What I Learned in June: Lesson 4

6:00 AM

I learned SO STINKIN' MUCH in June, so this will be my last post with this theme. Being disliking of strict schedules and possessing a need to be free and unrestricted, I decided to just ditch this post series. I'll be posting more about what I learned, of course, but that's what this blog is for. To share with you things I've learned as I try to be the best that I can be.


Katie and Aimee posted about this already, so you should totally check theirs out because they're really good. But I had to add my own thoughts about it.

Your writing has power.

This was the big "theme" of Jennifer A. Nielsen's keynote at the MYWW. She kept stressing to us that our writing is special. Each and every one of us has a story to tell, and that story has the power to change lives.

After the keynote, I went to get my books signed. I had a huge stack of them, and two copies of her second book (long story for another post). I told her I really enjoyed her keynote, and that it really touched my heart, and that I hoped I could someday touch people with my writing the way she had.

I will never forget when she looked me in the eyes and said, "Oh yes. You will. I know you will. You are a writer. You are meant to write stories that will change lives."

(Jennifer is such a quotable human, goodness.)

Just typing that out made me get the goosebumps again. And grin like a dork because let's face it I'm still a hopeless fangirl.

She hadn't read any of my writing. How could she say this to me, with such confidence? She looked me right in the eyes when she said it, and I could just feel her belief and trust in me. A girl she barely knew.

How could she say this to me? How could she say it with such confidence? She had no knowledge of me to verify if what she was saying was true.

But it was. And it still is.

I am meant to write stories that will change lives.

And you are too.

I know what you might be thinking, and Jen mentioned this in her keynote. "I'm just writing a story to entertain people. It's not going to affect anyone. It's not going to change lives. It's just for fun."

But you see, that's not true. For a long time, I thought that's what I was doing. I was writing stories for fun. Nothing more.

And I got discouraged. I thought my stories must not mean much, since they didn't have any strong themes or underlying messages (at least, not that I could see). I haven't been through much in my sixteen years of life. I haven't seen earth shattering trials. I've had it pretty easy, compared to a lot of people.

So I kept asking myself ... what do I have to offer? What wisdom could I ever possibly give to the world?

We all have faced something. Big or small, that something is a something. And we have all learned from those somethings. Sometimes, what we learn can apply to similar trials others have faced. You might be writing more than you realize. More deeply than you've intended.

That's certainly what happened to me. When I started planning my WIP last year, I had no themes in mind at all. I never do. That's not how I plan. I discover a bit of the plot and a lot of the storyworld, and then I write. That's when I discover the characters.

And that's also when I discover the themes.

Sometimes, I don't even see my themes until after I've written an entire draft. With my WIP, I didn't realize I was handling big issues until I told my friend what my book was about.

"It's about a tiger that escapes and tries to kill the prince, and my MC Rissa gets framed for it and has a week to clear her name before her sister is sold and her life forfeit."

That's about what I said. And my friend looked at me, her jaw hanging, and said, "Let me get this straight. You're writing about ... slave trafficking ... assassinations, murder, racism ... Basically everything that's going wrong with our world right now?"

I stared at her, completely taken aback. No! I wasn't writing about any of that! I ... well. And as I sat there, struggling with what I was supposed to say, I realized I couldn't say that. Because I was writing about those things. So I just looked at her and said, "I'm not writing about how great they are, or something. I'm writing about how you fight them."

And it was in that moment that I realized my book, my work in progress, is really thematic. It deals with some tough issues. Issues that my friend could rattle off after hearing a sentence of what it was about.

If I couldn't see that until half a year after finishing the first draft ... no wonder I haven't been aware of the power my words can have.

I tell you all of this because a) you gotta admit it's kind of funny. I mean, who doesn't just smile uneasily and say, "That sounds great!" when you stumble through what your book is about? I was not prepared for this kind of reaction.

And b) you may not realize it yet, but your story has theme. And if your story has theme, it is going to touch someone somewhere. It may not be huge and noticeable. But you're writing about people, aren't you? Humans. And humans go through stuff.

Humans + plot = theme

I am obviously a genius at math (ha. ha.) so this equation is infallible. Obviously.

POINT BEING: Your story is yours, and yours alone. Only you can tell it. You have a story inside you (probably lots of them) that will reach someone in this big world and change (or even save) a life.

Don't doubt yourself. Keep writing. Edit hard and without mercy. Make your story the best it can be.

Your writing is valuable and unique, and your stories deserve to be told.

Are you writing a thematic book? Did you mean to? Do you plan your themes before you write your stories, or do they come to you as you're writing? Or are you like me, unaware of them until someone points them out to you?


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  1. This is such an inspiring post, Hannah! Last May I got to meet Jennifer Niven (All the Bright Places), and I told her that I wanted to be an author someday and I was working on a few stories, she told me that she would be looking forward to reading my published books in the future. Same thing when I met Kiera Cass (The Selection), she told me to simply not give up. 😊 So I completely get how mindblowing it is to have authors inspire you that way!

    In my writing, I'm all about themes. I always aim for a clear theme that my story circles around, and I turn those themes to figurative symbols, then those symbols to literal actions in the story. (Wow that must make NO sense but that's the clearest way I can explain it! Basically I symbolize the themes really deeply throughout the story)

    I really loved this 'What I Learned in June' series! It was super interesting and as usual, offered your unique view on a writer's conference.

    1. Thank you Andrea! I will definitely keep telling you all what more I've learned and how its impacted me.

      That's so amazing! Meeting authors is the best, is it not? And I think I understand what you mean ... XP Sounds really interesting!

  2. This is a wonderful post. Thank you SO much, Hannah! It really encouraged me. Keep up the good work!! ♥♥



    Oh my goodness.

    Hannah, you're going to change the world with your writing. You've inspired me so much just with this one post. I can't even imagine how beautiful your novel must be. <3 Keep it up, girl.

    1. Thank you so much Grace! That makes me so happy ahhh *flops and flails wildly* <3

  4. I am loving these posts. I do try to put themes in my stories, very subtly.

    1. Subtly is good with themes! Otherwise, we risk coming off preachy. So good job! *high fives*

  5. This is another excellent, thought-provoking post. And I loved your story about Jennifer! I need to read her books. :)

    1. Yesssss please do! She's such an amazing author. *swoons* Sage is my most favoritist human bean ever.

  6. This post was EPIC, Hannah! I love what Jennifer said to you, she sounds awesome *nods*.

    1. She iiiiiis. She is a marvelous, encouraging, very amazing (and quotable) human! I am so blessed to have been able to meet her and hear her insider tips on writing!

  7. Wow, thanks for this encouraging post, Hannah! The power of words is amazing, and I like how you emphasized that even if we're not consciously writing to share a message, it still comes through, and reaches people. Being an author is an amazing calling.

    1. Yes! Always! If you write about people, chances are you're going to impact /someone/. <3

  8. Ughh, child, I really needed this. Most of the time I feel like CotN isn't meaningful/doesn't have any good themes, so this was nice to hear. <3

    1. WOMAN! No. It may not have strong, heavy themes, but that doesn't mean it isn't meaningful. Now, I can't decipher that many themes just from what I've read, but I know you deal with war, and that's a heavy topic. You're going to impact people with your stories in ways you can't imagine, Krissy. Don't doubt yourself, or God's plan for you! <3

    2. Ahhhh Hannah, thank you, you're the best <3 <3 <3

    3. YOUUUUU are the best! <3 I can't wait for more COTN!

  9. Yeah, I find it hard to see the themes in my older stories but I can see them in my newer ones. Maybe it's because they're so personal...

    1. Your older stories are personal, or your newer ones? I find a lot of myself in my old stuff because I wasn't really cautious about pouring my heart out XP


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