I was sitting in a park (I’m always at a park) when it came to me, the thing that I have been trying to answer for two years. I turned it in my mind, looking at it from all sides. It was a match. Quietly, I tucked the thing away and went on. I needed to sit with it, make sure it was right.
Simon Sinek wrote a well-known book called “Start With Why”. If you’re not familiar with it, the book is mostly about marketing. In it, Sinek conveys a concept of building a brand around a story: the story of Why the business does what it does.
It’s a pretty simple concept, but it gets a little harder when Sinek explains that the Why should be emotional, not just “We clean homes because homes get dirty and no one really wants to clean them”. Think of Toms Shoes “One for One” slogan, reminding everyone that when you buy a pair of shoes the company gives away a pair of shoes to a child in need. It’s moving.
I’ve been trying to figure out my Why. Not because I want to sell more books or turn myself into a marketing guru. I needed to figure out my Why because I’ve learned some important things about myself and my life:
- To have order in your life, you must impose it yourself
- I like to do a lot of different projects
- I will always want to do a lot of different projects
- Being an “indie author” is basically being a small business owner (surprise!)
- When you are an indie author and you do a lot of different projects, it’s confusing and no one knows what to expect from you anymore
Essentially, I know it looks like I’m all over the place. I write poetry and blog posts and short stories and memoirs and personal essays and young adult fantasy and science fiction and romance and children’s books and a zine and I paint. It looks chaotic but it’s not chaotic at all for me. In fact, it all makes sense, somehow, in my head. Each thing I make is a part of me.
I am the common denominator. The only way my thousand projects aren’t chaotic and confusing is if the unity in them is more obvious. People need to know Why I write and paint and make at all. People need to know my Why. It’s the missing piece, the common thread, the thing that brings unity.
I’ve read books and listened to podcasts and talked to people about my Why for the last two years without effect. The first time I dug into it really deep, I came up only with one word – freedom. I do these things because we should all be free to do what we want! But that wasn’t right. It didn’t quite fit. I exhausted myself trying to find another answer but none came. So I tucked the idea into my back pocket and went on.
The second time I determined to figure out my Why, I could only think “Because I want to”. Not in a snide or sarcastic way, but because I genuinely want to do them and shouldn’t we all be able to pursue what we want?! But, no, it still wasn’t it. My thoughts chased themselves in circles and I eventually let it go.
Since we got back to the States, I have been putting together the pieces of my life again. Starting in November I have been intensely introspectively examining things. It occurred to me that my Why would not just cover my writing. My Why would motivate my travel, my art, the people I am drawn to, the advice I give, and just about every area of my life.
I had been asking myself the wrong question. I should have been looking for a pattern throughout my life.
I read a psychology book recently in which the author said she likes to ask her patients for their earliest memory. She has found that the earliest memory often sets a sort of theme in the person’s life. My earliest memory took place when I was about two years old. We were staying with another family who also had small children, and my sister and I had the chicken pox. A baby gate was set up on the stairs. I was told we could not play together today. Absolutely undaunted, I found a ball and threw it over the baby gate so the other little girl could throw it back. We played like that, undeterred by the barrier.
I thought of how people are always surprised by my intensity and all-or-nothing personality. As a child, I wanted to make blankets. No one I knew could crochet or knit, so I used the child’s loom and cotton “loops” to make pot holders – hundreds of pot holders. I sewed them together and made a “quilt”. As an adult, I wanted to learn to crochet so I decided to make three crocheted blankets as Christmas presents. I had less than four months to learn to crochet via Youtube videos and make the blankets. I got them all done.
(When I do the thing, I really do the thing.)
This brought me to thoughts about restrictions. I don’t really view restrictions as boundaries, obstacles, or problems. I view restrictions as opportunities, choices, and framework.
Here, finally, was something with substance. It wasn’t a Why yet, though. This view on restrictions is more of a How. I was close, but not quite there.
Then, that afternoon in the park, I asked myself why I view restrictions that way, and I found it. I found the Why.
I believe that everyone should know their own power. I believe that we should realize how much of our lives are our choice. We have all heard “We make our lives”, but how often do we think of how we genuinely made our lives? We built them, using relationships, circumstances, opportunities, and tragedies.
Do you know your own power?
I have talked to people who were suffering and didn’t even know it. People who were in abusive relationships and were unaware that it wasn’t healthy. People who were vaguely unhappy and didn’t realize they were actually clinically depressed. I love it when these people suddenly realize they can change their own lives. They can do it. They have the power.
This is a theme in all of my writing, too. I show it through the struggles my characters navigate, through the evil faced, through the relationships they build and break. It is in my science fiction writing, my short stories, my romance novels, my personal essays, and my children’s books. It is Why I write the stories I write, Why I travel, Why I make the friends I make. It is a guiding compass in my life – one I never really realized was there.
I write so that we can know our power, our potential, our capacity. I write so that someone who feels hopeless or helpless can become empowered and hopeful. That is the heart of what you can expect to find in my books and stories, no matter the genre.
This element has always been in the background, but now I will bring it to the foreground. When you read something by me, no matter the genre, now you know Why it was written.