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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Are You Passionate About Your Stories?

Have you stamped your pages with your passion?

There are two ways to write a book. One, you can think about the kind of story you would love to read and then write it, or two, you can try to figure out what you think the public  wants, and write that.  Now, I know that there are writers out there who use the latter strategy and I’m sure they’ve done fine with it, but following your passion is a lot more fun (and in the long run, probably more lucrative)!

Once in a while people ask me what kinds of stories I write, and I can tell they’re waiting for me to say I’m working on the Great American Novel – something Steinbeck or Faulker or DeLillo. I have to tell you the truth. I don’t even feel a little bit bad telling them that I wouldn’t write the Great American Novel if I could. You know why? Because it’s not my passion.

I got an English degree in college, so I spent a lot of time reading great works of literature, but they aren’t what got me really excited. Which is not to say there is anything wrong with them, or with loving them. They just weren’t my proverbial cup of tea. I was off drooling over Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire (this was back before vampires were cool), Stephen King’s The Shining (still an all-time favorite book), and wishing I had as many cool ideas as Phillip K. Dick had in his left thumb. These days I’m also loving all the great urban fantasy stories steaming up the endcaps in bookstores everywhere.

I’m the same way with movies and TV.  I love the big-budget blockbusters like Aliens and Gladiator and Inception. So that’s the kind of story I aspire to write.

So what’s your passion?  Maybe you're like me, and you aspire to be a "hack" half as good as Stephen King, or maybe your passion is literature in a YA paranormal market. (Or maybe you're really lucky and your passion matches the market right now!) Regardless, if you’re not chomping-at-the-bit excited about your characters and your story and the world you’ve created, you need to step back and figure out what you really love, and why you aren’t feeling it in this particular story. One way to identify what you’re passionate about in fiction is to list your favorite books and movies.  What do they have in common? Are those things finding their way into your stories?

Sometimes people get excited about a particular type of fiction, but they’re afraid they won’t be able to pull it off.  I understand that feeling. I was the kid that saved the best pictures in the coloring book for later, when I was better at coloring.  And then one day I realized that life is not about doing everything perfectly – it’s about doing it passionately!  It’s about daring to try what matters most, and figuring you’ll learn important lessons from your mistakes along the way.

So how about you? How do you put your passions into your stories?

Carolyn Kaufman, PsyD's book, THE WRITER'S GUIDE TO PSYCHOLOGY: How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment, and Human Behavior helps writers avoid common misconceptions and inaccuracies and "get the psych right" in their stories. You can learn more about The Writer's Guide to Psychology, check out Dr. K's blog on Psychology Today, or follow her on Facebook!


Melissa Dymock said...

It took me a year of writing something "literary" to realize what I read is crime and suspense. I am now writing about the drug trade along the southern border.

Following your passion is important, but I also remind myself that I won't feel passionate about my book every day. Some days writing is drudgery and is more work than fun. That doesn't mean I'm writing the wrong thing. It just means writing can be hard.

Rain Laaman said...

I love great classic literature. I simply adore authors like Hemingway, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, etc. But I would never, ever, ever try to write a literary novel. All my story ideas end up as fantasy, and that's what I'm passionate about writing. I just think it's important to read widely so that my novel doesn't end up sounding like every other fantasy novel I've read.

Barbara Watson said...

I also have an English degree, and while what I studied was interesting, it's not what I write (nor would I want to). Writing the story I would want to read is key for me or everything about the story would fall flat.

Stephsco said...

I think it's important for writer's to read widely, but as for what I like to write, it's a pretty narrow focus.

Kathy Holmes said...

I've tried to force myself to write what the market seems to want at the time, but just can't do it. I'm not that kind of writer. My writing comes from my passion and the more passionate I am about it, the better the writing. I'm also progressing through different genres and the one I'm really excited about now - and not sure I can do it - is historical women's fiction suspense. I'm so loving some of the books I'm reading, I'm working up to giving it a try.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I only write what I'm passionate about.

If you don't feel passionate about what you write, it will show and no one will want to read it. It will lack passion. And can you imagine how painful it would be to edit something you don't really love? No thanks!

Carolyn Kaufman said...

Melissa -- You do make a great point that you won't feel passionate or joyful about your novel every moment of every day, and that sometimes you need to slog through. But overall passion -- enthusiasm, enjoyment, appreciation -- for what you're writing will certainly help carry you through those tough times!

Tere Kirkland said...

LOL, you tell people you're a writer, and they always assume literary.

How 'bout some love for the genre writers, y'all? Those are the books people love to devour and read in series and make fan pages for.

I love YA, and that's what I write. I started writing it at age 15 because there were very few fantastical YA novels published in 1994. Which is probably why I still read YA.

I hope teens today realize how lucky they have it. :)

Joseph Finley said...

I love your post and think it's spot on. I could never invest my time in writing a story other than the kind I like to read. For me, that's historical and fantasy fiction. I could not write literary fiction to save my life. It would never be genuine. I also don't think I could do justice to other genres like thrillers or urban fantasy. My heart and passion lies in the past.