There comes a point in every work in progress (WIP) where I think my novel is a dud. Why do I think it is a dud? Not because I think the writing is especially bad, or the plot, or the characters, but because I don’t think it’s deep enough. I feel like I should be SAYING SOMETHING. That there needs to be a point, a life lesson, a belief driving all that’s being written—and I’m not sure there is.
People will ask you, “Why did you feel compelled to write this story?” and “Why now?” The truth is, I don’t often know—certainly not when I begin. It’s just a story I want to tell. Often I don’t find my Truth—that passion or theme or THING OF IMPORTANCE I’m trying to say—until much later in the process. And not until after the period where I think the novel’s a dud.
My middle grade novel Ozcillation, the one that I’m currently shopping to agents, didn’t clue me in to its big truth until my 5th or 6th revision. The Truth in that book is the power and magic of being true to who you really are. This is something I think kids today need to hear, because there is so much pressure to conform—but conform to whose vision? Parents want them to be one thing, teachers another, friends another, the media something else. I wanted kids to know that being YOU is the most powerful thing you can be—thinking for yourself and deciding what’s worth fighting for.
Of course, I didn’t start that novel to share a Truth. I started it as a fun workshop assignment. I enjoyed it so much it evolved into an entire novel. What I found out is that a writer can’t help but imbue her writing with a Truth. I write because I have something inside that will not let me sit idle. I don’t always know the Truth I’m writing about, but it manages to weave its way around every word, every sentence, every plot point, and every character action.
The usual saying goes, “The Truth is out there.” My saying is, “The Truth is IN there.” Your Truth is in the words you wrote. Don’t think so? Listen to the words. You might have to listen hard, because that Truth may be drowned out by all the writing craft tips shouting in your head. Hear it with your heart, not your head.
Once you hear your Truth, you face a decision. Do you leave it buried under all the noise you’ve written on top of it, or do you bring it out clearly and let it be the melody to your entire work? Sounds like an easy choice, right? Obviously, getting your Truth where a reader can find it makes the most sense. But…
It’s scary to speak a Truth.
There will be people who don’t want to hear your Truth. People who may even hate your Truth. By placing a Truth out there, you are making yourself vulnerable. Some writers bury their Truth, settling for a good, well-crafted story. And that’s okay. There is value in being pure entertainment. I don’t believe that every book written has to have a weighty theme or Truth behind it to be a good book.
But to be a GREAT book…
The Classics we study today have all survived because they still resonate with us hundreds of years later. They contain some Truth in them that connects to us through the ages. That is what makes a book timeless.
Now, when I write, I listen for the Truths my story is telling me. And I hear them more clearly with each WIP. Hearing them is becoming easy.
The hard part is having the courage to speak them.
What are some of the Truths that drive your writing? Do you find yourself returning to the same themes over and over, or does each work explore something new?