Write Books that Change Lives

There is nothing more rewarding as a writer than to write a book that change’s someone’s life.

At a conference I attended many years ago author Ellen Wittlinger spoke about a letter she’d received from a reader about how her book helped the reader through a difficult time. “If my book stops one kid from committing suicide then it was worth it,” Ellen said, as we all started to tear up. We write because we have stories to tell and we hope that those stories touch others and leave some grain of resonance. Changing one person’s life would – of course – be worth it!

But, this blog post isn’t about how to write a book that will change someone else’s life.

In our current state of publishing it seems high concept and commercial books are the ticket to success (or at least a publishing deal). We are always told to write from our heart, but sometimes love doesn’t seem to produce a paycheck. Agent Mary Kole just wrote a great blog post about the push and pull between writing a book that an author loves vs. writing a book that can sell.  Of course, the bottom line (from an agent’s POV) is the book needs to sell.  Yes, that makes sense. But recently I came upon the best piece of writing advice I think I’ll ever receive. It comes from a book on screenwriting called “The Anatomy of Story” by John Truby, and in it Truby says:

“Write something that may change your life.”

I’d like to modify that to: Write the book that will change your life.

Your life – you – the author!

Sure, it’s important to think about your audience as well, but first, I think we need to think about ourselves.  I think we need to dig deep inside and look at what stories we want to explore because they mean something to us. After all, we are the ones who will be spending months (and possibly years) on this project.  Shouldn’t our first priority be to make sure that journey is meaningful to us – as an individual, on a personal level?

After all, there is a true and real chance that our books won’t sell.  It’s possible that our books will sit in drawers and never see the light of a printing press or the hands of another reader. But if we write books that change our lives – then isn’t that alone a book worth writing? And it’s worth considering that a book that can change our life is one with the power to change another life too.

So when you’re out there deciding what project to start next, battling with the market, and trying to figure out what will get you published, I suggest you sit back and listen to the writer deep down inside. Hell, listen to the human deep down inside. Write the story you’re afraid to write. Write the story you’re afraid isn’t marketable. Write the story that will change your life. That’s the most powerful story you have to tell.

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11 thoughts on “Write Books that Change Lives

  1. Great post, Ingrid. I’ve been struggling with an idea which I can take in a darker, older, and very different direction than I’m used to writing, or I can take the easier (for me) path.
    You’ve given me some interesting things to think about.

    Thank you~

  2. Ingrid, a true and perceptive post. When I started a book
    in 1976 I thought I was writing a novel about characters I’d invented. In a few years I realized that I was writing
    a fictional autobiography. The characters were my own family. As my life unfolded, as I got into serious trouble,
    I couldn’t write anything. But when I cleared those hurdles
    I had some compelling story behind me. Selling it was another matter. I can’t say I don’t care. It breaks my heart that I not only can’t sell the book, I can’t even get anyone to read it. After writing more than a hundred unsatisfactory query letters about the book, I spontaneously came up with this, and gave me the gut feeling that I had arrived at some new understanding of how the book changed my life and could change others:

    Read this book if you like dark edgy humor. Read this book if you want to be touched by a character who bucks the odds and wins. Read this book if you’ve had an addiction, compulsion or neurosis that really messed up your life. Read this book if you love jazz or if music has played an important role in your life.
    Read this book if you’ve been an underdog in high school. Read this book if you’ve done something you knew was wrong but couldn’t help yourself. And you kept doing it over and over.
    Read this book if gripping war scenes in Afghanistan will rivet your attention so that you can’t stop turning the pages. Read this book if you want to know what Jimi Hendrix was really like.
    Read this book if you love lyrical, poetic language. Read this book if you love to see villains get karmic justice. Read this book if you identify with characters who are healing deep wounds to the soul and you want to heal along with them. Read this book if you’ve had or will have therapy or some kind of psychiatric treatment.
    Read this book if you want to meet one of the most dysfunctional families this side of “Long Day’s Journey Into Night”. Read this book if you want to know the difference between “chemical imbalances in the brain” and true evil. Read this book. Satisfaction guaranteed. One Hundred year warranty.

    I had to share this with someone. Thank you for your post.

  3. THIS IS SO GREAT!!! it’s the same for artists… you have to CREATE what is important for you the artsit! Do and show what you want to do more of!
    YES we want to make money and get published etc…..but in the end, having done something that matters to YOU…that puts YOU out there, as well as solves the problems/needs of the client. SO SO important for OUR lives. And in the end…that is the only life/creation that truly matters. bravo…

  4. Thanks for reminding us to be brave.
    And by the way, GORGEOUS illustration. I wish I could open it up in a larger size, to really see it well. Is it one of yours?

  5. I don’t think I’m ambitious enough to want to ‘change lives’. My favorite books didn’t change my life. They entertained me and made my imagination soar. I guess I have small goals ‘coz that’s all I want to do.

  6. As we continue on our writing journey, I think you’ve given us aspiring writers something to really think about, Ingrid. And although my favorite books as a kid didn’t change my life right then, they did change it later when I grew up . . . they made me want TO WRITE! :)

  7. Very wise words. I think there is a turning point in every author’s life where he/she realizes (consciously or subconsciously) that you have to write for yourself first. I’d never thought about it in terms of having it change MY life though, and so this post really pushed me to take that notion to the next level.

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