Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Digging deep

At a particularly difficult point while working on Project Sparkle, my tutor asked me, "Why is this story important to you?" I stumbled over my answer. I didn't know where to begin. So many parts were connected to me, my life, who I am, what's important to me. "Good," Julia said. "That's what I wanted to know."

I was reminded of that exchange this weekend, when I finished Sara Zarr's Story of a Girl. Zarr's writing is raw and emotional. At times I found myself getting teary eyed, not even necessarily because of what was happening in the story, but because I got the main character, and found myself remembering what it's like to be a lonely teenage girl. Even though my childhood was different from hers, while reading I understood her and walked in her shoes. And cried for her.

When I returned to work on Project Demo, all these thoughts were still spinning through my head. Did Project Demo have that kind of emotional resonance? Could it? So instead of diving into my revisions, I took some time to again answer Julia's question, why is this story important to me?

I wrote about the first inspirations for Project Demo, the reasons the story scared me, unsettled me, intrigued me. I kept writing, pouring all my thoughts onto the page. And when I finished, I was ready to go back to work on Project Demo, and to dig as deeply as possible to get at some of the raw truths and characters I want to write about.

I've heard authors say that when they get stuck they return to their original inspiration. But even when we're not stuck, returning to that original inspiration can keep us true to the emotional resonance of the story we want to tell.


  1. I need to get back to my original inspiration. Or failing that, any inspiration at all... I seem to be mired in a long slump.

  2. This post is great. While writing my WIP yesterday, one of my characters made me cry. What he said really hit home because he reminded me why I was writing the story.

  3. I write my story to inspire - to show children that no matter who you are, or what travesties may befall you, everyone has the heart of a hero.

    I don't have to look far because my characters are seared into mind.

    Great post.

  4. Mary: I'm so sorry you're still struggling with the writing! Do you think it's the thing you're working on? Is it meant to be? I'm sending all sorts of positive vibes your way--hopefully they'll spark something!

    Kelly: Thanks! It's such a wonderful thing about writing that your character could say something that caught you so off guard that you cried--even though you were writing him! A great sign that you really are digging deep!

    TD: Wow, you make it sound so easy! =) It's good that you're so clear about why you're writing and you can carry that passion with you.

  5. I've been with this story for over twelve years!

    I will never ever forget what I am writing and why.

    So you may call me MR. Clarity. :D

  6. I think this is good advice...if nothing else it can relight a spark that seems to be burning out when you're feeling discouraged about writing. I always wonder if I've gone deeply enough in creating my stories--which probably means I haven't.

  7. Hi, Anne, great post. I think writing down the original inspiration for a given book project would be a big help, especially to keep one on track (or get back on track). Although I write on computer, I also have taken to keeping an actual notebook for notes and thoughts on the project, like the book's own journal. Writing down my original inspiration on the first page of the notebook, and why the story is important to me will be a big help--like following your (and the story's) true north. (Of course, you could do the same by opening a file in Scriv's research folder, in the Binder.)

  8. Mr. Clarity: =) Wow! That's a LONG time to be working on a story--no wonder you're Mr. Clarity! Hope you're near finishing!

    Andrea M: It's so hard to be objective, isn't it? I think, like Kelly, if you're getting upset / emotional at your own writing, then it's probably a sign that you've gone deep enough. Otherwise, there's probably more digging needed--for me the emotion is often there, but just below the surface, not completely explained for my reader.

    Andrea V: Thanks! I love how you call this inspiration "True North". Such a perfect description! You know, it's funny, I keep telling myself I'm going to write down my inspiration and refer back to it... but I think at the beginning I sometimes don't know exactly what's sparked the idea. And by the time I figure it out, usually I scrawl it somewhere in my notebook (I'm a paper notebooker, too) never to be found again. So I end up rewriting it for myself over and over. I don't think that's a bad thing, but perhaps a little lacking in efficiency! I have to say, the artistic side of me loves the idea of putting it in the front page of a notebook, the techie side of me loves the idea of a file in Scrivener! Both would probably do the job! Thanks for the ideas!


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