Sunday, November 29, 2009

Where to swim next?

How do you figure out what you want to work on after finishing a project?

Not what you think the market will welcome. Not what will earn the most money. Not what other people might want you to write.

What do you need to write, to explore, deep in your heart? What will give you the most joy, the most satisfaction? What will you enjoy working on the most?

Some might say it doesn’t matter–that you can write about anything and enjoy it. But I’m not so sure. I think the subject has to match the inner need of a writer, the desire of a writer to find out something unique to him or her.

This desire is, ultimately, what carries a writer through the doldrums and fear of failure and anxiety about taking risks. It’s what motivates a writer to return to the page day after day, even when he doesn’t know what he’ll write that day.

Maybe this desire is simply the need to hear your own voice. That voice has to be compelling enough to draw you back to the page, and its compelling nature comes directly from the passion with which you pursue a subject. When you’re passionate about something, you can hear that intensity in your voice. It’s as if you create a high-energy spark on the page when you set off in search of something that you need to know ... but don’t yet know.

There’s hope and pleasure in the search itself and joy in the journey. Without that spark of pleasure or that desire to know, your voice remains flat, and the flatness undermines the reader’s (and your own) ability to believe in the voice as authoritative, as true.

When you begin a project, you can’t know whether it will bring these qualities out of you. You have to take the risk ... and monitor your feelings toward a project once it gets underway. You have to recognize when your interest flags, when your desire slackens, when your attention is drawn elsewhere and you begin wondering what it might be like to explore a subject over there rather than the subject in front of you.

These are signs that it may be time to move on to another subject or re-examine what drew you to the subject in the first place. Is the original curiosity or passion still there, still inside you? Is it still strong enough to motivate you to pursue the project?

Part of the mystery of the writing process is how we come to the subjects that draw the words out of us.

It takes patience and skill in writing and in listening--and courage to move in a direction that may make you uncomfortable--to explore what you don’t yet know... in order to find out what you need to know.

For more on following one’s passion, visit:


Kelly Fineman said...

Brilliant post. I always write what I most want to write, and it keeps me humming along. With new projects, I always allow myself the option of exploring it and walking away. Sometimes I find that the idea doesn't sustain my enthusiasm and energy - and other times, a project can become all-consuming. (Usually, they're in the middle, with a bit of a tilt toward consuming.)

Of course, this means that I've written several easy reader mss, several picture book mss, a chapter book, and a lot of poetry - makes it hard to find an agent, but c'est la vie!

Paperface said...

Hmm, interesting post. I never thought about this. The writing is almost involuntary. The story writes itself from somewhere my mind can't reach. I just sit and listen, and my hands obey.