The Gap between What I Want to Write and What I Write

Thursday, December 29, 2011
What types of writing do you do?

My friend writes picture books and middle grade novels and has some success doing this. But her biggest successes have come writing essays for places like Christian Science Monitor and Skirt! She has a knack for finding small details that resonate on a larger scale. Another friend writes adult novels, yet finds more success in writing inspirational articles. I write picture books, middle grade novels and nonfiction for kids, yet my biggest successes are in teaching writing and writing how-to-write articles.

How does this happen that what we most want to write, often brings little success; yet genres that seem a pleasant pastime dominate our successes? Maybe, it’s the unconscious competencies of our lives. I am a teacher: when I learn something new—and I am always learning something new—I instinctively try to work out how to teach that new skill in an easier way, a more visual way, in a way that will have more impact, or how to teach it to a different audience. I am wired to think about how to transit information to new audiences in more effective ways. I don’t know how I do it, I just do it. I am unconsciously competent, that is, I know how to do it, but I don’t know how I know how to do it.

Likewise, my friends are unconsciously competent in essays and inspirational writing. The essayist reflects on daily life and finds the profound; the inspirational writer reflects upon life and finds ways to connect with emotions on a higher plane.

Why do we fight our strengths? The classic children’s author, Katherine Paterson (author of Bridge to Terabithia and many other beloved novels), was once asked about how her children affected her writing. She said that they took so much time and energy away from her writing; and yet, they also gave her something to write about.

I love working on a novel and that work is exactly why I have anything to say about how-to-write. It is only when I observe closely my own difficulties and try my own solutions that I have anything to teach. My teaching is effective because I have failed so often and so miserably at the very tasks that I teach. During the times when I am not writing much, I don’t have much to teach.

It’s a strange symbiosis between what we want to write and what we wind up writing. But maybe it’s an essential symbiosis, one that feeds both types of writing. In the end, I teach only because I write; I write better only because I have tried to teach. I need both sides of the equation.

Do you find a symbiosis between the writing that gives you success and the writing where you want success?

Darcy Pattison blogs about how-to-write at Fiction Notes (


Stephanie Romero said...

It's good to hear that other writers experience this. While I prefer to write devotionals, have experienced only a little success. Yet what I am the best at and get paid well for is writing web content for law firms. I never looked at this as a strength. But now I will.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

What a lot to think about! I love, love, love my nonfiction and fiction writing for children. Yet the majority of my sales, by far, have been in writing how-tos for other writers.

Nicole Pyles said...

So so weird and awesome to hear others experience this. My biggest successes have come from blogging. I have two blogging gigs outside of my own blog, and one I am even being paid for (which I NEVER would have suspected would happen). But, my true love? Novels and short stories - especially fantasy and horror. The weird thing is I have more energy for blogging, but I would never consider myself successful as a writer until I get something published with my fiction. Very VERY weird! :)

Michelle Mach said...

I remember reading about Thomas Hardy, who thought of himself as a poet, but he became known for his novels. So take comfort that this is an old issues that writers have struggled with for a long time!

Valerie Hartman said...

What a great reminder to see all of our talents and skills, even ones we maybe take for granted. Ultimately, it is about the journey. Excellent blog!

Forrest said...

Well, I just released my own book on Amazon, "We Kill Death", and I've sold some copies to friends so far (that's where it starts). I know what you're talking about, I'd much rather be a novelist and yet I've made more money so far from my poetry. There is a link between both though, my poems inspire me to write stories, and my stories call for poetry to be mixed in. My dad, Fred Lybrand, helped my love for writing by raising us on his writing course (, which teaches kids how to write. It taught me that the most helpful thing is learning by writing, whether it's poetry or fiction, and I think that's why both are symbiotic for my inspirations and successes. Great blog, it was very interesting to hear your perspective on this. I hadn't thought about this before. Thank you, and keep it up.

Powered by Blogger.
Back to Top