What’s Your Message?

By Elizabeth Engstrom

Why do you write?

What is it that you have to say?

What do you believe?

Why are you here?

What is your purpose?

The first class I took in graduate school (Applied Theology) required me to write a paper that articulated my personal theology. This was easy for me, as I’d been writing it out in various novels and short stories for over thirty years. But it wasn’t obvious to me at the beginning of my writing career, only as I could see certain aspects of my beliefs appear in my work over the years.

The rest of my classmates were not so lucky, and struggled mightily with this simple assignment. Simple, perhaps, but not easy.

I believe that we write fiction because we have a need to speak our truth. It takes a seasoned writer to cloak that truth in emotion and drama and not pound our readers with our message. This is one reason why a few gray hairs is almost a prerequisite to writing a good novel. Life experience, lessons learned, something of significance to say.

In short: a message.


What’s your message?

Some people confuse the author’s message with the theme of the book. Each book can have a different theme (teenage angst, man’s inhumanity to man, etc.), but the author’s message never varies. It springs from your depths, your soul. It is who you are.

If you have a favorite author, chances are you resonate with his/her message. That person could write romance, science fiction, or thrillers, and you’d still enjoy the work. Your favorite author may or may not be able to articulate his/her message, but it imbues every sentence, the choice of every noun and verb, every personal interaction, every dramatic scene of every book.

So what’s your message?

Don’t you think that writing your book might be made just a little easier if you knew what your personal message/philosophy/theology was? Or do you think that knowing it and also knowing that you must employ a cloaking device to keep it from being overly obvious to your reader would make writing your book a little tougher?

Writing fiction is a relentless pursuit of fearless self-examination. You cannot get away from that if you are to write a good, meaningful book that adds to the world’s body of literature and to the life experience of your reader. As chroniclers of our times and, more importantly, keepers of the literature, we do not need to add another shallow, insipid book to the Library of Congress. We need books that resonate. We need hard-won, difficult-to-write books filled with meaning and values. Those are the books that we all want to have written. Are those the books that we are writing?

We poise on the brink of a new year. This is a good time for each of us to take some time and meditate on our message.

Then write your heart and watch the magic happen.

One thought on “What’s Your Message?

  1. I’m saving this to reread as and when required as a reminder during my Nanowrimo edit. And, quite possibly, forever afterwards. It says what I know but it says it so succinctly and pulls no punches. Thank you. I needed that.

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