Based on a recommendation of a friend, I watched How great leaders inspire action by Simon Sinek on the TED.com website. Sinek’s basic message was that “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” He then goes on to talk about how most people communicate from the outside in (what-how-why) instead of the inside out (why-how-what), which is more effective. The what is what is the idea is, the how is how the idea is better or more innovative than a similar one, and the why is the motivation or belief behind the idea. Sinek used Apple and Dell as one example of his principle. Apple and Dell are both computers companies. They both made MP3 players. Yet only Apple’s IPods have survived the test of time. Why? Because we weren’t give a bunch of facts and figures and then told why we should buy it, we were told why Apple designed the IPod and then what the features and benefits of it were.
The same principle can be applied to writing. Why do Star Trek and Star Wars have a cult like following when there is tons of well-written science fiction and fantasy out there? Because of the beliefs that are portrayed and acted upon throughout the stories by the characters who aren’t always prefect, but always try to remain true to themselves. We can identify and sympathize with the characters because their beliefs and struggles resonate with our own. Therefore, they and their stories become real and believable.
For me, it explains why I have been floundering as a novel writer. I lost sight of the beliefs and motivations of my characters and my stories. When I started the Stars of Heros series, it was with one book. I just wanted to publish a good horse story and that was it. Then my writing became my way of yelling at the world. Do You Believe In Legend? briefly refocused me because it forced me to look at who I was as writer and why I needed to continue to write after a friend’s very serious betrayal. Then, unfortunately, Legend, like the rest of the stories, got caught up in my obsession to be perfect, relevant, and justifiable.
Same thing with my code writing and web design. they started out as me being able to be creative while making money with computers. Money and the need to be practical, unfortunately, became the main motivation. Creativity was still there, but almost had to exploded out of me before getting noticed. Combing that with my need to think of every possible way a piece of code could break or be exploited and I became the slowest, most frustrated, coder on the planet.
A few weeks ago, my frustration reached a breaking point. I was burnt out on coding and my creative writing was dying on the vine. I decided that maybe if I got everything thrown about my novel series into one program where I could see the whole thing all at once, something would inspire me. As I went through the process of finding the tool I was looking for and then importing my stuff, not once, but twice, I started reading. And we aren’t talking the books that I have been reading and pounding into the ground over the last few years, but stuff I had written several year ago and barely touched. Of course, I saw all the flaws, but I also saw all the potential.
This process got me thinking and writing. And I wasn’t writing stuff that was politically or grammatically correct, I was writing ideas where one of my characters had gone crazy and another one became an abusive killer. I’ve tried to stay away from stuff like that because I always wanted my books to have a PG, family feel to them and I didn’t want to seem like I was appealing to the mass market by writing excessive violence and evil. In fact, when I read some of the stuff I wrote, it creeps me out. I am actually not sure what to do with it. The story needs to be told the way it’s written, but what is written goes against what I believe in. I’m not sure how my friends and family will judge me should they ever read this stuff. Luckily, all the material is in one of the later novels, so I have time to hone and temper the writing and figure out how to explain the motivation behind it.
The re-birth of my creative writing made my code writing suffer for a bit as I tried to make up for lost time. Now, I’m working toward a good balance between the two. My coding skills are the one that are providing the money until my writing takes off. In the same respect, my creative writing allows me to stop and focus on something else and then approach a coding problem in a different way before I spiral down the path of chasing an illusive, more robust, but harder to implement solution. Therefore, I feel more efficient and able to do more things.
So what is your why, what, and how in life and in writing? And in what order are you perceiving and acting upon them?