Here’s Writing Rule #11, and it’s an important one to keep in mind.
Admittedly, all the writing rules are important to keep in mind. If they weren’t significant to the writing process, they probably wouldn’t be Writing Rules to begin with. Or so I’d imagine.
With that said, learning this one really can make or break your ability to complete your first draft, publish your final draft and get a positive reader response after that. So yeah, it’s kind of a big deal.
Writing Rule #11 states that:
A story starts and ends with a premise. It’s the motivational force behind not only the narrative but also the writer.
That’s why it is utterly imperative to choose one that matters to you. The more you care about a premise, the more likely you’ll be to finish the larger story and your readers will be to care about your larger work.
That means you should be writing what you want to write (within reason), not what other people expect you to write.
For some people, Writing Rule #11 is really easy advice to accept. If anything, it’s not advice at all. It’s simply how they conduct their creative choices. Naturally free spirits, their first drafts flow from some wellspring of their own imagination as an overall effortless process they contemplate about as much as they dwell on breathing.
For others, it’s something of a struggle. They might be part of the larping, con-attending scene, for example, yet want to write historical fiction. Or they might really want to write young adult fantasy despite how their parents are serious academics.
In either situation, there can be intense actual or perceived pressure to conform to a certain way of writing. In the first example, that crowd can be VERY snotty. I don’t typically approve of using capital letters for emphasis, but in this case, it’s valid. Because so many stereotypical “nerds” or “geeks” have grown up being picked on or left out, they tend to try to compensate by looking down their nose at anyone who doesn’t automatically understand them.
For the record, that would include standard historical fiction writers and readers.
As for feeling like Mom and Dad are pressuring you to write for academic journals when all you really want to do is encourage teens to love reading fiction the way you do? Well, that can make for a conflicted writing journey as well.
But then there’s a third category of writer to consider: the kind that thinks he’s writing what he wants to despite how he totally isn’t. To demonstrate this, I give you the stereotypical English major.
Let’s call him Reginald. (His actual name is Tim, but he really wishes his parents had named him something more writer-esque.)
Reginald regularly comes up with dark, dreary premises that turn into dark, dreary plots with dark, dreary characters that he may or may not abandon before they’ve reached their dark and dreary ever-afters.
Reginald writes like this because he’s been brainwashed at some point during his educational existence, quite possibly in college when he was forced to take Modern British Literature or some such equally dark and dreary class filled with dark and dreary writers like Thomas Hardy and Joseph Conrad.
Whatever influential class it was, poor impressionable little Reginald listened wide-eyed and a little too open-minded while the teacher or tutor, professor or mentor involved waxed dark and dreary poetic about how influential such depressing levels of creative taxation can be. And so now, all Reginald can do is hope to one day write the next great piece of literature that will brainwash future generations of hapless English majors to come.
But that’s not who Reginald really is. Reginald is supposed to be Tim, who’s writing moving Christian fiction or heart-pounding thrillers or whodunits with never-saw-it-coming twists – something that would actually inspire him enough to finish a full-length manuscript someday.
I truly despise pulling the whole “be true to yourself” cliché, because it’s so overused and over-cited these days, oftentimes excusing the most ridiculously immature choices. But in this case, there really is some validity in pointing it out.
When you try to ignore the stories you actually want to create in favor of the stories you think others expect of you, it ends up showing somehow or someway, whether in your ultimate motivation to write or how that writing comes out.
And if that’s going to be the case, really, why bother writing at all?