Every November, thousands of writers participate in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, during which they aim to complete a 50,000-word first draft of a novel in 30 days. With this year’s NaNoWriMo quickly approaching, we wanted to share an excerpt from Story Sparks: Finding Your Best Story Ideas and Turning Them into Compelling Fiction by author Denise Jaden as inspiration for those who are participating. Practical and inspiring, Jaden’s approach celebrates the imaginative sparks that make innovations of all kinds possible while pinpointing the precise tools writers need to fan their unique creative flames.
We hope you’ll enjoy this excerpt, in which Jaden shares how to cultivate your writing passion. And if you want to take the inspiration further, Jaden is offering a “Daily Inspirations” email for writers fast-drafting a novel during NaNoWriMo this November. Sign up here.
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What do you love, connect to, or want to read when it comes to fiction? I’d like you to delve into the heart of who you are and what you connect to most.
We’ve all heard the advice to “be yourself.” But how well do you know yourself, and when it comes to creating other characters, what does that mean? We’re also told to “follow your passion,” but what if you don’t know what, exactly, you’re passionate about? I believe that everyone’s true self has great stories that are full of life and just waiting to be told, but we have to seek and explore our true self to find those stories. We need passion to deliver us to the end of the process — where we find resonance and kinetic energy — but how on earth do you find it?
First, get rid of all the shoulds in your writing. What is your level of desire to write a new story or to finish the stories you are currently working on? Do you feel any sense of obligation about writing these stories? In her motivational book Get It Done, Sam Bennett suggests writing a “Could Do List.” For instance, if you had unlimited time and resources, what might or could you do? Make this list, while understanding that you are under absolutely no obligation to follow through with any of these ideas. This is not a to-do list. It is a dream list that reveals what’s inside you.
In your journal, answer the following questions: When do you feel most alive? When are you most in love? Most enraged? What motivates you? What wrecks you emotionally? What angers you most? Harness these feelings and memories to find new ideas, and use them to sift through your ideas once you have an overflowing abundance.
What is dangerous about your writing process? Do you anticipate and plan for readers of your work? Do you add plot obstacles or situations to your writing that feel risky, that feel like they may take your story in the wrong direction, or that feel beyond your ability as a writer to pull off? If you answer “nothing about my writing is dangerous,” this may be a problem. If your writing feels humdrum, it may be because you don’t have anyone waiting to read your stories, or your writing doesn’t tackle high stakes. If you don’t feel much while writing your stories, your readers may not feel a whole lot either.
What is your personality type? Are you an all-in kind of person or a hold-back type? Do you tend to look up to other personality types or automatically discredit them? What about yourself do you hold in highest regard? What about yourself do you wish you could change?
What are your most prized values? If you haven’t, try writing a character with opposing values in a sympathetic way. Are you a dog lover? Write about a character who dislikes or is afraid of dogs. Are you always punctual? Try writing sympathetically about someone who is always running late. If your writing lacks vibrancy, try writing characters who conflict with you, and dig deep to discover their motivations. For your readers to feel deep emotions, you must write with deep emotion and passion.
As you discover new things about yourself and what inspires your passions, insert those ideas and motivations into your stories. At the end of the day, you want your stories to make readers feel as inspired as you felt when you first thought of them. Do your stories make you feel passionate? Do they inspire, invigorate, teach, and enlighten you? Have they helped you solve a problem? If you want them to do the same for your readers, they must.
The goal of knowing and recognizing the things that make you feel deeply is to inspire your writing, so I ask you this: Which ideas propel you to write?
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Denise Jaden, author of Story Sparks and Fast Fiction, fast-drafted her debut YA novel, Losing Faith, in twenty-one days during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Her second fast-drafted novel was published in 2012, and she runs a fast-drafting challenge on her blog each March. She lives outside Vancouver, BC, Canada. Connect with her online at www.denisejaden.com.
Excerpted from Story Sparks. Copyright © 2017 by Denise Jaden.