I’ve been struggling to find a good story idea. I came up with some basic things but not enough to really go on. So I asked myself what point I want to make. I couldn’t come up with anything so I asked my self what wisdom I’d like to impart. That was met with deafening silence.
Then that voice piped up, you know the one you have arguments with? The rude one that always has a criticism to share. She asked me why I want to write.
“Well, I want to help people,” I answered.
“That’s what I thought.”
So I thought back to when I was a kid and I wrote stories about flying sleds and ghosts. Why did I write those? Because I wanted to. Because I had an idea that was too big to stay in my head. I had to put it on paper. I didn’t do it to help anyone or teach a lesson.
Those were small stories but even they had little lessons in them that I hadn’t intended. Lessons that had never entered that big imagination of mine.
Nothing really. But I grew up and when you’re an adult you’re supposed to say shit like you want to help others and talk about insurance deductibles and your 401k. Doing something just for fun? Unheard of once you’re out of college.
You’re supposed to settle down and start taking life seriously. Everything you do is supposed to have a purpose, should push you closer to your goal. If it doesn’t? Well, you’re just being lazy and immature.
The problem with this is I don’t curl up with a good book because I’m hoping the author wants to help me. Unless it’s a self-help book but that’s the whole reason they exist. I dive into a book because I want to escape and be entertained. Learning a thing or two along the way is just a bonus.
Why do I write? Turns out the reasons haven’t changed much. I just understand it better now.
I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up. I read to escape. I created other worlds for myself where I had power. I looked at the real world around me and knew that there had to be more to it. I genuinely believed magic was real and that someday it would find me or I would stumble across a portal to another world.
Now I want to write those things on a grander scale and with a better understanding of the world.
Plus, I want to be heard. I want to talk without being interrupted. I want to dream out loud on paper.
You introverts know exactly what I mean. You’re sitting around with a group of friends and you’ve been waiting for a break in the conversation to speak up. The moment comes, you begin speaking, and someone cuts you off. You try a few more times and then fall silent only to be asked later if something is wrong because you’ve hardly said a word. Sigh.
How Did This Help My Writing
I was on the right path just focusing on the wrong thing.
I was trying to create characters who were struggling with something and made better for their trouble. Which is what all stories are about, right?
But I was putting the cart before the horse and trying to figure out what point I could make or lesson I could teach and then creating a story that led to those things.
Figuring out why I write shifted my focus back to the story. You can’t know what point your story will make until you come up with your story.
Trying to do this process in reverse is just madness.
I took the ideas I’d had and referred back to my reasons for writing. Is this a good escape? Do I like this character? Is this the magic I’ve been looking for?
I quit dismissing ideas because I didn’t feel they were deep enough. I went back to ideas I’d given up on and realized they’re actually pretty good.
I remembered the books I read as a kid. I thought about the worlds I’d made up and the games and places my sister and I had invented.
I realized that I’d been ignoring the things that I actually do want to write about. Suddenly I was less overwhelmed by ideas and options and decisions. Now I knew what to look for.
Why do I write? Find your honest answer. Not the one you give yourself because it sounds more noble than “I do it for the fun of the thing”.
The answer may not be glamorous or noble. Mine isn’t. But it is the truth and I think there’s nobility in that too.
It will give you a direction and focus. It will help you figure out the exact book you should be writing. It will shut down the horrible voice in your head that’s always looking for your next mistake.
Once you find your answers, make a list and keep it with you. Now when you get an idea you’ll know whether it’s a keeper or not.
I hope that my stories do help others one day. But now I know there’s more than one way to do that. Maybe, if I keep trying, I’ll be able to provide someone else with the escape I once longed for.