Why write? I don’t mean in general or in existential terms (I write because I must), I mean the story you’re working on at the moment, your current WiP, why are you writing it?
Most people, when asked this, will deflect or try not to give a straight answer. Like writing a pitch or a synopsis, it’s seen as an awkward chore to be done only when absolutely necessary.
I think this is mainly because we all start out as readers, and when we read, the words come first, and then we find meaning. As a writer, it works the other way round. You write to communicate something you’ve already got in your head.
There’s a romantic notion among some people that if you just write, somehow the thing in your head, whatever it might be, will come out of your fingertips and infuse the page with meaning and depth.
Some people also think a professional athlete goes on the field and pulls off a stunning move based on sheer natural talent and good luck. I’m sure sometimes it happens that way. And sometimes a writer sits in front of a blank page and magic happens. Probably. Never happens to me though. You?
Assuming you aren’t blessed with preternatural abilities, you might encounter times when you doubt what you’re doing. The whole point of writing things down for some hypothetical ‘reader’ might seem ludicrous. I know I feel like that sometimes. You?
Consider doing this. Before you even start writing your story, take a moment and write down what you hope to achieve with the story. I don’t mean ‘I want to be published, sell loads and be No.1 on the NY Times bestseller list’. I’m not advocating you utilise The Secret. I’m not talking about what you want to happen TO the story, I mean what happens IN the story. What effect do you want the story to create? What emotional impact do you want it to have?
You don’t have to be specific. You don’t have to be particularly original. You certainly don’t have to show it to anyone. But just by writing it down you will create a sense of purpose to the story which you will be grateful for during that long, dark night of the soul you will encounter (and chances are you will encounter it).
I want to write a story about a woman who doesn’t want to fall in love with her sister’s husband, but she can’t help it and I want the reader to feel that... I want to write about a knight fighting a dragon seen through the eyes of the dragon, and make the reader cry when it dies... I want the spy to be so angry with the people who make him kill innocents that the reader roots for him when he turns on his own people... whatever it is, aim high and aim big.
You don’t have to have details or plot points worked out, but just having a sense of intent, in terms of how you want the reader to respond to the story, can lift you out of reader-mode and into writer-mode.
I'm planning to do a new Chapter One Analysis post soon, where I take apart the first chapter of a popular novel to see what they know that we don't (previous Chapter Ones can be found here: A Kiss Before Dying and The Notebook).
I'm looking at fantasy books this time. Possible candidates: Patrick Rothfuss' Name of the Wind, Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Dart; Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games. If any of these strike your fancy or you have another nominee, let me know.