Finding Your Why

The Dark War Trilogy is really hard to write. Well, at least the last two books. I’ve been working on The Shadow Raven since before last NaNoWriMo, and since NaNoWriMo I’ve made very little progress on it. I’ve totally stalled out multiple times and been weighed down by the guilt of not writing, and even guilt for not loving my writing. I mean, this trilogy was my passion project, wasn’t it? Why is it so difficult?

In times like these, when writing is just hard—sometimes emotionally draining—when the words just aren’t coming… These are the times we need to remember why we’re writing this story rather than one of the other billion ideas out there. Why did we decide on this story?

I know, a lot of people out there will tell you to figure out why you write, but that’s generally a broad-scope thing. “Why did you start writing?” “Why do you love writing?” When you’re struggling with a specific story, you need something more specific than that. “Why are you writing this story, even when it gets tough?” “What keeps you coming back to this story?”

There’s a broad range of reasons we write the stories we do. Maybe it provides a release for pent-up emotions. Maybe you just really enjoy this particular creative outlet. Maybe there’s a specific message you want to provide readers through this story.

Recently I was having a discussion with a friend of mine and I talked about how difficult it’s been to write The Shadow Raven and The King’s Paladin and how emotionally draining it is for me, and she posed this question to me. “Then why do you write it?” It’s not really something I’d sat down and thought about before. I hadn’t really processed why I kept writing this trilogy despite the pain and the difficulty and the long months of beating myself up for not writing. (I don’t recommend beating yourself up for not writing, by the way. It’s more than okay to take breaks when you need them.)

When I thought through it, I realized that I write this series because I want to provide encouragement to people who are struggling. I want to show them that deep-seated issues and fears are hard to overcome, but it is possible to overcome them. I want to kick out the false teaching in YA literature that abusive guys are romantic and wonderful and nothing bad will come of them, and that getting too close to someone romantically before marriage has no consequences. I want to show that bad choices—of all kinds—have consequences instead of brushing them off like so much YA literature does today. I want to show truth and shine a light into the YA genre, to encourage teenagers who are going through the myriad issues of adolescence and show them there is hope. No, it’s not easy, but I believe it’s important.

Your reason for writing this story may not be so deep and profound. Writing as an emotional release or writing for the enjoyment of writing are just as valid as writing with a specific message in mind or writing to instruct others. There is no wrong answer to “Why are you writing your story?” except maybe “To get rich and famous” (sorry, that’s just not likely to happen).

Finding the “why” behind your writing has a myriad of benefits. First, it gives you a passion for the story that will shine through your writing. Second, it gives you something to remember when the going gets tough; sort of a light at the end of the tunnel. Third, it just makes writing more rewarding when you know why you’re doing it. Fourth, if anyone ever asks why you decided to write this book, you have a ready answer.

Something else I want to mention, inspired by Audrey Caylin’s recent post, is that not all of your “why”s need to lead to publication. People laud it as the ultimate sign of success as a writer, but it doesn’t have to be. You should define what writing success means to you. Maybe that means publishing one book and keeping the others private or only sharing them with family and close friends; maybe that means writing and publishing for the rest of your life; maybe that just means writing consistently to get your thoughts out at the end of the day. Release yourself of the pressure to publish just because it’s the thing to do. If you publish, it should be because it’s the best thing for you and your book and you want to share a work you’re proud of.

And even if your goal is, like mine, to make a career of writing and publish a lot of books, you don’t need to publish every book you write. In fact, I don’t think you should publish every book you write. Some ideas are rubbish and just need to stay in the ancient folders of story beginnings to collect proverbial dust and show how far you’ve come as a writer. Sometimes that is the “why” of a story: to show progress. The “why” of each particular story should help dictate whether or not you publish, and you should never rush publishing. (I’ve learned that the hard way.)

I hope this post was helpful and that you’re able to find your story’s “why.” If you’d like, leave your findings in the comments below and let me know what drives you to write your current project.

Have a wonderful day.

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5 thoughts on “Finding Your Why

  1. This is really good. When I first started writing, I was just writing because I had fun with it. I didn’t have any goals or anything. I just liked making up characters and worlds. Now that I’m older, I want to write to show my family that all those years of writing won’t go to waste, that I’ll someday be able to put an actual book in their hands and say, “Thanks for letting me write all those evenings, and never telling me to just quit, and look what you’ve helped me do.”

    But keep going on your writing!! You got this! Your stories are gonna be great!

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