Sunday, October 2, 2016

Writing Your "Why"

Next week I will facilitate a workshop at Rivers of Ink, a regional writing conference. I gave the workshop the somewhat awkward title "Writing Your Why" - with an only slightly more explanatory subtitle, "Purposeful Connections with Readers."

What the heck is it about, really? Well, I find myself exploring the rich territory of the creative process, as I work as an educator teaching about leadership in organizations. Among the most important leadership principles I teach is this one:

People need to know why you ask them to follow, especially through change, conflict, or struggle. 

As human beings we seek purpose. Not always in the grand sense - sometimes a purpose can be to entertain, escape, enjoy. But we connect with others most easily when we understand the purpose, the why.

And, I grow more convinced that we connect with our own creativity most deeply when we resonate with purpose. So, I'll ask workshop participants - writers of various levels of experience - to ask themselves: Why do you write what you write, the way you write it? What questions wake you at night, curiosity on fire? What stories burn inside with the need to be told?

Exploring these questions (I don't think the answers are static) can help guide our craft: "I need to tell stories about healing from grief, to understand the ways it shapes our human experience." That body of work is likely to find a different form than one driven by this purpose: "I long to help people escape their stress by giving them other worlds to visit."

And, framing our purpose helps us connect with potential readers. "I tell stories about the power of grief and healing to shape our lives." Or, "I tell stories about other worlds, full of enchanting creatures, that will lure you out of your day-to-day life." Readers who share your passion will be drawn to your work.

They will follow you through your stories, because they connect with your purpose.

At least, that's what we'll talk about next week. Talking about writing with other writers, that might be my real purpose for giving the workshop...

Elizabeth Fountain writes stories because she needs to explore whether humans can ever really, truly, find where they belong. You can read more of her work at her website and blog.