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?