December 31, 2020
As a writer who is trudging out of a tough year in publishing, one of my top goals for the coming year is to rediscover that joy, to return to my roots. From the time when I was a child, I told myself stories. As a very small girl, I told stories through my toys. Later, I told myself stories to help me fall asleep or to pass dull moments in the day. I drew tiny illustrations for the stories in my head and on the edges of my worksheets in school. Story filled my idle moments because that's where I found joy.
I have come to recognize that it's worrying about publishing success and concern for people's response to my work that rob me of that joy. In her 2003 book, Take Joy, Jane Yolen talks about being a joyful writer, saying that the thing that robs many writers of joy is the pain of the publishing process. Getting published can be hard or easy, because much of it is serendipitous, a meeting of the right manuscript with the right publisher at the right time. This can happen quickly for some but tends to be a long process for most of us, especially the first time.
And as that process of searching for the right publisher stretches, it can grind down a writer's hopes and heart. But, as Jane Yolen says, "Take the joy behind the publishing's shadow. The joy in the process." When I thought about those words, I realized that it was time to rescue that story-loving child inside me from the grind of publication and let her take joy in the process again.
Go Back to Your Roots
What made you want to be a writer? For many of us, it was reading. The idea that I could create something that would end up in a book with a beautiful cover and pages of perfectly lined type, excited me. I loved books so much as a child. They allowed me to live in different worlds and accomplish exciting things for a little while, at least. They made my world bigger. And when I grew up, I wanted to do that for another child somewhere who wanted to spend time in a totally different world. Working toward that desire gave me joy.
Because having a book that will eventually be loosed on the world is an important part of my joy, I can sometimes get too caught up in overthinking what the market might be interested in seeing from me. It’s a delicate balance to hold both things, a story I love and the marketability of such a story, in my head at once. And if I must tip too far in one direction, it needs to be in the direction of love, not market. The reality is that even if a book's moment isn't right now, that doesn't mean never, but if I give too much of my energy to thinking about marketing during the writing process, I kill some of the spontaneity and the playfulness of creation. That can rob it of joy. And a book that was written as a burden is rarely read as a delight. So, think about the book you want to write, the one that delights you, and don't lose sight of it. The best book will be the one that comes from the best place in you.
Make a List
I'm a huge fan of lists, and one worthwhile list to consider is one of all the things you look for in a book that you read for entertainment. Then, do a similar list for all the things you looked for in a book when you were a child. For me, my favorite books as a child had a female main character and a mystery. I not only adored Nancy Drew, but I also read Trixie Beldon and Robin Kane. And when I wanted to laugh, I turned to Freddy the Detective. Now, Freddy wasn't a girl. In fact, he wasn't a human. But he was about the funniest pig detective imaginable. Which led me to another thing I loved in books when I was a kid and look for in books I read for entertainment as an adult: humor.
My adult list of things I love in a book include action, adventure, humor, female leads (or very strong female secondary characters) with snarky banter, and something mysterious going on. I do tend to go more for modern fantasy than pure mystery, but often the plots of fantasy novels have strong mystery themes as well. These days, many authors enjoy mashing up genre.
When I know what I love to read, I can better tell what I love to write. When it comes to nonfiction, I like to read about women in science, and about science generally. I am also fascinated with all areas of robotics. So, it's not surprising that much of the nonfiction I've written has been about science and technology topics.
What about you? What do you most love to read? And if you can't cram much reading into your day, what types of things do you seek out in television and movies? Once you know what you like to watch, ask yourself how many of those things bring you joy when you write them. If you don't presently have a work in progress, try writing a quick paragraph or two to describe a story idea for each of the things you've listed as reading or entertainment loves. For example, because of my fascination with robotics, I'm working on a fiction series proposal with robotics as a major element (along with action, and snarky dialogue).
After you have your list of possible ideas, begin thinking about each of them. Don't feel like you have to sit right down and write. Instead, imagine what sort of main character would fit into this idea. What personality would help drive the story? Where might it be set? Who would be the character's best friend? Maybe brainstorm some witty interactions. Don't worry about writing anything. Just have fun thinking about it. Try doing some image searches for actors the right age to play these characters and ponder who you'd "hire" for the job. This kind of play is low stress and fun and can fire up a real excitement over a project, or it can simply make you more excited about writing and creation, in general. And we could all use some renewed excitement right about now.
Now take time for some creative play so that you can slip into the new year with a different attitude toward your writing, one of playfulness, excitement, and joy.
Jan Fields is a former Institute of Children's Literature Instructor and a full-time, freelance author.
Would you like to have your own instructor teaching you on a one-on-one basis? Click here to let us help you write your book.