When I was nineteen I started a business with a partner and we called it “Hat Trick Hats”. We wanted to be portable. We sold our hand-stitched leather creations on the sidewalks of Santa Barbara and on the Wharf and Union Square in San Francisco. We wanted to be free to make our own designs and decisions and we accomplished both. We needed to make a living and sometimes we actually ended the month with a financial surplus! Of course that money was quickly spent to replenish our supplies to make more hats. Our goal was never to get rich—and we weren’t disappointed. We did want to have fun—and, happily, we were not disappointed on that front, either. Eventually, we moved on to new creative endeavors but we are still friends and we both remember that business fondly, in large part because we accomplished our most important goals.
As a writing coach and mentor I encourage my clients to name, clarify, and hone their goals. I also ask them to identify the meaning they attach to reaching those goals. I ask myself those same questions. When we understand what we want and why we want it, we don’t lose our way. We can use what we know to stay on course for days, weeks, months—whatever it takes to reach the finish line.
As a story coach, I work with writers to structure, strengthen, and develop their stories and the characters who drive those narratives—from the opening event, through major turning points to the climax and the resolution. I ask writers to explore the dilemma at the heart of their story: What is the protagonist’s driving goal and the meaning she attaches to that goal? How hard is she willing to fight to reach her goal? What does the moment look like when she realizes she cannot attain what she wants? What discovery makes her truly surrender what she wants so she can begin to understand what she needs? In fiction there is a disconnection between what the character wants in contrast to what she truly needs. (Okay, often that’s true in life as well, but we’re talking about storytelling now…)
As the writer, the exploration of these questions and other will help keep you motivated and on course through the first draft and the revision. When you delve into these questions and let them resonate through the story world you are creating, they will serve as your story compass.
As a working writer with seven novels published by major houses, I look for ways to expedite my own story development and writing without getting in the way of my creative process. I love sharing my (sometimes hard-earned) knowledge with other writers. If I can help keep you on course—or guide you back when you feel you’ve lost your way—then we are both much closer to reaching our goals.
Cheers and happy writing, Sarah