Creative nighttime photo with light trail streaks from time elapse showing one road going to the right and one road going to the left of a decision sign.

How Do You Choose Your Story’s Creative Direction?

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Welcome to this month’s discussion about writing, brought to you by the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. Each month, creative writers share an issue that poses difficulty to writers, hoping to help lift up others going through those same issues in their writing life, and let them know they are NOT alone. This writing thing can be hard. Sharing tips, tricks, and resources is a great way to help tough through it together. This is also why my blog is titled On We Merrily Stumble. It evokes an image of us all helping catch each other, as we stumble our way through this writing thing.

This month’s IWSG question is: When you set out to write a story, do you try to be more original or do you try to give readers what they want?

The basic answer to this must start with the core question of why I (or you!) write.

Cartoon of a little boy laying on the floor in colorful clothes writing on a notepad with a pencil

Creative For Ourselves

Personally, I write to create. I write to find a world I can dissolve into and find some distance from reality, if only for a short while. (I mean, can’t we all use that about now?) I believe this must be true for many writers. If we only wrote for the fulfillment of others (so, basically for the money), that 15th edit is going to be nothing less than torture. The plotting lackluster. The sales abysmal.

I think that a good author is only able to hit real depth of emotion in a story, if the author themselves has some emotional skin in the game.

Creative For Others

On the other hand, if any part of my goal is to have others read and enjoy my creation, then I must also give my readers what they want, or need, as well. According to various sources, that will include:

  • An ‘I simply must read this’ hook,
  • A character that on some level is relatable (or so unrelatable as to cause morbid curiosity),
  • A satisfying emotional journey for the reader,

…and, if the authors of The Bestseller Code can be believed,

  • An infusion of a deep need in my antagonist and a theme involving human closeness.
Bored chestnut colored bulldog laying on the ground

Don’t Sour The Creative Flow

A bigger challenge is that in trying to make a story enjoyable for others, I begin to see the flaws in every read-through and risk getting into a never-ending editing cycle, eventually ruining my own enjoyment of the original story.

Applying ICU Pharmacy to Editing…Really

Perfecting a story for others, requires much more fine tuning than one written for yourself. We might accept a little tarnish around the edges for our own little read, but once we know it’s going into the public purview of criticism, an ugly editing monster takes over. It verges on the attempt at perfection, for many authors. It’s easy to get caught up in the editing minutia: perfect hooks, perfect words, perfect character arcs, perfect beats, perfect climaxes, and the ultimate ending. Ugh…that is a LOT to expect.

When I worked as a clinical pharmacist in the newborn ICU, my students would get caught up in the overwhelming volume of patient data to consider: blood lab results, test results, physician notes, and reported symptoms and side effects by the nurses. Then the student would freeze in fear, looking at the myriad of drugs the sick newborns were being given, and trying to figure out how to help.

To make it harder, we often reviewed all of this for upwards of 30-40 patients each day before 9am rounds with the medical team. Without a systematic method to deal with it all, students could rapidly deteriorate into burn-out, losing the joy I’d seen on their faces when they first arrived in the ICU wanting to help sick babies.

See The Big Picture

You could see the student’s eyes gloss over, having no idea what to fix or do. They could only see that there was so much wrong. What I taught them in the ICU has served me well in manuscript editing, believe it or not. I taught the students to stand back, away from the minutia, and look at the big picture of what was going on, then begin to examine only the pertinent facts. We did this in a systematic way, by looking at each part of the baby, and what was issues were occuring there. It looked something like this:

  • Is there a problem with this baby’s brain?
  • What drugs are being used that effects that area ? What labs relate to those?
  • What symptoms does the baby have that could be from the drug?
  • Does the baby need a new or different drug?
  • What is going on with the baby’s lungs? …and so on.
blue creative cartoon of a baby's footprints

Baby Steps

Through taking our baby steps (see what I did there?), by the end we had sorted through the piles of problems to focus on what really mattered. What the core of the problem was. And, most importantly, what really needed to be changed to make things right. We could stroll out to physician rounds with confidence in our recommendations.

This is how I do my editing now. I stand back, look at it’s important components, massaging those into essential emotional curves and satisfying page-turners (hopefully!). I look at specific pertinent editing needs, targeting those as an edit. I try to keep in mind the indicators that I need to stop editing. When I do, I walk away with a final creation that not only my readers readers enjoy, but I will still enjoy.

And that, to me, is the reason I decide which direction my creative writing will take me. I will only go off on an unusual writing direction, if it will ring enjoyment to my readers, as well. Mostly where I would employ that tactic would be in the voice of the manuscript.

Check out these other blogs from the hosts of this month’s IWSG blog hop, for other insight and writerly connections to supportive people within this community.

This months hosts: Tara Tyler, Lisa Buie Collard, Loni Townsend, and Lee Lowery.

Click here to see the all 130 blogs from other authors in the IWSG community. Now, THAT’S a lot of support. (Powered by Linky Tools)

Happy Writing!


  1. My reason for writing is similar to yours. I have characters and places in my head and they spill out onto the page when I give them the opportunity. I love getting to know them, arguing with them, and watching them develop.

  2. You’re much better at this writing biz than I am, it sounds like. I’ve spent the past decade just trying to work my plot into a shape I think will actually work (sixth’s time a charm, right?). I haven’t even thought about emotional curves or ending on the right hook. Hmm. Guess there’s still a lot to do!

    1. Hi Loni- I don’t know if it’s any better, just a different approach. My first manuscript (after several years of hard writing) got full requests…then full rejections, because I was missing key factors the agents felt needed to be addressed. That pain brought me to reading a number of craft books and going at it a more didactic way. I have yet to prove that method works, but I’m aiming to give it my all! Hang in there!

    1. Hi Alex! Yes. I think of those characters that are pure evil, spinning out of control, and nothing like me, where I peep at the story through parted fingers, not wanting to see, but morbidly drawn to watch until the conclusion. I’ve never understood the fascination, but it is a very strong pull sometimes. I couldn’t write a character like that, I don’t think. It would take too much out of me! Thanks for dropping by the post and joining the chat.

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