Friday, April 15, 2016

Write Stories That Excite You

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a love of all things literary. When she isn’t writing, she spends her days with her husband, Matt, imagining things unseen and chasing their two children around their home in Northern California. To connect with Shan, check out her website, FB, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

We talk a lot about retreating to our writing caves to find silence, to find the solitude necessary to write with abandon. A writing cave doesn't have to be a private room--it's a word picture for the kind of mental separation writers need when disappearing into worlds of their own making.

These times are necessary. We cannot write books without them.

The downside of talking so much about deep, dark writing caves is that it can lead to a misunderstanding about the writing life. That it's a shadowy existence and that the stories we carry are heavy things, inspired by intensely profound observations that can only be meted out in dreary circumstances.

And that, my friends, is a bunch of baloney. 

Yes, solitude--both physical and mental--will be required of a writer, but if your stories don't excite you, you might be doing something wrong.

I just finished JK Rowling's latest detective story written under the pen name Robert Galbraith. It's her third Cormoron Strike novel, a well-written, very adult, bleak mystery filled with psychotic characters and horrible crimes.

And yet the first sentence on her 'Acknowledgments' page reads, "I can't remember ever enjoying writing a novel more than Career of Evil."

No joke. That's what she said. This from the same genius who wrote the Harry Potter series with all of its wonder and delights. She goes on to say that books she pens under the name Robert Galbraith have "always felt like [her] own private playground."

I adore this sentiment. That regardless of content or writing circumstances, something about the story, about the characters and the dialogue, something about sinking into the work of writing, excited her.

She's not alone in this. 

I listen to a podcast called Writing Excuses. If you haven't checked it out, you should. After one fifteen minute podcast, you'll be smarter. Guaranteed. The hosts are bestselling authors who are enthusiastic about story and craft and the process of writing, and while I'm sure they each have their dark days, not a single podcast goes by without one or more of them talking about how something they recently read or wrote excited them. 

And it is this that I want to inspire in you today. If you find yourself in a rut, if you find yourself overwhelmed by the practice of writing, it might be time to rethink a few things. 

Am I telling you to abandon your current project? No. I'm not. We all hit rough spells, soggy middles, time sucks. None of these are reasons to quit. 

But what if you decided to look at your story a little differently? What if you were to step back for a second and try to remember what it is that excited you about this story idea in the first place? What if you chose to write only things that did something good for your soul? 

We're all wired so differently and while some of you may not connect with this post, I know plenty of writers who want desperately to tell stories about the hard things in life. That's a grand, noble goal. Absolutely worth pursuing. But some of us find that when we venture into hard topics, we tumble into a dark place emotionally. 

That's real. That's honest. It happens. 

It doesn't mean the story should be abandoned, but if there isn't something inside the idea that excites you, that makes it enjoyable to come back to, consider taking some time to refocus. 

Ask yourself, Why am I writing this? Do I want to tell this story? When did I lose my excitement for it? Is the answer as simple as changing a character's motivation, a set piece, a scene that does not work? 

Maybe your discontent comes from another place. Maybe you need to ask yourself, Am I comparing my writing to the writing of others and finding it lacking? 

If you answer 'yes' to that last one, don't. Don't compare yourself to others. There will always be someone better, there will always be someone who needs your encouragement. There will always, always be room to grow. Let the process bring you joy.

If you've been disciplined and thought through your options and still cannot be excited about a story you're writing, then yes, set it aside. Especially if you're new to this. Especially if you're not under contract. Especially if there are other ideas that excite you more. Go, be excited about those.

There are so many reasons to tell stories when you're a young, teen writer. Let excitement for the task top your list. As dark and lonely as those solitary cave moments can be, there is adventure and joy to be found in the stories that stir up your soul.

If you're going to make a go of this thing, if you're going to pursue a career in that writing chair, be excited about it. Give yourself permission to dream up crazy ideas and thrilling escapades. Brainstorm locations and set pieces that make your heart pound. Concoct characters that intrigue you, that capture your interest and hold it tight.

And when the time comes to disappear and write for a while, let excitement for the story you're penning splash color and light onto the walls of your writing cave. You'll be there a while, friends. Might as well settle in and decorate.

32 comments:

  1. Wow. What great advice. I'm writing a story right now that feels incredible to sit down and write with every day, so I totally get what you mean when you say to write something that excites you. I mean, if it doesn't make you want to write (unless you're under contract or in the soggy middle, like you said) what's the point?

    Thanks so much for the post, Mrs. Dittemore!

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  2. Now that is some good advice. Speaking of advice, I needed some advice on my own story. The fourth scene in my WIP takes place almost two weeks after the third scene. The rest of the scenes take place in near succession. Is this bad? Will it mess up the pacing of the story? Or does it not matter? Thanks :).

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    1. It depends on the purpose of the break and how far into the story you are. My general advice, though specific instants often bend or contradict generalized advice, would be to take the leap if you are just skipping over time in which plot relevant things don't happen, unless the story revolves around your character not being present at said event/s.
      If plot relevant things your character is witnessing (or a part of) are taking place in said timespan, you probably won't want to skip it.
      Of course, only you know what's best for your story, so think about it (gut feelings are often right with this) and figure out why the break needs to happen. If your story doesn't loose plot or need more than a loose explanation for what happened in those weeks (unless your character was just absent from the action for awhile, in which case they could come back to chaos which may require further explanation through the natural story), the skip or skim of those weeks is probably a good choice.
      Hope that helps, or was at least understandable.

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    2. I think if you handle the transition well, and make it clear time has passed, than it will be fine :)

      Deborah

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    3. JK Rowling does it in HP. Lots of authors skip chunks of time. Everything comes down to the writing of it. You can't pretend that time didn't exist so acknowledging it in the next chunk of writing will be key.

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  3. I love this post and this blog! While I'm not exactly a teen myself, I do write (and read) YA fiction. Therefore, this blog is an excellent resource for me. Keep up the good work, and thanks for the inspiration!

    PS--I actually call my bedroom my "writer cave," so that phrase naturally caught my eye in this post. lol

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    1. I'm totally not a teen either! *high five*

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  4. Shan, I love you so much. I've really been struggling with the second draft of a manuscript. I love the concept and still think it's one of the best ideas I've had ... but the character's emotional state has been much harder for me to get down on paper than I thought it would be. Just last night I was thinking to myself, "Why am I avoiding working on this book? Normally this is my favorite part," and I think you've hit on something with this post. Thanks for giving me guidance!

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    1. I have to remind myself of this a lot. Honest to God, it's always other people's enthusiasm for their own work that brings me back. Reminds me that I want to love what I do. That it doesn't have to be dark and miserable. So, I know. I totally know! <3

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  5. This is the post I needed to see. I've been trying to work through several drafts I've already started, even though none of them are really exciting me. My headspace now is different than when I started them--perhaps it is time to see waht I can change, shake up, and rewrite to be something I want to get excited about.

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    1. Yay!!! Yes! Shake it up! Find something to jump for joy about.

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  6. I cannot write boring books. If it doesn't excite me, I can't write it. When I enjoy what I'm writing, I fly. Sometimes I have so many good ideas, I can't add them all. Thanks!!

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    1. Yes, the influx of ideas can be a problem. I'm still working on effective ways to keep them from overwhelming me. So glad you're excited!

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  7. This is so true. My "writing cave" is one side of the bedroom I share with my brother that's blocked off by a partial wall, but I hate it when it's gloomy and dark. I always throw the windows wide open, unless it's pouring, even when it's super cold, so I can feel the fresh air. The curtains are always drawn back so the sun can give as much light as it can, and the room is painted a bright robin-egg blue.
    And I love it. I can sit down and just write, and my family knows it's best to just let me be during these times--although that might be because they think I'm finishing schoolwork I've already finished. I'm not certain. ;)
    And when I'm working on a book I'm excited about, it feels so good. I can't stop thinking about it, the subplots just keep coming, and I have to write so badly my fingers almost hurt if I don't.
    It's great.

    Thank you as always for such a great post!

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    1. Oh, I'm totally with you on lots of light and open windows in a writing cave. I love opening up windows and having the fresh air roll in as I write, even if it's freezing outside. It's sort of inspiring!

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    2. I write everywhere and anywhere. I write on the desk on my room, my lamp on and I write! I love writing!! I write as much as possible everyday!! My average is (after my schoolwork) maybe 5 pages? It's a little sloppy during the first draft. Then I go back and look for as many mistakes as possible. ;)

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    3. Yes. Light. Light. Light. And candles. And light. ;)

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  8. Thank you for this! I'm starting draft 3 of a book I haven't touched in about four years--completely rewriting it, actually--and it's been a little rough so far. I spent a long time polishing the prequel to this book, and so starting something fresh feels messy in comparison. I need to turn off my inner editor for the time being, and just revel in pouring the words onto the page. However messy they come out. I want to truly ENJOY this drafting process! Thanks for reminding me why I love what I do.

    On the plus side, this is the exact reason a novella I wrote last year flowed so easily--because I loved it. The setting, the theme, the characters, all of it. I felt like I stumbled into what might be *my* voice. It was a lovely feeling. :)

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    1. See! We learn as we write. I'm so glad you wrote that novella.

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  9. AMEN. It's so important to write something that's really exciting and enjoyable for you on a fundamental level--because if you don't have that basic joy in writing, you'll never be able to get through the tough spots.

    Of course that doesn't mean you always have to write "fun" stories--just stories that are fun FOR YOU. I really enjoy doing WW2 historical fiction; even though the stories themselves can often be very sad, writing them makes me happy deep down inside . . . and that's why I'm willing to spend the time on it.

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    1. I like writing WW2 as well! I don't write 'fun' stories always, but I make it end well.

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    2. I adore anything set in that era. ADORE IT. And you're so right. And so wise. I agree with everything you said up there.

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  10. This is absolutely brilliant advice! I find this is very true - several years ago, I was writing an epic fantasy quest novel that I just fell out of love with. I put it aside for a few years, and eventually, when my excitement to write it was renewed, I took it back up and finished it. Although it's not my best work, I'm still pretty proud of it because it was the first novel-length work I'd finished.

    Ellie | On the Other Side of Reality

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    1. You SHOULD BE PROUD! Absolutely. Pushing through to the end of a novel is HUGE. Very few have the tenacity to get it done. BRAVO!

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  11. I'm always comparing myself to other authors and you're right, it's really discouraging. I want to be able to write as well as Louis L'Amour, Agatha Christie, P.G. Wodehouse, and Jeanne Penderwick. But then I think I'll never be as good as them . . . I have to remember, practice makes perfect. And being different doesn't necessarily mean worse.

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    1. Practice does make perfect and here's the thing, the reason you love story is the very reason you get discouraged. You have good taste--I mean, look at all of those fancy writers you love. But when we hold our fledgling writing up to superstars who've been doing this thing FOREVER, our flaws will jump off the page and our good taste will remind us just how far we have to go. BUT! I guarantee Agatha Christie started somewhere. I guarantee she wasn't a genius at the outset. She worked at it. JUST LIKE YOU WILL.

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    2. Thank you so much. That means a lot :)

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  12. Can someone tell me why JK changed her name to write these detective stories under a different name? Is it because her Harry Potter books are geared toward a younger audience? And I was also wondering if someone could tell me a little about the pros and cons to using a pen name?

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    1. Usually pen names are used to separate between MG/YA and Adult (and then different genres in those groups as well, like contemporary and high fantasy).

      For example: An author who writes YA contemporary, then writes a YA high fantasy wouldn't want her contemporary readers going into a fantasy thinking it's another one of her contemporary books. Or an author who writes MG, then writes an Adult, wouldn't want an eight-year-old coming across her Adult book and reading it (because Adult books are waaay more mature in content than an MG book). A different name keeps the author's works separate.

      Here's a GTW post on the subject:

      http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/2013/07/should-i-use-pen-name-or-my-real-name.html

      Hope that helps you out!

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    2. I don't know why JK Rowling made the choice she did. I wonder if she initially intended on keeping her identity a secret??? Things like that tend to leak when you're as popular as she is.

      There are many reasons to choose a pen name and Linea has given you some of them. I considered it at one time--mostly because the ups and downs of a writer's career can feel very personal and all encompassing. I thought that, perhaps, writing as another soul would distance me from it. I still think there's merit to the thought, but I obviously chose otherwise. Lots and lots of reasons to go that route.

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  13. This post is exactly what I needed. I've been trying to figure out why I want to write so I won't lose my drive. It's happened before. Not fun. Anyways, I believe that you need to write what excites you wholeheartedly.
    Thanks for the great post!

    www.denimbelle.com

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