Just keep moving: Following the story that wants to be written – Jennifer Scott
By Jennifer Scott
I’ve never made it a secret that I spent a long time being wholly unsuccessful at this writing thing.♥
Back in the late 90s, I was a poet. A terrible poet. But I wrote it for me, so who really cared? I moved nobody.
Then I dove into short stories. I was a confusing and long-winded short storyteller. I moved only myself.
On to journalistic articles for me. I editorialized too much. I hated not being allowed to editorialize. I moved … on.
To essays! I was a meh, okay essayist, which was progress! Just enough progress to convince me to keep going. I wrote a weekly humor column for The Kansas City Star. I moved a lot of people … to write hate mail. I was moved to tears more times than I could count.
Clearly, novel-writing was where my strengths were hiding. Actually, they were really, really well hidden, those novel-writing strengths. So well hidden, I had to keep moving and moving to find them. I wrote a mystery novel. It was boring. I wrote a women’s fiction novel. It was weird. I wrote another women’s fiction novel. It was okay, and I even got an agent to agree! But, sadly, never an editor. I wrote a third women’s fiction novel. Just … no. But, hey, at least I was still … moving?
And then I got an idea for a novel about a boy and girl who are bullied at school, and the boy does something awful, and the girl is left to pick up the pieces. I wasn’t sure exactly what this story was, but I was pretty sure it was not women’s fiction, an essay, a journalistic article, a short story, or a poem. All I knew for sure was that moving had been working for me — with every move, I got stronger and better — and this story wanted to be written. So I moved right along with that story idea.
And, in doing so, moved into YA writing. That novel was my first published novel, Hate List. Since then I have published five YA novels. I was officially a YA Author.
Until another idea wanted to be written. This time a silly idea for a younger reader. You see, all of my YA novels were somber topics, and I was kind of missing my old essay-writing days when I could cut up a bit. So I followed that story idea right into a quirky space novel for middle graders. Now I was a YA author and a middle-grade author.
But still, I loved women’s fiction. And I had an idea that I’d been hanging onto, about a trio of sisters who come home to bury their father at Christmas. It was not set in a high school. It did not feature any fart jokes. It was different from everything else I’d written. But it was the story that wanted to be written, so I moved with it. I followed the idea, and The Sister Season was my first published women’s fiction novel. Since then, I’ve published The Accidental Book Club and Second Chance Friends. I am a YA author and a middle-grade author and a women’s fiction author.
Some people say an author can really only write well in one genre, and they should stick to that genre. Bah! I say follow the story that wants to be written, genre be damned! Every time I try a new format, I am challenged to get better. And if I can’t get better, I can at least learn. Each failure informs my next move. If I’d never written poetry, I would have never tried short stories; if I hadn’t failed at short stories, I may have never realized that I loathe journalistic writing; if I hadn’t missed the mark there, I may have never written a single humor essay… You can see where this is going. Moving from genre to genre keeps me fresh, keeps me challenged, keeps me humble, and keeps me from getting bored.
When I’m in the mood to write something deep and meaningful and a little hard on the emotions, I turn to my YA roots. When I want to lighten up a bit, my middle grade is there for me. And when I want to write something that will warm my soul and remind me that human connection is real and important, I follow three women onto a farm in the middle of December, or a new widow trying to balance an unruly granddaughter and a book club, or four women who are trying to put their lives back together after a devastating bus crash. Or, as in my newest women’s fiction novel, The Hundred Gifts, I follow the story of a group of women who work together to bring the true meaning of the holiday spirit to someone who desperately needs it.
But who knows when I might be moved to create a whole new world filled with alien robots or a steamy romance filled with cowboys or billionaires or sea captains. Or a pirate adventure, or a story about teen drug use, or … a blog about following the story that wants to be written (See what I did there? *wink* *nudge*).
The point is, following the story that wants to be written isn’t always a bad idea. Maybe not even ever a bad idea. And it’s definitely not a failure. And even if it is, failure is never actual failure. It is information. It is encouragement. It is the kick in the seat that you need to moooove on to the next thing that will work for you. Don’t be afraid to try new genres, new stories within the same genre, new subgenres, or even whole new styles of writing.
You never know — you just might follow the story idea that ends up moving the whole world.
Jennifer Scott has been reading, writing, and loving books for pretty much as long as she can remember. In 2000, Jennifer decided to try to become a published author, and began writing women’s fiction novels. But the road to writing success is never quick, easy, or predictable, and Jennifer’s official writing career began in 2009 with her debut young adult novel, Hate List, written under the name Jennifer Brown. She never gave up on the women’s fiction genre, however, and has since successfully published women’s fiction as Jennifer Scott.