How to Write a Life-Changing Book

Mar 10, 2011

I recently read a book that touched me in a way books rarely do. Don't get me wrong, I read a lot of books and have a lot of wonderful experiences with them. But it's rare that a book gets to me the way this one did. It changed the way I looked at the world, just a little. It made me gasp as it wrenched and healed my heart.

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly. Read it, folks. I'll do a full-scale review next week, but for now, just know that this book is one that changed me. It's the book I wish I could write. I want to write books that capture people's minds and change their hearts. And I think I'm not alone in that desire. So the question is, how in the devil do we do that?

All the standard stuff applies. You've got to write a darn good book. But a good book doesn't mean a powerful book. The kind of book that changes people has a little something extra, that emotional core that readers can relate to at the most fundamental level.

In my freshman creative writing class, the professor made us all write a credo. A credo is a document where you state all the things that you strongly believe, no holds barred. You basically bear your soul about all the things you hold most dear. And then you use those things to write your stories.

Because only when you write about the things you believe to your core can you reach the core of a reader. This is hard. It is painful. It's even a little bit frightening sometimes. But if you really want to write a deep, powerful story, this is one way to do it.

1. Write your credo. It can be as simple as you want-- mine is just a string of sentences starting with "I believe..."

2. Read your credo. Think about what you want to write about. Which ideas give you a little thrill of fear? Mark them-- and then use those in your book.

3. Don't preach. When we write about things we believe, it can sometimes come across too didactic. Try to focus on asking the hard questions, not answering them. Let readers do the answering for themselves.

4. Write your heart out. That's one thing first drafts especially are great for-- writing from the heart. Tell your story, and don't be afraid to face those big bad beliefs.

Of course, that's all easier said than done. You don't have to go through those exact steps. You can start with a haunting question, or a single idea you feel clear to your core. Just find your heart, and write it. If your book can change even one reader, all that work is worth it.

So, my friends, do you have a credo? Have you written about the hard truths you firmly believe in? How do you face the fear? What books have you read that changed you?


PK HREZO said...

Such a great post! That book sounds awesome, thanks for mentioning it. It's a very tricky project writing something you strongly believe in without being preachy. But that's the art to it--playing it from all sides. You give some great suggestions how to do it.

David P. King said...

I don't have a Credo, per say, but I do write things that I'm passionate about that involves a moral element. That's sorta why I enjoy fantasy and Sci-fi so much. As you said, it invites the reader ask questions. The reader makes their own answer.

Excellent post, Shallee! :)

Faith E. Hough said...

This is great! I think I've had a mental credo for a long time, but I am definitely going to write one out now. You've given me a lot to think about; thank you!

Reece said...

I remember that class! And I think you make a great point: we all write about what means something to us, but it always helps to have that visual reminder. Besides, seeing it from time to time can generate some unlooked-for ideas.

Love this post!

Lisa Gail Green said...

I love books that inspire like that!! I usually don't find my "credo" until afterwards. But it's there! It's subconscious on the first draft (I know I'm such a pantser)

Plamena Schmidt said...

Great point about asking the questions, but not answering them. The first draft I just completed has a lot of my beliefs. I was concerned about being too preachy, but I think it turned out okay.

Great post!

Elena Solodow said...

I'm in the middle of Revolution right now, and agree that it is a beyond-amazing book! I'm blown away.

Abby Minard said...

When it comes to writing the thing that stands out most for me is how much I want teens to feel what I felt when I read those YA fantasies. When I get that same feeling when I write, I know it's coming from deep down, and truly what I want teens to read.

Kari Marie said...

What a great strategy. Sounds similar to something I learned in a writing class.

The part about not preaching is important. It's one of my biggest turnoffs actually. It's so easy to do though. Gah!

I'll add REVOLUTION to my TBR. You are about the 50th blogger who's recommended it. It must be fantastic.

Angie said...

That's a great idea. I think it's important to write from your deepest beliefs.

I just started revising The Ransomed Returning. Thanks so much for your feedback!

Misha Gerrick said...

Great idea!

I never wrote down a credo. Maybe I should.


Rachna Chhabria said...

Wonderful post. I will try Credo. It sounds good.

Revolution sounds like a great book.

Taffy said...

Thanks for the post! I put the book on hold at my library.
I wrote a credo last year. I need to find and update it.

Karen said...

I've never written a credo. That's such a great idea. I don't think I've ever thought myself capable of writing a book like that. I just recently read 13 Reasons Why and that one really changed my perspective. I couldn't stop thinking about it.

Jan Morrison said...

I've never written a credo but I've written my purpose and I think that is similar if not the same. My purpose is to wake myself and others up. I remember that in every part of my life - that to wake up to the now is a true gift and if I can get someone else to wake up - all the better. I try to include it in my blog and I definitely let it inform my novels. In one of my Friday Challenges I suggested people design a pennant or flag with their purpose on it. A credo would be good too.
Jan Morrison

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