“What Should I Write?”

It’s the age-old question, isn’t it? Even the most seasoned authors ask it. You know you’re itching to write something, anything, but you just don’t know what. Maybe your mind is completely blank. Maybe you have so many ideas, you don’t know how to choose. Whatever the reason, I can guarantee that at some point in your life, you will ask the question:

What should I write?

I found the answer in the most unexpected place.

what should i write

For school, I recently finished reading The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. (If you’ve never read it, it is SUCH a good book.) One of the protagonists, Skeeter, is an aspiring author, and she’s wondering the same thing we all are. What should I write? An editor from Harper and Row advises her this way:

“Don’t waste your time on obvious things. Write about what disturbs you, particularly if it bothers no one else.”

-Elaine Stein, The Help

I won’t spoil the story, so if you want to know what Skeeter decided to write about, you’ll just have to read it. But today, I have a list of tips to help you figure out what to write. If you’re already in the middle of a writing project, that’s awesome. Go you! But if you’re truly stuck, try some of these tips:

1. Make a list. Make a list of all the things that bother you. Don’t put every little thing on there, though, like “I hate the way my little brother pesters me all the time.” (Although, that would probably make an excellent children’s book!)

2. Cross off the obvious ones. In other words, don’t waste your time. If you’re going to write something, and write it well, you have to be passionate about it. No one could write a 500-page book about the behavior of particles on the subatomic level, unless they were in love with quantum mechanics.

3. Get specific. If “world hunger” is on your list, write about the child who has to work long hours to help his family eat. Write about the single mom with five kids who goes to the soup kitchen every night. Write about the man who gets a nineteen-year prison sentence for stealing a loaf of bread to help his starving relatives. (Actually, don’t do that one. Victor Hugo already did.) A statistical report on world hunger is great if it’s a school assignment, but if you want to capture the attention of humanity, write in the details.

4. I know, I know, not everyone writes about deep issues like that. But you don’t have to write about something sobering. I once wrote a book that was honestly very fun (and easy) to write. It was part comedy, part adventure, and part fantasy. I had a hilarious time, and yet I was still writing about something that bothered me. Nothing very sobering, just something I’d noticed that impacted me enough to write about.

4 ½. It might happen by accident. In my previously-mentioned book, deep questions of morality arose toward the end, even though I never planned it that way. Stuff like that usually happens to me when I write, though, so it wasn’t really a surprise.

5. Draw from your own emotions. What makes you deeply sad, anxious, or upset? What makes you cry? What makes you cringe in fear? What makes your heart break? What makes you twitch with agitation? Whatever the thing is, write about it.

6. What are the things that no one ever says? I can’t really define this one. But sometimes, it is painfully obvious that people aren’t saying what needs to be said. Other times, it’s no so obvious. Maybe it’s a certain facet of the Gospel that’s often overlooked in fiction. Maybe there are certain rules of writing that drive you crazy because you know they need to be broken. The point is, don’t always write about something obvious; that’s why Elaine Stein added that part about “particularly if it bothers no one else.”

That’s all I have for now. And that’s just one way to look at it. There are so many other ways to figure out what to write!

What’s your best way to decide what to write about?

Have you ever written about something that bothered you?

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How (not) to Be the Next C.S. Lewis

Hi everyone! Today, you get the privilege of listening to some of my totally random thoughts. My brain is fried, and this is the only blog topic that came to mind: other authors as role models.

When I first started taking writing seriously, I wanted to be the next Ted Dekker. That was probably because I was completely obsessed with his books back then, and he was the only author I read for an entire year and a half. I wanted to write those edge-of-your-seat-the-entire-way-through books. Books that were a picture of the Gospel.

And then I read Harry Potter. My vision changed. Now I was determined to be the next J.K. Rowling. What writer doesn’t want that? What writer doesn’t want to rock the world with a single book that ends up being pretty much the #1 bestselling series on the planet? And here we are, twenty years later, and she still has a huge following. That sounds awesome, doesn’t it?

And then I decided I could do better than that. I adjusted my vision a bit, and decided that I wanted to be the next Tolkien instead. I wanted to be the founder of a completely new genre (Tolkien is often considered the father of modern fantasy). I wanted to write books so memorable, that people would still be reading them eighty years from now. (Yes, The Hobbit was published eighty years ago.)

Then I changed my mind again. After reading The Screwtape Letters, I decided that I would be the next C.S. Lewis. I would write fiction so real that it’s almost inseparable from reality. I would write about the Christian faith within a fictional work.

the next cs lewis

Most professionals will tell you not to try to “be the next [insert your favorite author here].” I have come to agree with them, for two main reasons. First, favorite authors change (as you can see from my list). And second, the best authors were themselves. The best authors weren’t trying to live up to the standards set by other authors. The best authors were defying the norms, sometimes going directly against current trends.

But if you asked me who my four absolute favorite authors were, I’d tell you the four listed above. Trying to imitate them has given me a deep liking for their books. Theirs are the books I will always go back to, no matter how old I get. And even though I no longer want to be any of them, my writing is still very much influenced by them. For example:

All of those authors taught me to love fantasy, and now it’s the main thing I write. Beyond that, there is one thing all these authors have in common, and that is their stories are pictures of the Gospel. I will always write stories like that. I can’t not weave the Gospel into my fiction. It’s like an instinct; I couldn’t get away from it even if I tried.

Ted Dekker taught me that *SPOILER ALERT* the author is actually allowed to kill the main character. *END OF SPOILER* My overall writing style is also a bit like Ted Dekker’s (at least I think so. If you think differently, let me know. 🙂 )

Like J.K. Rowling, my books feature super evil villains, complex plots, and shocking endings. I’ve also started sorting all my characters into Hogwarts houses. It really helps early character development!

And like Tolkien, I write epic fantasy with quests that span the entire world and WAAAAAAY too many characters.

And finally, like C.S. Lewis, I have recently started writing stories that leak into reality a bit too much for my comfort – intentionally. (If you haven’t, you should read The Screwtape Letters. It scared me.)

As you can see, the authors we love do shape our writing. And why wouldn’t it? If you like to read a certain type of book, you’d probably write similar books, right? If you’re a writer, I highly encourage you to study your favorite authors. Study their books. Stalk them on Facebook. Find other people who love their books as much as you do, and talk about them. (Unless the author in question is Ted Dekker. He has no fandom, which makes me sad, but if you’re looking for a fellow fan, you can talk to me. It gets lonely over here with a big empty green lake all to myself and no one to dive in with me. And you’ll only understand that last sentence if you’ve read his books.)

So yes, learn from your favorite authors. But don’t try to BE them. It won’t get you anywhere, because you will never be able to. You will only get discouraged, because every writer has their own unique set of gifts. You can learn new skills and implement them into your own writing, but you will never actually be that author. And that’s the important thing to remember.

Who is your favorite author?

Which authors do you look up to as role models?

Worth It

You sit down at your desk every day, diving deep into your mind, scavenging for a few rusty words to pen down. It wears your brain down, and you sigh in frustration as you look at the few measly pages that took you all of two months to compile. You look again at the story in your mind and realize that it isn’t much more than that. Is it even worth it? Aren’t there a billion other people who could do the exact same thing as you are trying to do?

No. No, there are not. Because no one else views the world through the same set of eyes.

Let me tell you right now, that if you have ever asked yourself those questions, you are not alone. I think I ask them myself every day. Some days, writing is awesome. Some days, I clock in around 6,000 words and am completely ecstatic with the way the story’s going. And some days, it feels like I’m writing with my own blood and I’m deleting every fifth word. I want to scream at my computer and throw my notebook out the window so the wind can carry the pages to someone more capable than I.

But there is no one else that can write the story for you. This world has 7.6 billion people, and only one of them is capable of writing that particular story. Only one. And that person is you.

worth it

Let me phrase it this way. You know the Harry Potter theme? Yeah, that song that, when it starts playing, instantly makes you stop whatever you’re doing and get choked up with emotion? No? Maybe that’s just me. But there is something quite magical about the music in Harry Potter. Whenever the theme song plays, it makes you think of the story and the characters and the magic.

Now let me ask you something. What if the director had gotten Hans Zimmer to write the soundtrack? It’d be amazing, no doubt, because Hans Zimmer is insanely talented (think Pirates of the Caribbean). But it would be much, much different, because only John Williams could have written that magical tune that we all know.

Now what if Tolkien decided to give all his notes about The Lord of the Rings to a trusted friend? What if he taught him all the lore of Middle-earth and told him the detailed histories of the hundreds of characters? What if he gave his friend all the maps, alphabets, even rough drafts of chapters? I think we still would have ended up with a very different book, don’t you, precious?

God gave you the gift of writing for a reason. He’s going to use it someday. Even if just one person in the entire world needs to hear your story, it will be worth it. And you’re the only person who can write it. Don’t give up. Try again, yes, restart, rewrite, scream and throw your notebook at the wall if you have to, but don’t give up.

I used to give up after a couple of tries at the same story. Right now, I am starting–for the third time this month–a new story. Seventh time if you count what I tried to do two years ago. It’s getting old. I’m tired of this endless cycle of not being able to find that sweet spot where the story resides. But God gave me a talent and a desire to write, and if only one person in the world reads this story, that will be fine by me. If I am able to express God’s beauty and love through this story, then it will be worth it.

So go on, dear writer. It’s worth it.

Do you often find yourself discouraged and wanting to give up?

What’s your motivation for when writing gets tough?