Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Most Important Ingredient in Your Writing Recipe

Hermione Granger is my spirit animal. Just a little tidbit you may not know about me.

Like our favorite wild-haired brainiac, I’m a reformed know-it-all, hopefully a little more bearable to live with than the girl whose hand was raised so high, her fanny had lift-off from the plastic, grade school chair-desk. But I still devour information about topics that interest me. Google has especially enabled this tendency. 

Now that you know this important piece of trivia about me, let me tell you what happened after pressing send on my second manuscript. I bought a ton of craft books. I studied the industry -- both my little subsection of it and on the whole. I tried a variety of writing tactics recommended by plotters, pantsers, speed-writers, and the like. But despite abiding by my tried and true M.O., I began to flounder between book ideas. The DELETE key became my BFF.

Why were my first and second books so much easier to get on the page? After months, I finally had an epiphany this weekend.

Yes, it's important to study what's selling in the industry, to follow your agent's recommendations if you have one, and to sharpen your craft until it reaches an almost deadly fine point. But there was one important thing I'd forgotten:

You have to write what you want to read. 

I learned that you can read all the books and blogs until you've fine-tuned a rubric with the most popular and sellable aspects in your genre, but if you don't start with what makes your story one you'd like to read, 1) it likely won't be unique enough to thrive in the industry, 2) it might not have the pulse that breathes life into the muscles and bones of the plot anyway.

So. What kinds of ideas spark your stories? Inspiration from real-life? Music? Movies? Themes or scriptures? That indignant feeling when you would have ended a novel differently? 

Tell us in the comments!


Laurie Tomlinson is a wife and mom from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who is passionate about intentional living, all things color-coded, and stories of grace in the beautiful mess. Previously a full-time book publicist, she owns a freelance copywriting, editing, and PR consulting business. 

She's a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and received the Genesis Award in 2013 (Contemporary) and 2014 (Romance). 

Her work is represented by Rachel Kent of Books & Such Literary.

You can connect with Laurie here:

Twitter - @LaurieTomlinson


Julia M. Reffner said...

Great point, Laurie! As a former librarian I definitely understand the "Hermione" syndrome. Reading more fiction seems to be my catalyst for writing inspiration, I find the times when I'm not writing I'm usually not reading for pleasure much either.

kaybee said...

What sparked one of my stories was wondering how two people with a very troubled history would do if thrown together on the Oregon Trail. Another was sparked by two people in love who want very different things in life, including one of them wanting revenge on the landlord back in Ireland and putting together a small arsenal of weapons (this was the female half of the pair, by the way). Another was sparked by a minor chapter in one of my UNPUBLISHED novels and wondering what would happen to her when she got back from the Great War. If I have a character, I have a story.
Thanks Laurie,
Kathy Bailey

kaybee said...

Laurie, oops, I meant minor CHARACTER in unpublished novel. English is my third language...
Kathy Bailey

Edie Melson said...

Laurie, I loved this post. It was exactly what I needed to read today. Thank you!

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Laurie, loved this post! :) Write what I want to read. Great thought! Some of the things that have sparked my stories include a bumper sticker I read, and then questioned, what kind of person would have that bumper sticker and drive that kind of truck? And the mind raced on from there. For my current story, it was sparked by something I was struggling with and talked with Michelle Lim about. She spun an idea, that resonated with me. The story has waaaay morphed from that simple beginning, but she helped breathe life into the spark of this story.

Laurie Tomlinson said...

@Julia - That's a genius point! Reading fiction with a good voice definitely exercises that creative part of the brain.

@Kathy - Agreed! Curiosity about people and their inner workings is a great catalyst for a good story :)

@Edie - You bet! Glad it resonated with you :)

@Jeanne - Michelle Lim is THE BEST at brainstorming and getting the creative juices going on a story!

Teresa Tysinger said...

I love this post! I'm an "ideas come from everywhere" girl...music, relationships, experience at Target last Thursday, something funny my daughter said, etc. Ultimately, anything that gets my attention for any reason might end up being a perfect catalyst for writing something.

Laurie Tomlinson said...

@Teresa - Yes! I so get that. Funny you should mention it, I was at Target tonight and thought a good test for characterization would be what my characters had in their baskets in the 10 Items or Less line :) Just shows that we are writers at heart if anything can turn into a story!

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Love it, Laurie!! So true!

Mary Vee Writer said...

I am reading this post days later, but maybe there was a reason...like maybe I needed it today??? :)
Great post, Laurie. Thanks!!