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Why Are You Writing This Story?
Pretend you and I are face to face. Pretend I’ve asked you what you’re writing right now, and you’re telling me the title and the plot and maybe a little about the characters. When you’re done, I look you in the eye and ask, “Why are you writing this story?” What’s your answer? Most of you can probably snap a response right back in the face of my impudence. But if you can’t, or if the answer isn’t one that immediately comes to your tongue, you should probably take a step back and do some thinking about why you’re devoting such a huge chunk of your life to this story without understanding your motivations. In a superb interview in Writer’s Digest (“Masters of Their Craft,” November/ December 2010), thriller maestro David Morrell offers solid advice: When I write a book, I write a letter to myself. I say, “It’s going to take you this amount of time, probably, to write the book—why is this project worth a year of your life?” And there has to be something about the material, the research, the excitement of the research, maybe the way the story is written, that would make me, when I was all done, hopefully fuller and better. Presumably, most of us begin a story because something about it fascinates us. The characters, the setting, the thematic questions, the plot twist at the end. For me, my interest in any particular story can usually be encapsulated

in a single subject: in A Man Called Outlaw, it was the western land wars; in Behold the Dawn, it was the Middle Ages; in Dreamers, it was the idea of dreams coming to life; in The Deepest Breath, it’s Kenya. In each of these stories, I found these subjects (and the resultant characters and thematic questions that sprang up) fascinating enough to devote years of my life to them. On the other hand, I’ve had many ideas that no doubt could have become interesting stories in their own right, but which lacked the central idea, the passion, the guiding star necessary to inspire me through the ups and downs of roughly three years of storytelling. Writing (particularly when we’re writing something as lengthy as a novel) is a lot like a marriage. A story idea that catches our attention and gives us butterflies in our stomachs is one thing. A story that harmonizes with our interests, beliefs, and personalities is another. The first is just an infatuation and probably won’t offer the stability to last past the first blast of writer’s block. The latter, however, is the kind of true love that allows us to build a solid commitment, so that we can weather those inevitable moments of angst, confusion, and doubt. Writing isn’t all warm fuzzies and sweet nothings. Like any realistic relationship, it encounters its rough spots. Even the best stories reach moments when their authors are pretty sure they never wants to open the file again. That’s why it’s so important we choose stories that are worth the struggle. Not all of us will follow Morrell’s example in going to the trouble to actually write ourselves a letter of justification at the beginning of a new story. But don’t ever let yourself get away with beginning a story without knowing why you’re writing it. Figure out what makes this story more worth writing than any other story, and let that reason empower you in every subsequent word you write.

About the Author: K.M. Weiland grew up chasing Billy the Kid and Jesse James on horseback through the sand hills of western Nebraska, where she still lives. A lifelong fan of history and the power of the written word, she enjoys sharing both through her novels and short stories. Visit her blogs Wordplay: Helping Writers Become Authors and AuthorCulture to read her take on the writing life.

www.kmweiland.com www.wordplay-kmweiland.blogspot.com

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