Who are you? And why is that important?

This one question resonated with me. It lodged into my brain and my heart and keeps repeating over and over again. I look at my story that is polished, ready to go. I look at the work I’m currently revising. And I look at the idea bubbling in the back of my mind, ready to burst forth onto the page.

Why do I write the stories I write? Why do I focus on certain themes? Why do I love the books I do?

I know the answer. I think. Just like if you asked yourself that question and looked at your work, you’d probably find the answer too.

I heard this question in a workshop on Finding Your Marketing Voice at NESCBWI. The speaker was referring to the question in terms of marketing and social media. But that’s not what the question meant to me. Instead of marketing voice, I started thinking in terms of story voice.

Not voice as we usually think of voice as writers. I mean the subtle heartbeat behind our ideas and our themes that can’t help but be present in our writing, creep into our character arcs, and find a way into our plots.

Do you see a consistent theme in your stories? Do you see any kind of vague reflection of yourself in your writing? And how do you think as writers we can or should capitalize on that in which ideas we choose to pursue or our marketing/branding?

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44 Responses to Who are you? And why is that important?

  1. anne gallagher May 18, 2011 at 10:32 am #

    I know who I am and why I write what I write. Took me a while to figure it out but it’s there. And I always put a piece of me in the characters. Have to. I am the only person I know best who traverses with the emotions I need to get into the heads of my characters.

  2. Louise May 18, 2011 at 10:59 am #

    What a great question to ponder. I do find that themes of justice and grace, intertwined, usually creep into all my stories, even the light-hearted ones. Obviously, then, these themes are important to my life. Would I have realized just how important if I hadn’t seen them always crop up in my stories? Probably not – or at least, not as clearly.

    • Laura May 18, 2011 at 11:07 am #

      I think it can happen without us knowing it. But I think when we realize it and take advantage of it – it can become part of our brand. How that translates over to social media I have no clue!

  3. Creepy Query Girl May 18, 2011 at 11:21 am #

    I have a really hard time identifying my ‘brand’ or a common theme. Mostly because each one of my books is a differnt genre- but all written for YA. My first is a historical paranormal. The second a contemporary romance. Third -an urban fantasy. And now I’m writing a funny contemp romance. My voice changes from book to book right along with everything else and each story is radically different from the last. Maybe its because Im one of those people who writes what they are in the mood to read- I don’t read just one genre so that might be why I have troulbe writing just one.

  4. Heather Sunseri May 18, 2011 at 11:46 am #

    This is a really powerful question, and one I think about often, because in many ways I want my writing to reflect who I am. On the other hand, there are some things in my writing that a very exaggerated version of myself might question. For example, I might develp a character that would make choices I wouldn’t make in a million years, yet the character might evenutally find his/her way to being a person who makes choices I would make. Does that make sense?

    • Laura May 18, 2011 at 11:56 am #

      I also like to ask what kind of writer I want to be. Instead of chasing down an idea I want to know if I’d want the finished product to be my debut. And do I want to keep writing that kind of book.

  5. Angela Felsted May 18, 2011 at 12:10 pm #

    I definitely see certain themes in what I write about. The topics I pick all tend to be edgy without the darkness so often associated with edginess.

    One of my favorite writers is Laurie Halse Anderson, and I think that’s because she writes everything I wish I could write.

  6. Stina Lindenblatt May 18, 2011 at 12:11 pm #

    I’ve noticed three things about the books I write:

    1. Sports/physical activity are involved in some aspect of the story (must be my kinesiology and MSc in exercise science background coming in here).

    2. There’s romance and steamy make out scenes.

    3. There’s danger.

    Those three things seem to make up my writing. Only I didn’t realize that until recently. I guess that’s my brand. 😀

    • Laura May 18, 2011 at 12:47 pm #

      I think it’s great to know what you like and that stories are similar like that Stina. And Angela – I love Laurie Halse Anderson too even if she doesn’t write what I’d like to write. I love her MG historical fiction too.

  7. Jessica R. Patch May 18, 2011 at 12:58 pm #

    A great thought provoking question, Laura. I think I know who I am. Each story has a different theme, but every one of them has a running thread–overflowing hope. I believe there is always hope for every situation, no matter how sticky it gets and I want readers to see that.

  8. shelley moore thomas May 18, 2011 at 1:25 pm #

    “The subtle heartbeat behind our stories…”

    That is just lovely.

    And all of my stories reveal a part of myself. But that part is somehow mixed up with stuff I’ve never thought about before in my life until it appears on the page. Maybe it’s the perfect camouflage to hide my own vulnerability.

    Such an interesting topic.


  9. Jessica Bell May 18, 2011 at 1:59 pm #

    I guess a common theme that constanly appears in my writing is the desire to be accepted for who you are despite differences or idiosyncracities.

    I’m not sure how that would be used as branding until people begin to know my writing and can recognize the style. I dunno. What do you think?

  10. Laura Josephsen May 18, 2011 at 2:18 pm #

    Oh, yes. Over the years of writing, I’ve noticed I always have certain themes in my stories. The situations are always different, and the lessons that the characters learn are different and unique to who they are and what they’re going through, but there are some definite themes that run through all of my stories somewhere.

  11. Lisa Green May 18, 2011 at 2:49 pm #

    At first glance I would be scared to answer that question. Because my stories do have a dark side. Sometimes a VERY dark side. But I always balance that with humor. To me that’s important. Neither of those are themes though. If I did deep, I find that my theme usually has something to do with choice. Making tough choices or the best choices you can when none of the answers feel good. Don’t know about marketing, but it is important and enlightening information to know!

  12. Patti Nielson May 18, 2011 at 2:55 pm #

    That’s an interesting question. I like to think that I enjoy reading and writing different kinds of stories, but I know I gravitate more towards certain themes and voice.

    • Laura May 18, 2011 at 3:07 pm #

      That’s the problem. I’m not sure how I’d ever use that information in branding, except to be myself. I think the heart behind the writer comes through in social media – if we are being true to ourselves and our writing. I think if we try too hard it would come across forced. But I don’t think it always reflects our writing or our genre. And that’s okay b/c social media is more about potential readers connecting with us, not neccesarily with our books. We want them to read our books b/c they connect with us.

      Maybe looking at the theme of a certain book or gleaning from my past experiences might help spark ideas for a promotion campaign but I’m not there yet – as in no books coming out soon. I’ll figure that out when the time comes.

  13. Ansha Kotyk May 18, 2011 at 3:09 pm #

    Great post because I don’t think we ponder this exact question often enough. And maybe there’s a reason for that too, maybe we need stuff to stew and brew.
    But I really think that when you figure out who you are a writer you can take advantage of the fact that we are all unique and we all have our own writing niche to fill.

  14. Lydia K May 18, 2011 at 3:35 pm #

    Yes, I do see myself in my writing. My voice is there and it’s very much me. All the different kinds of writing I’ve done have been parts of me.

    That’s the weird thing about blogging. It’s really my goofy, geeky, curious personality that comes out, and I do worry that people think that’s not professional, it’s not who I am. But in truth, I’m more myself blogging than anywhere else.

  15. Marcia May 18, 2011 at 4:21 pm #

    I see consistent themes and reflections of myself, definitely. I don’t want these things to mean I write the same book over and over. So if, say, I’m afraid the character in my new WIP has too much the same inner hangups as the one in my finished ms., I try to explore what ELSE is or could be going on with her.

  16. Karen Strong May 18, 2011 at 5:47 pm #

    I’ve noticed a theme in several of my favorite writers and in a way, I like that because I know that will resonate in the books they write.

    I didn’t realize I had a theme too but I do — but it’s weird because I don’t necessarily write it consciously.

    And for me “theme” and “plot” are totally different things. You could still have several different and interesting stories that all boiled down to the same truth.

  17. Karen Strong May 18, 2011 at 5:48 pm #

    I’ve noticed a theme in several of my favorite writers and in a way, I like that because I know that will resonate in the books they write.

    I didn’t realize I had a theme too but I do — but it’s weird because I don’t necessarily write it consciously.

    And for me “theme” and “plot” are totally different things. You can have different and interesting stories that all boiled down to the same truth.

  18. Sherrie Petersen May 18, 2011 at 6:00 pm #

    I think everything we write reveals who we are, whether we want it to or not. I know what themes I’m trying to convey with my stories and it’s definitely in line with who I am.

    • Laura May 18, 2011 at 6:14 pm #

      I think there can be so many different angles on the same universal theme that we can find ways to write about what we care about. At the same time, with the right idea and character we could write something totally different that is still a reflection of us. We are humans and are multi-faceted. We don’t just have one side or theme to our lives.

  19. Laura Marcella May 18, 2011 at 7:00 pm #

    I’ve noticed similar themes in my stories, sure! I notice it in my favorite authors’ novels, too.

    But I avoid putting much of myself in my novels. I can imagine far more interesting things than who I am and what I think! But it’s almost inevitable that something personal will sneak through.

  20. Leslie Rose May 18, 2011 at 7:49 pm #

    What a great question. I think teen empowerment is an ongoing theme for me. I felt so powerless in those years, it’s time to take it back through my writing.

  21. Jennifer Hoffine May 18, 2011 at 7:54 pm #

    Yes, I see a lot of repeated themes in my work, some obvious and some not so obvious…It’s better (and cheaper) than a therapy couch personally… Professionally, I want to make sure I avoid having too similar protags, plots and character arcs from book to book.

  22. Margo Berendsen May 18, 2011 at 8:52 pm #

    I had a revelation about theme in my stories too last week. I think it’s important to dig into what “moves” us and links together aspect of our writing and our lives. It can be helpful for marketing/platform building, but it goes much deeper than that, too.

  23. Julie Musil May 18, 2011 at 8:55 pm #

    Laura, I’ve actually thought about this a lot. It seems the same themes pop up in the stories I write…famiily, gratitude, etc. And I also notice this theme in the books I read. Coincidence? I think not! Maybe it’s because that’s what matters most to me, and that sort of seeps into my writing, whether it’s intentional or not.

  24. Jonathon Arntson May 18, 2011 at 8:58 pm #

    This s incredible, Laura!

  25. Megan Frances May 18, 2011 at 9:11 pm #

    This is a thought provoking question. It’s inevitable that we write from our own experience and observations, even if we aren’t telling our own personal story. I do think writers, like actors, can channel the voices of their characters, even if they come from backgrounds distinctly different from our own.

    • Laura May 18, 2011 at 10:34 pm #

      Thanks for commenting everyone. I have to be careful too when creating a new story idea and character that the voice or internal arc isn’t the same. I don’t know if I have the answers to the question I asked all of you but I’ll probably keep thinking about it. I know that I have similar themes even if the stories are very different. And I’m moved by similar themes in books I read.

  26. Donna K. Weaver May 18, 2011 at 11:21 pm #

    Is it even possible to write without a little bit of yourself coming out?

    Good guestions.

  27. Kelly Polark May 18, 2011 at 11:53 pm #

    Yes, there is definitely a piece of me in my character(s). But luckily I have multiple personalities so my characters never sound the same. (Kidding!)

  28. Susan Sipal May 19, 2011 at 1:01 am #

    Great thoughts, Laura. Early in my writing career, I heard an author, I can’t remember who now, speak on what she called author theme — very similar to what you’re talking about. She said that usually an author theme will carry across all types of stories you write and reflect your need it write. It really got me thinking about mine and I saw that I had one as well. Since then, I’ve tried to write knowingly about it rather than accidentally.

  29. Susan Kaye Quinn May 19, 2011 at 2:07 am #

    I think it’s only after you write several stories that you can start to see the underlying you in them – it is something like voice, but not exactly, as you say. I hadn’t thought of using the why of my writing for a marketing perspective, though. Hmm… I will have to give that some thought.

    Great post!

  30. Leigh Moore May 19, 2011 at 3:15 am #

    ooo… very cool. I had sort of a related thought the other day. Is it possible we keep telling the same story over and over in different variations until we get it “right”?

    And is that story somehow related to our lives?

    Yes, way too deep. I was jogging. Again. 😀

    But I like this. <3

  31. Tana Adams May 19, 2011 at 4:22 am #

    I see MORE than a vague connection, but that’s just between you and me. 😉

  32. Kris May 19, 2011 at 11:08 am #

    I was in the same session–come to think of it, I think I sat beside you :)–and I’ve been thinking about it as well. It’s overwhelming to me to think of myself as a brand as opposed to my story. But I guess in some ways, especially if you write in different genres, it makes sense to look at the big picture. For example, I’ve got picture book, nonfiction, and YA in my arsenal. Not sure how they’re all connected, except they’ve come out of my brain. 🙂

  33. Rebecca Kiel May 19, 2011 at 3:51 pm #

    There are definitely threads in my writing. They are not about me, nor are my characters about the people in my life, but my life experiences, my world view impact what I write. I like that because then I know how to speak about my work with accuracy and passion.

  34. Jackee May 19, 2011 at 4:10 pm #

    Boy do I ever! :o) I’ve been replotting my books and going Post-ited scene by Post-ited scene on butcher paper is very elucidating to see where I do the same things in each book.

    Thanks for (another) great post, Laura! I’ve missed your blog!!! hugs

  35. Eleni Alexandraki May 19, 2011 at 7:33 pm #

    This is excellent advice for somebody who hasn’t been to a writing conference, but wants to go to one. I realized that was my problem with my first manuscript I tried to query. There was no short pitch to it. I was screwed before I even started. So, I’m glad I’m tried to write something with an easier pitch in NaNoWriMo 2010. Hopefully, I’ll find publication.

    So, Laura, any other words of wisdom from an *experienced* writing conference attendee?

  36. Meagan Spooner May 20, 2011 at 8:08 am #

    I one hundred percent see consistent and recurring themes in what I write, yes. I don’t tend to talk about it, and I never do it on purpose (there’s nothing more dull to me than books that set out to illustrate a theme or preach to me) but they tend to come through. It’s because our experiences as writers come through in what we write, no matter what we’re writing. I think the stories that come to us, come to us for a reason–only we can tell them the way we’d tell them.

    That’s why we’ve gotta write. 🙂

  37. Traci Kenworth May 21, 2011 at 1:10 pm #

    Hmmm…a great question. I think I recognize myself a bit in the characters, their actions, what effects them. But it is tough to put my finger on any one thing. I think its all fibers of the whole.

  38. Heather Kelly May 24, 2011 at 11:33 am #

    I loved this marketing bent–especially since we focus so much on thinking about marketing for a particular book, but it really is about making ourselves a brand. And gives us freedom to slide between genres, I think. I’m glad you know for yourself–I’m still figuring out why I’m writing what I’m writing…

    Thanks for the awesome time at the conference. I didn’t want to go home (even though I was sooo tired!).

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