I have a WIP that has been sitting in my writing folder for years. The word count on it is 88,551 words. Sounds like I’ve got myself a novel, right? So why have I been letting it sit, untouched and collecting cobwebs on my hard drive all this time?
Well, it’s because that novel-in-progress is 88,551 words of aimless rambles.
Typically, a WIP gets dragged out due to writer’s block—at least for me. Either I’ll run out of ideas or struggle to connect with my characters. Writer’s block can be worked through; there are plenty of tricks. If it’s the characters, you flesh them out. If it’s the plot, you draw up seven different styles of plot maps. If it’s the ideas, you get yourself on Pinterest and get inspired. But that’s not my problem with this story, guys.
My problem is I don’t know my motive.
I wrote and wrote and got so into this story—I love the characters and I grew invested in their journey easily—that the ideas just kept flowing. It was almost too easy to see where these characters would go next and think up little scenarios and scenes for them. But, almost 90,000 words in, I realized that I had no idea where I was going with this story. I was in the thick of it, having a blast, but I had zero idea how it ended. And I don’t know how it ends because I don’t know what I’m trying to accomplish.
What is the theme? What is the message, the point? What purpose do these characters, thrust into the situation I thrust them in, serve?
Sometimes, you can start a story and it’ll all come to you, and that’s great. But at some point you have to sit down with your story and have an in-depth conversation about meaning. Because at the end of the day, you want to have an audience, and you want your audience to feel gratified by your book. You want your readers to feel that they spent their valuable and limited time reading something that would benefit them in some way. You want to give your readers a worthwhile ride. Even with Bewilderments, which I had a pretty good impression of what I wanted it to stand for from the get-go, I had to spend an afternoon really dissecting its message.
Eventually, you’ll need to sell your book to strangers so you need to first sell it to yourself. Not being able to pitch your book in a clear, concise way is a dead giveaway of a lack of investment or shaky platform. For the longest time, people would ask me what my book is about and I’d stutter and ramble off something stupid about a girl with depression. Nobody could glean anything from what I described, therefore nobody had even an inkling of what to expect out of Bewilderments, which made it hard to get excited about it.
If you’re a little stuck on exactly what your story means to you and, in turn, others, try asking yourself these questions:
- How did this idea occur to me? What sparked it?
- How do I want my readers to feel while reading this story?
- What do I feel when I think of/sit down to write this story?
Investigative questions like these will help you dig the “behind the scenes” of your story so that what you put on display translates and is impactful. For seven more hard-hitting questions, mood and theme keys, and pitch templates, download my four page workbook to really get in there and find your motive!
These worksheets should get the ball rolling and, before you know it, your hands will be flying across the keyboard and you will be so fired up about your story because you will finally become one with your purpose! At least that’s the plan.
On a final note, I would advise having two pitches prepared for speaking with others about your book: a quick and to-the-point elevator pitch and a more thorough run-down of your story. In my experience, the short hook comes from the in-depth analysis, so I always try and write the longer pitch first. Guidelines for these pitches are included in the workbook!
How do you operate on your stories? Do you only begin writing if you already have a clear purpose, or do you like to let your ideas fly and find reason later?