At a conference I attended many years ago author Ellen Wittlinger spoke about a letter she’d received from a reader about how her book helped the reader through a difficult time. “If my book stops one kid from committing suicide then it was worth it,” Ellen said, as we all started to tear up. We write because we have stories to tell and we hope that those stories touch others and leave some grain of resonance. Changing one person’s life would – of course – be worth it!
But, this blog post isn’t about how to write a book that will change someone else’s life.
In our current state of publishing it seems high concept and commercial books are the ticket to success (or at least a publishing deal). We are always told to write from our heart, but sometimes love doesn’t seem to produce a paycheck. Agent Mary Kole just wrote a great blog post about the push and pull between writing a book that an author loves vs. writing a book that can sell. Of course, the bottom line (from an agent’s POV) is the book needs to sell. Yes, that makes sense. But recently I came upon the best piece of writing advice I think I’ll ever receive. It comes from a book on screenwriting called “The Anatomy of Story” by John Truby, and in it Truby says:
I’d like to modify that to: Write the book that will change your life.
Your life – you – the author!
Sure, it’s important to think about your audience as well, but first, I think we need to think about ourselves. I think we need to dig deep inside and look at what stories we want to explore because they mean something to us. After all, we are the ones who will be spending months (and possibly years) on this project. Shouldn’t our first priority be to make sure that journey is meaningful to us – as an individual, on a personal level?
After all, there is a true and real chance that our books won’t sell. It’s possible that our books will sit in drawers and never see the light of a printing press or the hands of another reader. But if we write books that change our lives – then isn’t that alone a book worth writing? And it’s worth considering that a book that can change our life is one with the power to change another life too.
So when you’re out there deciding what project to start next, battling with the market, and trying to figure out what will get you published, I suggest you sit back and listen to the writer deep down inside. Hell, listen to the human deep down inside. Write the story you’re afraid to write. Write the story you’re afraid isn’t marketable. Write the story that will change your life. That’s the most powerful story you have to tell.