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What if you write only what is meaningful to you?

Flying Letters with Man

I’m a big fan of passion. I believe that whatever we do has to be done with passion. Maybe this is why my house is currently a certified disaster zone or why I’m behind on bookkeeping—because it takes me awhile to work up my passion for these tasks.

When you do something with passion, you do it for yourself and nobody else. You have an inner fire. I can tell when an author has passion—I feel it in their writing, in their words, in their images. They capture me.

I recently read a post on Photofocus.com by photographer Scott Bourne (@scottbourne) where he asked the question of his fellow photographers: “What if you concentrated on making only meaningful photos?” Bourne explores what this concept might mean to his body of work and encourages photographers to find what is meaningful to them as artists—not what they think is meaningful to others.

He writes, “There seems to be a rush to mediocrity in so many of the things that surround us lately that we may be in danger of simply forgetting about excellence.”

As writers, we have to be knowledgeable about the market—what’s selling, what’s not, how genres have shifted or combined to make new opportunities. But we don’t want to write to the market. We don’t want to write about vampires just because that’s the new hot trend (unless that’s truly your passion).

The most successful authors make their own trends. They find what they’re absolutely passionate about, what is most meaningful to them, and write about it.

I’ve written poetry and memoir but for my first fiction book, it took me awhile to figure out what I was passionate about and where I might fit in the market. At first, I thought I might write legal thrillers because I’d worked as a paralegal for seven years and had experience in that field. I started writing about a woman attorney who discovers a secret book in a law library. I stopped after a few chapters when I realized I had no passion for the story. After all, I’d left the law field for a reason—I’d lost my passion for it.

I dreamed up several story ideas, each time nixing them when I realized I wouldn’t be able to maintain my passion for the idea throughout an entire manuscript. Frustrated, I finally sat down and wrote a list of everything I was passionate about. And it worked. I discovered a theme: weird science, quantum physics, and what others think of as impossible. That was me. Now I have a direction for my manuscript and an idea that will keep me interested and passionate over the long haul.

Make a commitment to yourself that for the next two weeks or 30 days you will only write what you are passionate about—that includes everything you write: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, even blog posts. Keep a daily log or a journal. Where does this journey take you? I’d love to hear feedback.

Exercise: Discover what you’re passionate about. Make a list of everything you’re passionate about—everything you love to do or would love to do, everything you want to learn about. Do you see a theme? Do any of these passions spark an idea for a story or poem?

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Amy Isaman #

    I never thought about my passions in terms of my plots, but it makes so much sense! Thanks for the post – definite food for thought, and I think I’ll be making lists today to see what comes up.

    September 8, 2011
  2. Peggy #

    Two points.

    One, I don’t necessarily agree that writers have to be conscious of the market BEFORE we start to write. I’ve seen a lot of interviews where writers said, “I wrote what I wanted to read,” with no concept of how the work would be received, or even expecting it to be rejected, and then gone on to be household names. I’m not saying we should NEVER be aware of the market, just that I’m not so sure the before-and-after chain is as clear-cut as many people would like it to be.

    Two, one other method to see what you’re passionate about is to look through prior work for the bits that sing to you and see what they have in common. For me, it’s a certain theme (used very broadly, in a sense of “a situation or thing to explore,” rather than in a sense of a “message” I want to share with others) that’s constant, and a chosen setting. Those are the elements that MUST go into a “me” story; others will vary between stories.

    September 14, 2011

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