Improving your craft: how to get started

So let’s say that you want to publish a book. How can you ensure that your readers won’t want to put your book down? Well, today, we’d like to talk a little bit about stakes.

Good books raise the stakes. Whether romance, historical fiction, thriller, or even YA, every book, every character needs something they want, something they’ll do anything (or at least a lot) to get. Maybe it’s that happily ever after. Or perhaps it’s an ancient text that will save the world. Or even a home with running water and heat. Stakes are important.

But stakes are also important to the writer. If you don’t care about your manuscript, if you don’t feel a burning desire to write this story, take a step back and think before you hit that publish button.

One of our clients told me a few months ago: “I just don’t care about this story.” This particular client had struggled to finish this book, had struggled in the self-edit phase, and couldn’t figure out why. Her previous statement? That’s why. If you don’t care about your story, why should anyone else?

Now, don’t fret. If you don’t care about your story right now, that doesn’t mean the story is terrible. It doesn’t mean you should abandon the story completely. But it may mean that you should take a step back. Put the story aside for a few weeks. Work on something else. Read a few books that you enjoy. Go back to your plotting tool and replot the story. But if you don’t care, don’t try to make progress on the writing. Your readers will be able to tell.

Note: Every author, at some point in the writing or editing process feels this way. Don’t take this apathy as a sign that you shouldn’t write. You may just need to not write right now.

If you want to raise the stakes and don’t know how, ask yourself why.

Why do I write?

Back when I started publishing, my answer was very different than it is now. I wanted to write because I loved writing. I loved creating stories. Writing was an escape. Something I did to decompress at the end of a long day. Something that brought me joy.
Those are perfectly valid reasons to write. But are they valid reasons to publish? Maybe yes, maybe no. Only YOU can decide that. But, if you write only because you enjoy it, what’s to keep you writing when it someday becomes less fun? When you’re up at 3:00 a.m. because you just can’t make a chapter work and you want to cry, what will keep you going? When you realize that not only do you have to publish, but you have to market yourself as well. When you get that first bad review (everyone gets at least a few in their publishing career).

Asking yourself why you write can open up so many new possibilities. Perhaps you want to write to introduce people to diverse viewpoints. Maybe you put words down on paper because you want to bring light into the world. Or because you think your words can help people. These reasons, these sometimes difficult questions, can propel you from a passable story to one that leaps off the page.

Why this book?

If you didn’t finish your next WIP, what would happen? This isn’t meant to be a flippant question. What would happen? I’ll give you an example from my own writing. Last year, I wrote a book that dealt with emotional abuse. I’ve been in an emotionally abusive relationship, but I didn’t plan on ever writing about it. But as this book took shape, I realized that I had to keep going. I had to publish so that other women who might be in the same situation could see that there’s a way out. I wanted to detail the abuse that I didn’t recognize at the time, in the hopes that if another woman was in the same boat, she might see the abuse for what it is, and get help. That book changed my life. For the first time, my stakes went through the roof, and that translated to the page.

Check back next week when we’ll talk a bit about creating tension in a story. Happy writing.

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