10 Questions Writers Must Ask Themselves

Theirs not to reason why. Theirs but to do and die.

Yes, you will die if you don’t ask “why.” Or something.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

I had a question I was going to ask you about writing, but I forgot! You tell me, what should I ask?

—Mark Cedeno, Tucson, Ariz.

I’m feeling quick and dirty. Let’s dive in. Here’s what you should be asking yourself as a writer:

1. Why am I doing this?

Money? Fame? Class project? A dare? Depressed? Bored? Trying to come off as intelligent? I’m not going to give the answer. If you don’t have one, then stop now. Try dancing. Then you’ll have an answer to why you took up dancing: “Because I didn’t know why I was writing.” Work your way from that.

2. Who am I trying to impress?

In our social media age, we are driven on a quest for relevance, whether conscious or subconscious. You could say that you have a potential audience. You may not. Unless you are an artist with a soul purer than Jesus, then you crave an inkling of recognition. Maybe it’s just ‘you’ you’re trying to impress. Find whoever it is. Stop schmoozing up. Write.

3. Can I explain this in three sentences?

If you cannot summarize the story, start over until you can. You’re only writing yourself into a painful circle. Unless you just need writing practice, then fine.

4. Who would want to read this?

Draw up a profile of your reader. If it’s someone who’s easily led, likes mass-market paperback, reads to say “they read,” then CONGRATS! That’s almost everyone! SF/fantasy fans who like everything you do and have already friended you on the internet? Even better! They won’t care about promoting your work, because you’re everyone’s friend! Win win win.

5. How will this contribute to the way readers view life?

Ooooh, breaking out the philosophical. Bring something worth bringing to the table. We already have salt, napkins, plates. If you’re bringing ‘potato salad,’ the trashbin is that way. If you bring ‘tuna casserole,’ then you need plant your face in it until it suffocates you to death. If you bring a combo of ‘polenta,’ ‘arugula,’ ‘aioli,’ ‘quinoa,’ and ‘edamame,’ then you’re just trying to be “trendy” without substance. (Yes, yes you are.) Contribute something worthwhile.

6. Am I friends with a bunch of other writers?

If the answer is ‘Yes,’ then write away. Your work won’t matter. You have your reward. If ‘No,’ then write away. Friends won’t matter. Your writing will speak for itself. You will have those who appreciate art, even if they’re not your besties.

7. What have I had for influence lately?

If this list can either 1) be found at a local liquor dealer, or 2) get you arrested, then I’m not liable, ok? Know what it is that feeds your soul, for out of it comes your art. Unless you’re a sexy, soulless teenage vampire.

8. What would happen to me if I stopped?

This should be something really bad. If not, then go ahead and stop. Ballet is waiting.

9. What kind of recognition am I hoping for?

Set this bar wherever you want. Local book-signing at a thrift store. #1,095,367 in Books on Amazon. Seeing your book on a bookstore shelf—because you brought a copy with you, placed it there, and Tweeted it anyway. Wherever. That’s all you. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

10. Is there something else I should be doing?

Hey, fair question. If your pregnant husband or wife has been dogging your lazy end about overdue bills, mustard stains on tank-tops, not bothering to clean the dishes from last week, the kid strung from your cheap light fixture by a pair of cheap, sodden underdrawers, then maybe the “undead urban fiction” can wait. Or if you have some ungodly talent in another field, play that field instead. Michael Jordan didn’t choose writing because he wasn’t a skilled craftsman, you know. He had greater-than-greatness in the basketball arena. Who knows? Your sandwich making at the Sub Shack® might serve you better.

What kinds of questions would you think to ask yourself?

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).

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