Last week I wrote: "It may be that your procrastination is not just because life is busy, but because you aren't clear on the "Why" of your story. And when the "Why" is unclear, the writing gets harder, which leads to more doubt, more fear, and more procrastination."
And one of you wonderful readers wrote back and asked for help finding her "Why." Challenge accepted, Meg! By the way, I love it when readers send in their questions because I want this newsletter to be a place you come to get both inspiration and useful craft/business knowledge. When you hit reply, you end up in my inbox, not in a virtual black hole. So don't be afraid--I rarely bite!
Anywho, finding your why can be both an incredible challenge and a breakthrough moment for a writer. Understanding why you write and, in addition, why you're drawn to write this particular story, is great information to have and will inform your craft and storytelling. So if your answers are feeling vague, or if you've been stuck for a while and aren't sure how to get back on track, read on...
Finding Your Why
There are many reasons to try your hand at writing stories. Maybe you've been told you're good at writing. Maybe you have been powerfully influenced by other writers and want to harness that power in your own work. Maybe you want to say something that will survive after you're gone. When the writing (or the selling of said writing!) gets tough, it's a great time to revisit those lofty big-picture goals. Remind yourself why you're even trying to do this thing despite the slim odds and long hours. Write that big-picture "Why" down at the top of a page in your notebook or online journal so that you can go back to it whenever you need it.
Once you've re-envigorated yourself with a reminder of why you write, it's time to dig deeper into your current work in progress (WIP). Most writers get their initial pinprick of an idea because of some external stimulus. A dream. A book or movie. An event in their life. A news item. A location. What was your original pinprick of an idea for your WIP?
Most of the time, your pinprick idea will be, or grow into, either a character, a plot, or a theme. Knowing which of those most calls to you gives you important information about your story, although ultimately all three must work together.
Recently, a client of mine who has a very clear theme at the heart of her story was struggling to make some choices about plot and character as she charted her revision. By looking at the plot and character through the lense of her why--the theme--we were able to get her back on track by clarifying how the changes she was making in her plot and characters would better explore what she wanted to say about her theme. That's the power of knowing your specific "why" for your WIP. So choose that plot, character, or theme that you're hoping to explore and write it down under your pinprick of an idea.
Now spend five minutes or so making a list of the events or experiences or emotions from your own life will lend your unique perspective to this story. Circle the ones that truly make your WIP the story only you can tell.
Hopefully by now, you can feel that elusive "Why" emerging on the page. You may even want to keep this page near your writing area, on the wall or bookmarked in a notebook that sits on your writing desk. If you're still struggling, put the notebook down for now and let it percolate a while. Go take a walk or dig in the dirt or do whatever it is that feels meditative to you and see if something bubbles up over the next couple of days. Oftentimes, when I'm stuck, moving my body helps unstick my mind.
Hope this exercise helped you find your "why"!
PS - I'll be releasing a series of posts over on Medium about various publishing paths and the pros/cons of each as I continue to reconcile my feelings and recommendations about the increasingly tight trad-pub market. The first one talks about my client Sonia Hunt, whose professional background made her an ideal candidate for self-publishing her memoir/self-help hybrid about surviving deadly food allergies. Check out
Beating the Odds.
PPS - For those who are curious, the boy did not get chosen to deliver his commencement address on procrastination. The adminsitration may not have appreciated his overall message, but he did get voted best speaker by his peers. And he learned something about getting clear on what you want to say early in the writing process. So I'm taking that as a win and he is too.