Monday, May 7, 2012

SOLS: What to Write

One month from today will be the last day of school for students. Thanks to a snowless winter, we are finishing five days earlier than scheduled.  I'm going to work part-time, but I'll also have some time to do what I've dreamed of doing for a long time- write! 

Knowing my chunk of time is limited to the summer I'm already stressing a little over how to best use that time.  What should I write?  I know that the usual advice is to write what you love to read. I read a lot of poetry. I love the brevity and deep emotional connections poetry brings.  I love personal essays because they help me relate to others, and I love poetic picture books,novels-in-verse, memoirs, and nonfiction books about writing. But, loving to read a particular genre doesn't mean I'd be good at writing it. I've read books on craft, taken writing courses, journaled, and talked with other writers, and prayed, but I'm still searching.

Over the years, I've had about two dozen poems, a few essays, a short story, and one early reader published. I just don't know where my writing strength lies.  If I had a lot of time, I'd probably start a project in each of those genres and see where they lead, but I'm not sure I can handle multiple projects. My hope is to finish at least a first draft of book length project or collection this summer.

Even with my publications, I'm not confident that I can write anything worth publishing.  That little voice that has kept me from submitting keeps whispering that maybe the editors who published my work were just being kind, or maybe they simply didn't have much to choose from so that made mine work look good.

I want my words to touch the hearts and inspire the minds of others.  I'm not interested in fame or fortune, I'm not interested in writing just to be published.  I am interested in creating something that is meaningful to me and to my readers.  I once read an interview where a writer said he can't think about how his readers will react to his writing because the pressure would keep him from getting words on the page. That thought scares me, but when I read something that touches me, makes me think in a new way, or gives me hope, I dream of writing words that will do that for someone else.  I don't know if I can do that, but I'd like to try.

So, how do I figure out where my writing strengths lie or if I have any writing strengths at all?  How have you figured out your own strengths?  I just realized that I've been working on this for the past two hours and it's past my bedtime so no revising. I still have another month of classes to teach, so I'm hoping I will find my direction by the time school ends.


  1. Yay for some writing time this summer! Boo for the pressure that sometimes creates. Linda, there is NO shortage of fabulous submissions for any publisher or anthologist, so you were never published because they didn't have any other choices. You were published because your work was in the top 1%, because your writing spoke to the editor and made him feel something that other writing did not.

    Someone in one of my crit groups said they use this question when trying to decide what to write next: If I knew I could write only ONE more manuscript, ever, what would I want that thing to be? That helps her narrow things down and figure out what's really important to her to create.

    Good luck!

  2. Laura, that's good advice. I guess I just put too much pressure on myself to choose the "right" project since my time is so limited. As I fell asleep last night, I realized that I've overanalyzed so much that I've taken the fun out of writing. I don't earn my living by writing, so that should free me to write what I love. I'm always looking for someone to tell me I'm doing the right thing, but I need to learn to trust my own heart.

  3. Don't listen to those terrible, insidious little voices in your head. They kept me from writing for 10 years! Maybe start several project for the first couple of weeks and then see which project has you the most excited every morning and work on that one for the rest of the summer...

  4. Hi Linda - just a quick note to say I struggle with the same issues. Time is not my friend! Which is one reason I love Laura's advice. I also continue to get a lot of out of this voice worksheet:

    Perhaps it will speak to you (or help you speak to yourself!). All we can really do is KEEP GOING. xo