Write What You Need

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Write what you know. One of the most common pieces of writing advice you will ever hear. It’s not wrong either. As writers, we draw from our personal experience to help bring our stories and characters to life. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this.

But it doesn’t always have to be that way.

People are always going to tell you how you should be writing or what you should be writing about. Sometimes they have good advice. Other times they mean well, but they are the opposite of helpful.

Tell the story you want to tell. That you need to tell.

The stories we tell don’t always fit into our personal experiences. Just look at fantasy, sci-fi, and murder mysteries. Literally any form of fiction. While our experiences and opinions influence the stories, you are in no way required to write within your world. Sometimes you need to step outside of what you know and step into what you need.

Writing, in and of itself, is a form of exploration. It is a massive thought experiment full of “what if this…” It is a chance for people to think through things they have always wondered about. A chance for writers to create the world they have always dreamed of. We get to live in a world that is completely our own where, for once, we are in control.

It is a form of escapism for the writer as well as the reader. We all struggle. We all experience hardships. Some of us have struggles that never really go away. We have this baggage that we just have to learn to live with. We all have to face the darkness and there will always be something we wish we could have or experience, that we know will never happen.

Some of the most beautiful stories come from what we wish for, what we want. Writing gives us a chance to hold up a mirror and show the world what needs to change. How the world can be better.

When life gets crazy and things get messy, we don’t need a reminder of how scary the world can be. Life is hard. Life isn’t fair. We are all aware of this. We need to see that things can be better. That life isn’t all bad. That there is hope.

Instead of writing what you know, write what you need. Because chances are the world needs it too.

Just Write

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If writers are good at one thing, we are really good at procrastinating when we should be writing. It happens all of the time. I am especially guilty of this. I wrote a story during my junior year of high school and I still have not finished the second draft. I graduated from college in December.

There are lots of reasons we don’t write. We don’t have the motivation. We don’t have the time. We aren’t in the zone. Or, my personal favorite, the story isn’t ready yet.

At least, that is what we say.

We really avoid it because we aren’t ready. There is something holding us back. We are afraid of failure, of rejection. We are afraid to try because we don’t know if anyone is listening.

I know I can’t be the only one who is tired of this. It is time for us to overcome the things that are holding us back and move past everything that is holding us back. It is time for us to start writing.

The thing is, your novel isn’t going to write itself. As amazing as that would be, it is simply not going to happen. You have to sit down, put your fingers on your keys, and get to work.

If your response is “my story isn’t ready yet”, I have something to say to that. I spend about a month prepping a plot outline for NaNoWriMo, got 64 pages through and I could not get the story moving. It was terrible. During that time, though, I created two characters who ended up taking over the story. It turns out I was telling the wrong story about the wrong characters.

My point is, no matter how much preparation you put into your novel the story will change as you write it. It will breathe, grow, take you in directions you never expected. As you write your story will improve because you realize that certain things you have will not work. You find other things that will work better. You find and fill all of the plot holes as you go.

Your story can’t go anywhere if you don’t start writing it.

Another common struggle I see among writers is “why bother writing if no one is going to read it?” We convince ourselves that no one could possibly be interested in what we have to say. This could come from getting shut down when we try and talk about certain things or just a low self-esteem. We think we have nothing to offer.

Sometimes, you just have to write for yourself. Don’t worry about what your friends will think. Don’t worry about your family’s opinion. Don’t worry about what anyone else would say or think. You have a story inside of you, and even if you never show it to anyone else, you should still write it. Get it down on paper. You owe it to yourself to prove that you are capable of writing that story. That you are capable of finishing something.

If you are worried about what other people might think because of the content of the story, you can always publish under a pseudonym. This can also be helpful if you normally write in another genre, to prevent confusion.

Something else to keep in mind if you are worried no one will like your story. Consider this. Are you part of a fan community? Do you share interests and passions with other people? Do you yourself enjoy the story you have created?

If you answered yes to any of these, then I can guarantee that someone somewhere will like your book. I’ll go more into this in a later post, but trust me when I say that if you tell a good story people will like it. They will read it. They will identify with the characters. They will enjoy the plot. They will see that you did it and realize that they can do it too.

But none of this will happen if you never finish the dang book.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have some writing to do.

Never Forget Your Mission

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Everyone who sets out to chase their dream struggles with this. Whether you are diving headfirst into your dream or it is something you do on the side, you will undoubtedly encounter this moment.

You hit a wall. You feel stuck. You feel lost. You question your decision to follow this dream. You find yourself wondering if any of this is worth it.

It is this crippling anxiety that you will never make it coupled with a deep sense of failure. You are afraid to let go of your dream lest you lose it. Yet you also fear that your dream is nothing but a fool’s dream.

Everyone around you tells you what kind of job you should be looking for, what you should be doing with your life. Some consider your dream to be silly, but some support you. Either way, it is easy to be bogged down by everyone’s expectations of what your life should look like.

I have experienced this myself. The anxiety. The self-doubt. I spent a fair amount of time struggling with this until I came to a realization. There is a way to fight this.

Whenever you are in this situation with your back against the wall, questioning whether it is worth it, as yourself a simple question.

Why?

Why are you doing this? Why does this matter to you?

Sometimes the easiest way to keep going is to remember why you started.

Sometimes you need to take a step back and reevaluate. Is what you are doing now getting you closer to where you want to be? Are you doing it because you want to or because someone else told you that you should?

Take some time to think through what you want to do. Create a mission statement. Figure out your strategy. Even if you never show this to anybody else, this can help you keep focused.

Remembering why you are doing something can help you keep going when times get though.

Another thing to consider. If something truly matters to you, it will matter to someone else.

Remember why you started and never give up.

You may just change the world.

My Battle with Writer’s Block

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I have competed in NaNoWriMo every year but one since 2011, to varying degrees of success. And by varying degrees of success I mean I have never won but I did finish some of the stories. This past year, though, I had an interesting experience.

Plotting started a few months before November. I had already been chewing on the idea for a while and it was finally the way I liked it. I developed the characters, laid out how I wanted things to unfold. I was ready to go.

64 pages and 23 days in I finally gave up. There were maybe 12 pages that I was okay with. Everything else I hated. I tried at least six different ways but could not for the life of me get it started. I liked the world, I liked the characters, but everything else I couldn’t stand.

So I shelved the story and tried to move on with my life. This is one of the worst cases of writer’s block I have ever had. Not counting the time I finished a story and then could not look at it again for a year.

I could not for the life of me figure out what the problem was.

I continued playing around with the idea every so often for the next few months, hoping I would find some way to make the story come to life.

That is when it happened. Two side characters who had been creeping along the edge of the narrative stepped forward, bringing with them the few pages of another unfinished story. One of them had existed since the beginning and the other showed up in one of the attempted introductions. Both were important to the story, though I could never quite figure out their motivations.

I was a little confused when they came up to me. We all sat down with a cup of tea and they told me the whole story. Their story. Piece by piece things started clicking together. It took some time and a two hour Skype call with a friend to iron out some of the details, but the story was finally ready to be told.

The main cause of writer’s block is because the story is not ready to be told. Either it needs more work or you personally are not ready to write it yet. Anxiety and insecurity can play a big part in this. I will dive further into this topic at a later date.

The good news is, there are ways to cope with writer’s block. Take a break. Try it from a different angle. Talk it through with another writer or storyteller or creative person. Drop your characters down a hole and see how they get out of it. Take them to the circus.

Whatever you do, don’t give up on writing. Just because you are stuck, just because it doesn’t look like things are working out the way you want them to, doesn’t mean it’s the end. Writing is hard. It is also very subjective. Keep an open mind and don’t lose hope.

You can do this.

The Audacity of Tenacity

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This is for the dreamers. For the people who have always had a goal that no one thought they can reach.

Some want to write a book. Some want to run a 5k. Maybe you want to start your own business.

These are all things I myself have wanted to do at one point or another, among countless other things.

The hardest thing can be finding the motivation.

We often find ourselves surrounded by people who tell us we can’t do it. They tell us that our dreams are silly. Why don’t we focus on other things?

Why don’t we find a real job instead of chasing some silly dream?

Here is what I say to that.

They don’t know your passions like you do. They don’t know your skills like you do.

When they look at your dream, they see it from their perspective and to them, it is impossible.

This is where the good news comes in.

It is very possible.

It will take a lot of hard work. It will probably require you spend a fair amount of time researching and learning new things.

You will have to try new things, learn new tools. You will have to network with people. You will have to step outside of your comfort zone a bit.

It is possible, though.

Your journey will not look like other people’s. It will take a while before those around you starts to appreciate what you are trying to do.

Don’t give up.

Keep chasing that dream.

Don’t fall into the trap of feeling like you have to prove yourself to the world. That just leads to frustration and feelings of inadequacy.

Start small. Create a plan. Follow the plan. Prove to yourself that you can do it.

If it doesn’t work out, so what? Failure is not the end. Trust me, I have failed before. It hurts. It may feel like everything is over, but its not. Failure is just a chance to try again.

Get up, dust yourself off, and try something new. There is always more out there for you to try.

Chase your dreams. Live your life to the fullest. Don’t let anyone stand in your way, least of all yourself.

Keep on working until your dream becomes a reality.

Be audacious. Be tenacious.

When you are done, the world won’t know what hit them.