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What To Write, What to
by Vicki Hinze
If you thought writing
what you feel driven to write would keep you from getting
tangled up in what some call the "writers
curse," odds are youve already discovered the
truth: there are still too many choices to make about
what to write, and about all you feel when considering
them is overwhelmed!
So how do you determine
what to write?
The short answer: by defining your mission.
Here's an excerpt from ALL ABOUT WRITING TO SELL that
We've all heard it. If you don't know where you're going,
how can you get there?
Well, the truth is, you can't. It doesn't matter
how old or young you are, it's never too late--or too
early--to decide who you choose to become or what you
intend to accomplish. But what if you just don't
know? How do you figure these things out?
Spend some quiet time alone. Think about
them. What are your dreams, your desires?
What do you feel passionately about? What do you
love? Hate? What makes you happy or
sad? What embarrasses or humiliates you? What
tickles your fancy; ticks you off? What motivates
you, brings out your best? What brings out your
worst? Do you know your own hot buttons? The
things that leave you cold?
Remember, knowing what you don't want is just as
important as knowing what you do want. Use your
negative responses to cull and pare, and then focus on
the positive responses to help create a content and happy
you who creates works you'll be elated at having
associated with you.
By getting to know the whole you--and if it's been a
while since you've thought about these things, you need
to get reacquainted before making decisions about the
rest of your life--you give yourself a chance to find out
not only who you are, but what you stand for, and what
you stand against. You get in touch with your
dreams. It's making those dreams realities that put
magic into your life. That magic is contentment,
and it lifts an adequate storyteller to a gifted one.
Think back to when you were a child. What did you
dream about then? As you
matured, it's likely many of your dreams changed, but
it's highly possible some important ones have remained
dormant inside you, just waiting until you were ready to
rediscover them, and yourself. Explore now.
Assess. Then evaluate and make your decisions about where
you choose to go from here, and why you choose to go
When I begin teaching a new group creative writing, after
introductions, my first question is, "What kind of
books do you want to write?" I'm always amazed
that so many writers don't know. Often, I get
responses such as, "Whatever sells."
These writers, unfortunately, haven't yet realized that
writing commercial fiction doesn't work that way.
To convey love for a book--its magic--the writer first
must feel it. That doesn't come from "whatever
sells," it comes from writing about something that
inspires the writer. Something that engages--often
enrages--the writer's emotions. That engagement
translates onto the page and makes the reader care.
What do you want to write? What must you accomplish
in your career to feel content? Must you sell a
specific number of copies of your book? Make a
specific bestseller list? Be sent on publicity
tours? Must you produce two novels each year?
Four? What exactly do you want?
That is your mission.
It's important that you let others who play an important
role in your life know your mission. If the core
group in your life--your family, your agent and
editor--all know your goals, then they're not wondering
what you want or wishing they could read your mind.
They know because you've told them.
This communication can be a wonderful thing. By
telling others your goals, you open the door for them to
tell you theirs. Often that produces an atmosphere
conducive to making collective efforts at attaining
combined success. No one is floundering, wondering
what they should be doing. Everyone is focused--and
they're focused on positive, constructive aspirations.
A few years ago, eight writers formed a group. I
was fortunate enough to be one of them. Our mission
was simple. To get everyone in the group
published. For the two of us who had been
published, the goal was to get published again. We
worked together, watching out not just for our own
interests, but for those of everyone in the group.
We did it. Books,
magazine articles, short stories, newspaper columns,
professional, academic-point papers--in fiction and
nonfiction. Considering some in the group write
children's stories, some thrillers, some science
some romance, and some literary fiction, as well as all
of the different types of nonfiction, this accomplishment
was a remarkable feat. Darned telling, too.
Why did we succeed? Because everyone in the group knew
the mission. Everyone
focused on it. Worked at it. Every individual
committed to collective success. We looked out for
each other in marketing, crafting, and submitting with
the same dedication and care that we expended in our own
Devotion and dedication can produce magnificent
results. It's simple and effective. This
concept not only works with writing groups. It
works with spouses, bosses, and close friends, too.
Once, a married couple decided they wanted a
divorce. They couldn't afford one. So they defined
a mission: a plan to save for a divorce. They
discussed it, budgeted, really communicated about
strategies for saving for their divorce fund. The
time came that they had put away the money to cover legal
fees, but this process had worked so well, they redefined
They decided to continue to work together to save enough
money so that each of them would start their new lives
apart with a nest egg. During this time, when they
were working on their missions, this couple made time to
talk with each other, they shared their excitement and
enthusiasm, their successes and triumphs--and their fears
about going on alone. By the time they'd saved the
nest egg money and had accomplished the mission, they had
to define a new one. Why? Because neither of them
any longer wanted the divorce.
Odd? Not really. For the
first time in years, they'd worked as a team, as a
couple. They'd dared to share their dreams and
their fears with each other. Talking candidly and
openly had become something they did not do. So they'd
lost touch. But in pooling their resources and working
together on a specific mission, they found the magic in
each other again.
My point in including this is that I'm often told by
writers that their spouses don't understand the creative
process, the writer's needs, and they aren't
supportive. A potential resolution resides in the
story of our divorcing couple. Involve your
spouse. Help educate them in the process so that
they do understand and can offer genuine support.
Tell them specifically what you need.
Writers don't have the luxury of working in a linear
fashion. Often they're juggling, doing author
appearances on Book 1, preparing a promotion plan on Book
2, writing Book 3, and researching Book 4. They're
also answering fan mail, ordering supplies so they aren't
reduced to answering said mail on paper towels, writing
articles for organizational newsletters, preparing
speeches and handouts for workshops or lectures, judging
writing competitions, composing newsletters and mailings
for booksellers, distributors, and readers.
Often the writer is working on all of this at the same
time. If spouses don't know this, then how can they
be supportive? And why, dear writer, do you hold
your spouse accountable for something unknown?
This making-people-aware concept also works with
children. I need quiet time to write my
novels. Long before my children could read, I told
them this, and we devised a system that would let them
know when it was okay to interrupt me, and when it
wasn't. We made two red lights out of construction
paper. If the light was green, it was okay to
interrupt. If it was red, then interrupt only if
someone was hurt, dead, or dying.
We set the rules. Everyone knew them, and everyone
honored them. Simple and
effective. I accomplished my writing goal--in a
shorter than normal time, which gave me more free time
with them--and the children helped me to do it. My
books became our books. Because in helping me, they
were active participants in the creative process. No
frustration, no hurt feelings, no harsh words or
annoyances. Just sweet success.
Definitely a win/win situation for the children and
me. And it happened because we all knew the
mission. Whether you're discussing your writing
career or your life, a mission is a personal thing.
No one else can define it for you, nor should they.
Your commitment to your mission, your discipline and
devotion to it, will determine your success. So
listen to the advice and opinions of others, take the
good that can be gleaned from them, but in the end,
decide for yourself what mission you want to invest in at
this time. And keep that mission as dynamic as you
are by periodically reviewing it.
We change with each challenge met. With change, we
must review and reevaluate. Has what you wanted
remained the same? If not, revise your mission to
reflect what you choose to invest in now. The most
important point our common sense shares with us on this
matter of missions is to consciously decide what we want,
It's so easy to get caught up in the daily details, to
get that feeling of being overwhelmed, and to just
drift. But one day we wake up and it hits us like a
sucker punch that we've drifted through decades.
Stunned, we shake our heads and ask ourselves where the
years went, and why haven't we gotten anywhere.
Panic sets in. Panic and regret, and a compelling sense
of urgency to do something that matters to us--now.
A School of Hard Knocks for Writers tip: On a daily
basis, prioritize tasks and desires so that those most
important to you get the lion's share of your effort
Common sense also tells us we should like our own
company, meaning we don't
fear being alone. This isn't a challenge for most
writers, but at times, it can become one. Armed
with knowledge of it, when it strikes, we stand prepared.
I once knew a sweetheart of a woman who would get up at
the crack of dawn and, before she had her first cup of
coffee, she would start phoning friends. She couldn't
bear not having someone else with her at all times.
She would cook huge meals, have house parties, do all
kinds of things to keep others with her. It was some time
before I realized her reason wasn't that she loved
people. Her reason was she didn't like
herself. In her past, she had done things that
she'd never forgiven herself for doing. When alone,
she thought of them. The constant company of others
allowed her to avoid thinking of them--until she was
The oddity here is that had someone else done those same
things, she would have been first in line to forgive them
and recommend they forgive themselves. But she
couldn't, wouldn't forgive herself. Sad, isn't it?
Avoidance never works because it doesn't fix anything.
The problem just sits there and festers, and the wound
stays raw. Until she comes to terms with her past
and extends to herself the same courtesy and grace she'd
give others, her wounds will never heal and she'll never
know peace. We've all done things that, in
retrospect, we wish we hadn't done. But we must
learn to treat ourselves as well as we would treat a good
friend or even a stranger on the street. We're all
teachers and students, and experience teaches. So
learn, then forgive yourself and accept that the past is
done. We can't change it. We can only change what lies
ahead of us.
And remember that laughter cures a lot of ills.
Hang on to your sense of humor. It's as strong as
Atlas, and it'll carry you through hard times when little
Being gentle with ourselves and treating ourselves the
same respect and reverence we treat others is hard for
us. We're taught to be tough, self-sufficient, and
self-sustaining. But the truth is, we all need
nurturing. This, we must learn to give to
In doing this--nurturing ourselves--we read, we think, we
rediscover who we are and what matters to us. Those
core-level issues or circumstances that intrigue and
fascinate and matter are the topics we should write
about. Those things have the power to hold our
focus intently enough for us to bring them into sharp
relief, and that is the place where we explore the
physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of
things. Exploring the physical, emotional, and
spiritual aspects of something is the stuff of great
Combine that with a
personal mission, and you've got potential for success
that is both fabulous and potent!
Copyright 2003 Dr. Vicki Hinze. All Rights Reserved
Dr. Vicki Hinze is an award-winning,
best-selling author who routinely shares her expertise at
national writers' conferences, online, and through her
writing guides. Her latest non-fiction book is ALL
ABOUT WRITING TO SELL, from Spilled Candy Books for
Writers. This 589-page ebook covers everything you need
to know about the craft of writing, the publishing
business, and the secrets to getting published. ALL
ABOUT WRITING TO SELL is available at www.SpilledCandy.com as a download or
Or you can visit Vicki's author site at www.vickihinze.com
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