideas listed along with a very basic, bare-bones premise. But the ones that stay with me, that won’t leave me alone, that beg to be revealed—those are the ones I am passionate about and the ones that make it to the top of the list.
When I write, I put everything I am into it. And when I’m done, that’s when I start to look around and research agents who represent the kind of story I’m telling.
Trying to squeeze your idea into a genre that doesn’t quite work can make your story fall flat. It can end up being a convoluted version of what you really wanted to tell if you add in certain things here and there to shape it into what someone else wants, and before you know it, it’s become unrecognizable. And that’s going to lead to stress and a complete lack of interest in finishing your novel.
Now, this is not to say that you shouldn’t be open to change. Because when you get that first draft down, there will inevitably be some changes that need to be made to tighten up the plot or the character arc or the line-level writing. But don’t get too hung up on one person’s idea of what your story *should* be. Because it *should* be the story you want to tell. Make sure you take the feedback you get from people with a grain of salt, and only apply the suggestions that resonate with you. That can improve your story.
At the end of the day, you should trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right with what you’re trying to do with your story, you shouldn’t do it. Go back to its roots, find out what it needs that will improve it without compromising the essence of your story, and go with that.
There is an agent out there that will love your story and that will champion it the way it deserves to be championed. When they read it, they should feel your passion for the story through your words.
Sometimes we get so wrapped up in where the story is going, or what to add to it that won’t take away from it at the same time. Sometimes we lose the motivation to write. And this brings me to a piece of advice I’ve given previously on the podcast and in conversation with many writers: try writing the query, pitch, and synopsis for your next big idea first—before you start drafting it. When you’ve got the main outline down, get your query package ready. You might also build a moodboard or a Pinterest board to fill with images that remind you of the vibe, the setting, the characters, all of the main elements that make you feel that passion for your story. Any time you’re getting lost in the plot, step away from it for a little while, then come back and ready your query, your pitches, the synopsis, look at the aesthetics… these are there to remind you of that first spark of excitement when you got the idea in the first place. They can help you return your focus to your story, to re-ignite the fire. THAT is what we want to see on the pages. Your passion will show, just like it’ll show if you’re less enthused about it.
So that’s why it’s so important to write the story that you want to tell. It’s what’s going to push you to the next level in your writing, it’ll fuel your determination and perseverance—and these are the keys to success in a writing career.
Today’s guest author wrote the story he wanted to tell, and even though he made some appropriate changes that improved his story, the maintained the deeper essence of what he wanted his story to be. We’ll discuss that on today’s podcast episode, which you can catch here.
I’m excited to introduce an author and friend, Huck Beard. Huck is a writer, photographer, and magazine art director in Pennsylvania. He has been a journalistic writer and editor for many years, and he wrote his first novel, The Gallant, at the start of the pandemic. He is agented by Christopher Schelling at Selectric Artists, and the book is currently out on submission. He is at work on his second book now, with a third book waiting in outline form. He lives in the North Hills of Pittsburgh with his husband and their Portuguese Water Dog, Humphrey.