I remember the first time I heard those words directed at me. I stood at the podium after class, waiting in line to ask one of my favorite college English professors how I could improve my less than stellar paper.
I bit my lip and crossed my arms, swaying back and forth anxiously as he read my thesis. He wrote, “SO WHAT?” in big red letters next to my carefully wrought sentence. My heart sank deep into the pit of my stomach where all bad little creatures dwell—the dark hole that life fills up with every negative thought, action, or word.
My cheeks reddened, as he looked at me, emotionless.
“I don’t understand,” I managed to say, fighting back the disappointment I had in myself, the over-achiever, the people pleaser. I had always been the girl who sat in the first row, the one who read every assignment and had prepared my questions and comments before class. I wanted not just to impress my professors, but to genuinely learn more about my favorite subject and more about myself. I wanted to be the best me I could be. I still want that.
“Your thesis statement tells me what you’re going to talk about, but it doesn’t tell me why it’s important,” he said flatly like he had said it every day of his life (and probably had).
For the rest of the day, I pondered on the question. Why was what I had to say important? How would it affect readers, and why would they care?
That one question changed my whole writing life. Every word we type should have purpose and meaning that is far more than just story or entertainment. You've been given something amazing—the power to wield words and bend them to a purpose. That’s divine. In the beginning was the Word, after all.
Nothing speaks life or death into people more than words. They are powerful, and they can change everything.
Even in fiction.
Another professor told us, “Never write something that you don’t intend to keep forever. If it’s not impactful and something that makes you proud, then it’s not worth writing.” That was another statement that changed my academic career. I have every paper I’ve ever written. I gave each of them my all. Were they all stellar? No. Not even close, especially knowing what I do now. But were they all important? Yes. Every topic I chose from then on meant something to me, and I hoped it would mean something to whoever read them. I remember the first time I wrote, “So what?” on a paper a year or so after I graduated. I was helping a friend proof her graduate paper, which was fantastic but didn’t address that pivotal question. I struggled to type the words, remembering what a kick to my heart hearing them was for me. But I did it anyway, to love and help her more.
I’ve since asked that question boldly numerous times from friends to clients, and always, always to myself.
Our writing should mean something. Before you even type the words, it’s best to tackle that question head on.
The benefits of knowing so what:
1.) You’ll write with purpose, which will enrich your writing experience. 2.) You’ll know exactly who your market is. 3.) It’ll be easy to stay focused while writing.
Literature students aren’t the only ones who write about the “so what.” Agents do too. When an agent submits a proposal, they cover a variety of topics advocating your book. Perhaps the most important one they answer is why this book needs to be on the shelf. How does it add to the conversation of other books written on the topic? In essence, why this book?
As an indie author, it’s even more critical that I understand these foundational elements of my books because no one else is there to do it for me. I’m a one-woman team when it comes to their creation and their marketing. I need to know what need each book is trying to fulfill in my audience.
For example, my novel FABLED was written because I wanted an escape. I’ve always sensed that magic was present in real life—not the witchy type of magic most think about—but the kind that comes from a life full of adventure and experiences. That’s why I wrote about an average girl who finds herself in a world she only knew existed in books. I wrote that book for people like me—Modern Romantics as I sometimes call us. We want to believe something extraordinary is lurking around the corner, and for better or worse, we’re going to find out what it is.
RED RIBBONS was created to explore the strength and supernatural ability the love of family gives us. When we’re surrounded by people who build us up, who nourish and love us even at our worst, we can fearlessly stand against adversity. No evil can win when one has love, forgiveness, and a familial bond.
OF LOVE & LEGEND is a reminder that chivalry isn’t dead, but it’s hard to maintain. In legend, Arthur is often referred to as a Christ-like figure, but it is clear through story he wasn't perfect. He’s noble and good, but even he is flawed. Lovable, admirable, kind, but flawed. When the parallel is made between the modern man of today and King Arthur, it’s not difficult to see how work and duty often distract from love and marriage. Their legend is a warning to us all. Relationships take work, and sacrifices—sometimes devastating ones—will be made.
In my upcoming book, THE BUCCANEER BELLE, sisterly love covers a multitude of sins. The commitment to our loved ones will cause us to stop at nothing to save them.
The themes of these books can be boiled down to two essential cultural problems—busy lives and the need for escapism and broken families. The stats:
Last year, CNN reported that Americans spend 10 hours a day looking at a screen to include video games, television, tablet usage, computers, and cell phones. We are looking for an escape. Why? Because we’re surrounded by negativity—broken families, rising debts, troubled relationships, and longer hours of stressful work. Hence why we “Modern Romantics” escape into other worlds to find solace and the adventure and hope we seek. (FABLED)
According to the CDC, there has been an average of 800,000-850,000 divorces every year in the US in the past decade. Families are broken, which means there’s a need for hope in books and entertainment that show a strong family structure even if there’s a significant loss. (RED RIBBONS, OF LOVE & LEGEND, and THE BUCCANEER BELLE)
As writers, our goal is not only to understand the needs and motivations of our characters; we must also seek to do the same for our audience. Our readers’ experiences are directly attributed to how well we give them what they want and need.
Writing is an immortal reflection of the times we live in. We best serve [L]iterature, if we write with the realization that our words will some day be the literary history of an era. Are our books reflecting our culture’s problems, needs, wants, and collective character?
Though I've made the switch from traditional publishing to indie publishing, it hasn't been that long ago that I struggled with receiving rejection letters. And being an independent author comes with its own difficulties. No matter what path you take in your writing career, there will always be bad days looming in the future. I hope these steps will help you survive your next bad day.
This is a tough topic, but one I feel strongly about. I recently attended a wonderful well-known Christian conference. I loved everything about it. The people were warm and friendly. There were lots of hugs and words of encouragement, and everyone wanted to help each other succeed. It was a breath of fresh air, for me.
But I dreaded something about every conversation. That inevitable question that makes believers who write for a secular market cringe: "So what do you write?"
When I say, "fantasy" I get that questioning look, AND when I throw in the words "for a secular market" it's like I've committed a sin right in front of their very eyes. Given, my interpretation may be totally off, but that's what it felt like. I felt like I didn't belong. Like I was too worldly for these amazing people, whom I really connected with and understood and who actually, without them really knowing it, understood me. My soul.
It's been a few months since I left that conference, but I haven't been able to stop thinking about that feeling. I'm convinced that there are many other writers like me who have been confronted with this:
If God gives you a gift, you should use it for His purpose.
kI've done a lot of soul searching on this idea, and though this may not align with everyone's beliefs, it has kept me writing and growing closer to the Creator who inspires everything.
Let me tell you a secret: YOU ARE USING YOUR GIFT FOR HIS PURPOSE.
Our work may not overtly mention faith or God, but it does have His truth intermingled in the way our characters interact and the moral throughout. I dare say some good vs. evil is probably in there too, and maybe you even use magic as a catalyst! Uh-oh. It's okay. You shouldn't feel guilty about how God has inspired your writing. He is the creator of entertainment, even yours! He loves His children to explore their imaginations, and for a brief time, catch a glimmer of what it's like to be Him--the ultimate creative.
Secular Christian writers, allow me to speak to your soul for a minute. The same soul that has been tossed to and fro because of the hurtful words of others or the pressure to write only faith-based works when your heart pulls you to other endeavors. You're joining the greats, like J.R.R. Tolkien. You are expressing yourself through art. That's what artists do. If there's an element of Truth and Hope there, you have succeeded in using your gift for His purpose. You are going to the highways and hedges to reach the unchurched. Is that not what the Great Commission is all about?
There will always be well-meaning people who will question why you write what you write, but give them grace. They don't understand your purpose like you do.
In the beginning was the word... God uses words, and He'll use yours. Be encouraged, my friends. So long as you're drawing closer to Him and relying on His inspirations, you are fulfilling His will in your life.
Today Facebook reminded me where I was on this exact day three years ago. I was in Savannah, GA. I've been to Savannah many, many times. It's my home away from home, and if you know me, you'll likely recall me telling you that it's my "soulmate in a place." Because it is. It truly, truly is.
I resent that reminder, though. I was working away, thinking nothing of long vacations. A memory of my husband asking me, while we sat on a park bench, to close my eyes, "What do you see?"
Characters walking cobbled streets many years ago. A party. A fire. A tragedy.
And I wrote.
I want to be there again. Not working away on my computer or busying myself with house work. I want to be in the place that inspires me to meet strangers, both real and unreal. I want to search the city for stories and let dark corridors whisper to me their secrets.
I want to take more tours and walk at night, allowing the southern breeze to pierce my soul. I want the early morning's fog to creep into my life, filling every corner with history and mystery.
I want Savannah.
Last time I was there, I wrote this:
The city of the dead lies silently beneath, like an unsung song underneath our feet like a painting void of color or an undeveloped photograph-- never fully seen-- like an instrument without a string, an undocumented life screams.
I want to document all the characters that fill Savannah's streets. It's time for another vacation.
There once was a seed planted deep in the depths of my young mind by a wrinkly one whom I loved. She whispered and nurtured it throughout her days until she fell asleep and could no longer. At first, I thought it dead, but bit by bit it recovered from its dormant phase and sprouted ever so tiny tendrils of thoughts that stretched and wove from there to the paper.
Years flew by like a quick wind, sorely felt and never seen.
Then... Once upon a pair of eyes found that tiny tidbit and coddled it. Those eyes saw something I didn't realize I put there and watered the seed a little more. The more water it received, the more it stirred and created until hundreds of tiny somethings flittered across my desk. With every kind eye, the seed mulled itself into a thousand bitty dandelion fluffs that then scattered themselves across every cranny of my inner being until it finally burst forth like its own being, leaving me surrendering and at its mercy.
I always thought childhood was the time for magic. It turns out magic matures as it's nurtured with age.
I'm sitting here on my front porch listening to the birds sing, letting the spring breeze blow away my to-do list for a few minutes. Sometimes we need to escape from the ding on the washer, the piles of dishes in the sink, and the pups who need bathing, feeding, or both.
There are times when I crave nature and quiet. Even in my busy historic neighborhood, there's solace to be found on my swing, a place I can go to meet my thoughts and have tea with the one who created me.
These stolen moments are blessings. Just like these wild flowers I picked on my walk this morning. Even though the world is filled with chaos, there's still beauty everywhere I look.
Your enchanted challenge for the day is to steal a moment with your thoughts. Jot a few down, and if you find yourself wanting to share, I'm all ears.
She's tiny with tight blonde curls that hug her pink, round cheeks, and she's petite, wearing a flowing white summer dress. Peach lipped, curt at times, with moods that change faster than Southern weather. She bounces between admiration and cursing. She's fiery like a dragon one minute and prim as a mint julep the next. I don't know what to make of her. I'm almost scared to be in her presence. I don't talk much for fear that she'll use something I say against me. What if she decides not to come back? How will I finish the next scene?
There she is, flitting through the room, her teeny wings beating so fast they're invisible.
I turn away and keep my eyes directed to the computer screen, trying desperately to never make eye contact.
She's silent, probably still brewing from our last encounter when I demanded too much, or so she said. I only wanted a few hundred more words. Was that too much to ask from the ONE who's supposed to give them?
My fingers hover over the keyboard, anticipating her words before they ever touch the air.
"Any day now," I sass, without thought and instantly regret it. I glance up, half expecting her to not be there and having left again before giving me anything. But she's sitting on my desk, her porcelain legs swinging daintily off the edge.
I hate when she's like this.
She lets out a long sigh and glances at me from the corner of her eye.
"What's in it for me?" she finally says, breaking the silence and my patience.
"This is your job. I'm starting to wonder what's in it for me!" I push the keyboard away and fold my arms across my chest. This is war. She knows it; I know it.
"Don't squish your face like that. You're getting hideous wrinkles," she says in a condescending, motherly tone.
I feel the anger rise and flush my cheeks. I imagine her spontaneously combusting. POOF.
"We don't have time for this, Poppy. I need to work. Now where were we? Maggie makes her way to the store where the shopkeeper tells her an intriguing bit of information that's pivotal to the plot..." I prompt, deciding to push away my frustration in hopes of salvaging the day.
"Tisk. Tisk. Tisk." A wicked smile stretches across her doll face. "I think, I'm tired. I'll be back later...sometime." She stands up, smooths the wrinkles from her dress, and prepares to fly off.
"Like when? Midnight? When I'm driving down the street? O, how about when I'm sleeping at 3am? No, no, no. You're not going anywhere, missy." Overwhelmed with animosity, I grab her tiny body in my fist.
"What are you doing?" she demands.
I'd never touched her before. I've always found her intimidating and domineering, but now, with her teeny body in my hand, I feel strong. I squeeze a little and feel her squirm in my fingers.
"Ow! You're hurting me!"
Now I am the one wickedly smiling. Something like rage creeps its way into my heart and wraps its evil intentions around the arteries, pumping it through my veins and into my mind.
"I don't need you," I tell her, finally realizing the truth that'd been there all along.
"Yes, you do. You can't write without me! You don't know what happens next!" Her pretty face turns desperate.
"Actually, I think I do." Scenes flash before me like a movie reel. My characters act out the elusive plot. I squeeze tighter. "I think we're done, Poppy."
"We're not! You can't!" she pleads.
I close my eyes and squeeze until I feel her go limp, and then squeeze even more until I feel nothing. I open my palm to see that it's empty. No trace of the the being who had taunted my life for all these years.
I focus on the scenes again. Maggie and the shopkeeper, the action, the dialogue. Without intention, my fingers dance across the keyboard forming words, sentences, paragraphs, PAGES without her!
When I think of Poppy now, I still find myself smiling. I'd believed a lie. I never needed to wait on her to give me the story. It was in me all along. All I needed to do was sit and type.