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.