How to Define Your Why
You spend countless hours slaving away, agonizing over people who don’t exist (especially as a fiction author), hoping you caught all the typos, had the perfect hair day for your author photo, and spent even more hours trying to not fall into a depressive state because you can’t find the right synonym for ‘said’.
And that’s before you publish. It gets worse after that.
Sound horrible? Well, it is if you haven’t defined your ‘why’ and set reasonable expectations for yourself before starting. Many authors got an itch for a story and jumped in with both feet and went Full-YOLO, which ended in burnout, confusing stories, and an overall jumbled mess. To avoid this, we need to slow back, take a breath, and ask ourselves three important questions.
1. Why do you want to write this book?
2. Do you want to publish it or is it for yourself?
3. Are you doing this to practice and hone your craft?
How you answer this will help you determine your outcome and help you set goals, which we’ll talk more about in Lesson 3 | Setting Writing Goals.
Why do you want to write this book?
Believe it or not, a lot of newer authors don’t ask this question enough. Maybe because it seems pretty obvious; you want to publish it. The problem with that mindset is it sets you up for failure and for burnout in the long run, and then creates half a dozen side projects to avoid writing this one.
Do I need a ‘why?’
Your ‘why’ is what keeps you going when you run out of gas and feel too frustrated to continue. It’s an anchor to cling to when your world gets crazy (and it will) and helps to recenter yourself on why you began it in the first place. It’s a time capsule. A treasured memory.
But I don’t know what to write, just that I want to!
That’s fair! So instead of your ‘why’ revolving around a book, make it about the types of stories you want to tell, or perhaps who you want to write stories for. What do you want to be known for?
Here’s an example of this:
I want to write for those who feel unseen, and share stories that explore hard topics in my genre. — S. D. Howard
That is his ‘why’ for telling stories. It’s about the people he’s writing for, and when he forgets that, he can come back to it and remind himself, “Ah, that’s right. This is what is important.”
Trust us when we say that money will not be enough of a ‘why’ to keep you going.
Also note, your ‘why’ might change. Stephen’s ‘why’ changed several times through publishing his first book, The City of Snow & Stars, until he finally found what he wrote above. That was the core of why he writes stories.
Do you want to publish it or is it for yourself?
Now, you could want to write simply for the joy of writing without the expectations of publishing or doing anything with your story. This is 100% okay to do. There is something beautiful about writing something just for yourself that should not be discounted.
But if you wanted to write this story with the thought of publishing, that has a distinct set of expectations you’ll need to keep in mind as you write. What genre will your story be in? What is the audience you want to aim for? What are the reader’s expectations for that genre/audience? These are things you will need to have a general knowledge of in order to begin really building a book that will hit those points.
That doesn’t mean, however, that you spend countless hours trying to figure out every little thing. It just means you need to have the basics.
Are you doing this to practice and hone your craft?
Let’s imagine for a moment that you fall into ‘Wanting to publish’ and ‘Writing for myself’ at the same time. You might think that poses a problem for you, but we’re happy to tell you, it’s not. That’s because you can do several things to practice your writing craft, test out ideas you want to use in full novels, and feel out your audience a bit. How do you do this?
We know, we know, but before you throw everything out, just hear us out on this. Fanfiction comes with some big advantages, such as:
- A built-in fanbase, which means you can easily find readers
- Established worlds, so world-building is less intimidating
- Characters people love
Depending on the type of story you’re thinking of publishing, you’ll want to pick a fandom that matches closely with the genre so that way there is a better crossover between ideas. For instance, when Stephen was practicing his story concepts for The City of Snow & Stars, he used Lord of the Rings because his world is very similar. That being said, the concepts of abuse, human trafficking, and ‘Why does God let bad things happen?’ could have been used in any genre.
Whether you go the Fanfiction route or just want to share some stories and gain some readers, Wattpad could be a great place to start. There have been several books from Wattpad that ended up landing publishing deals or deals with Netflix for a show, so it is possible to gain some good exposure there.
This is still pretty new, but the concept is not. Basically, you post stories in “episodes” and readers get the first couple for free, and after that, they pay for tokens in order to continue reading. If your story is interesting, you could start making a little cash off it. Some authors have started off here and then gone on to publish the full book once they completed the story, but there is a lot more to the backend of how that works that we won’t get into here.
As with anything, you should take a day or two to really look into each option before deciding on which one you would like to try. Each one has a different audience, set of expectations, etc. that you will need to become familiar with.
Hopefully, you have the seedling idea of your ‘why’ starting to grow in your mind. It’s an important step every author gets to at some point, whether right at the start or later on once they’ve hit the wall and have to start over. Knowing your ‘why’ is a powerful motivation to keep you going when you run out of gas.
If you want to download the free worksheet that has a couple of exercises in it, click here.