Are you writing the books you want to write?

We’ve all answered the career advice question, ‘If money wasn’t a factor, what would you do with your life?’

If you’re reading this blog (or watching the below video), then I’m going to assume that your answer has something to do with writing or creativity.

Opting away from the presumably safe or conventional options of a nine to five takes a lot of courage. Announcing you’re going to be a writer isn’t easy, and there is a reasonable chance that you will be met with fear and resistance (from both yourself and others).

This is a massive step, but you will make so many more decisions in your long career as a writer. 

It takes a lot of time and experimentation to develop your skills as a writer. We all have to build our knowledge of craft basics. It’s one thing to recall high school English definitions of plot, setting, theme, symbolism, metaphor and so on, and another thing to deepen our understanding of these literary devices and features and then apply that information to our work.  

You will never have as much confidence in yourself as a writer as you do the moment before you start working on your first *real* writing project.

Developing your voice as a writer takes time and the bill you have to pay is writing a bunch of crappy short stories and manuscripts that no one will ever see.

This is how you develop your understanding of how stories work. And what you are personally able to achieve in your writing.

We improve our writing abilities by trying out different techniques, completing writing exercises, reading deeply and widely through the lens of a writer rather than a reader, and learning how to critically evaluate our own work.

The thing is, with so much focus put on the quality of the writing itself, sometimes we can lose sight of what it is we are *actually* writing.   

What I mean is, are you writing the books that you want to write?

Have you become so concerned with up-levelling your skills, or writing books that will sell, or telling the types of stories your writing group would approve of, or … most alarmingly … are you writing towards the types of stories that are generally considered respectable, serious, or intelligent. 

You know, grown-up literature.

Bad enough that you want to be a writer, but you better not be the kind of writer that tells alien/cowboy/vampire/space/romance/detective stories. The only way you’re going to save face by announcing yourself as a writer is if your stories are realistic. 

Want to be taken seriously? Then your writing better be sophisticated and subtle – as though these qualities couldn’t also exist in genre writing.

Note that this can happen without us knowing it, particularly if you are process-driven and love the challenge of seeing whether you can pull something off. Sometimes, we tackle an idea simply because it is challenging and not necessarily because we find the topic personally engaging or thrilling.

Sometimes we drift into projects simply because it is a way to stay busy and to keep working.

But it’s always worth reflecting on your work in the bigger sense, are you writing the types of stories that you want to write?

As with most of my blogs, I’m writing this post because it’s a question that I have been asking myself lately. As it turns out, creative existential crises are just as crappy as regular existential crises.

This question was prompted after reading a novel that hit on all of the old aesthetics and tropes that I adored growing up as a child; qualities and features that formed the foundation of my storytelling knowledge. 

I grew up watching Friday night fright night, The Alfred Hitchcock HourThe Wraith (Rat forever!), Tales from the Crypt, Unsolved Mysteries, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and Are you Afraid of the Dark? (I still think about that ghost in the pool episode!), and I read Goosebumps, Paul Jennings, Anamorphs, and so on.

Little wonder my debut novel starred a ghost! 

So, I’ve been experimenting this past month with going back and revisiting all of the movies, tv shows, and books I grew up watching and reading, and to be honest, it was a relief to discover that I had mostly outgrown that content. 

But I couldn’t ignore the fact that the book I had just finished had cracked open this question. 

So, I sat down, put on my literary detective goggles and tried to figure out why this book appealed to me so much, and what I realised was that it took all the tropes and aesthetics I loved as a kid but they then repacked them for an adult audience.

I then shared all these thoughts with my mentor who in turn directed me to a fantastic article by Kelly Link. If you’re feeling stuck for ideas, or if you feel uncertain about whether you are writing the stories you really want to write, here is the exercise that Link describes.  

Grab a piece of paper and write out all the things you love in other people’s books. 

These points can relate to tropes, themes, setting, mood, whatever, and they can be as specific or as general as you like. 

For example, in Link’s list, she mentions twins, libraries, books inside books, haunted houses, ghosts etc. My own list includes gothic architecture, witty banter, plot twists, character secrets, and heartbreak (as in, a beloved character dies).

Once you’ve completed your list, you can use this as a reference point for your own work, as a way to generate ideas, or to evaluate the work you’ve already produced.

The good thing about a creative existential crisis is that it’s (usually) a lot easier to course correct than a regular existential crisis. 

You don’t have to get a divorce, move cities, quit your job, buy a pet or an expensive car. All you have to do is choose to create art that is in alignment with your authentic tastes. 

Okay … granted, if you’re making a 100k every year writing Harlequin romances or if you won last year’s book then maybe pivoting won’t be that easy or comfortable–for you or your agent. 

Similarly, if your are eighty percent finished with a project when you realise that it isn’t the book of your heart … might I recommend that you finish it anyway? If you’ve sunk that much time and effort into a project, best to see it through to the end and then take a new direction with the next project. 

Okay, now that I’ve gotten ALL those disclaimers out of the way, back to my point. 

If writing isn’t your main source of income, then you have the creative freedom to change direction and to write whatever stories you want.

The reason why it is important to ask yourself the question, am I writing the stories I want to write?, is because writing (regardless of context) is awesome and if we’re focussed more on the act of writing than what we are writing, we could drift away from the types of stories we love best. 

And sometimes, we unknowingly write towards an invisible critical audience, or towards the expectations of our parents/family/friends. 

Developing your skills as a writer and challenging yourself with new and difficult projects is one thing, but it should never come at the cost of your creative integrity.

The following advice has become a cliché for a reason, because it is true, write the story you want to read.


Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

To access, click here to join my email newsletter and you’ll receive a thank you email containing the link to the free video training.

You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.


Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

To access, click here to join my email newsletter and you’ll receive a thank you email containing the link to the free video training.

You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.

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