John Truby said: “Write a screenplay that will change your life. If you don’t sell it, at least you will have changed your life.”
I feel the same way about novels and short stories. If you are not writing about some topic you care deeply about, even if it’s hidden in the subtext, then why are you bothering? Because, frankly, if you’re not invested in the theme, why should anyone else be interested?
Writing is not for wimps. To be good, it takes immense mental and spiritual focus. It’s damned hard work. So before you begin, for God sakes, have something worthwhile to say. And if all you want to do is write some saucy exotica, with no real theme or plot or multi-layered characters, just so you can call yourself a writer, please do us all a favor and don’t. Rather, challenge yourself to write something significant. Something that taps into human problems, makes a statement about what you believe, about who you are as a writer and a person.
When I wrote my first novel, Island Song, I wanted to write a beautiful love story, but if that’s all that I had invested into it, I would have never finished the first draft, let alone rewritten it four times over a period of five years. But within this love story, I wove several threads that I cared about: gay bashing, alternative families, being open to starting over, loyalty to elders, the church’s ignorant stand on gays. I could go on. I made that story a soapbox to expound upon all these topics that meant something to me. So when the going got tough, I cared enough about the material to keep slugging away. And you know what? It did change my life in several positive ways. And because they were issues that touched me, they also touched many other people in positive ways.
Same with my second novel, The Lonely War. I wanted to make a political statement about gays in the military and a slam against DADT. I did that, and in the process wove several other topics into the mix, again about family, loyalty, dignity, love. I didn’t mind spending three years writing and rewriting because it spoke a message I was totally invested in.
That is the power of writing – to convey ideals, the writer’s ideals. Like I said, it’s damned hard work, but you end up with something you can be proud of. And something that not only changes you, it changes the reader as well. Maybe in minuscule ways, maybe in ways you as the writer didn’t intend, but they will be changed.