A Message: you’re going to have one

If you’ve written a book or you’re pondering the act, then be prepared to field questions about your message. Now, if you’re lucky enough to touting a how-to volume or hawking your expertise in XYZ, vetting such questions is easy peasy. Right? After all, you’ve got a utilitarian perspective and a personalized brand you’re pitching. That’s why one writes those books.  So, just draft a distillation of your pitch and, Presto Chango, things are A-okay.

But what happens for those of you who’ve penned a heartfelt or jaw-dropping memoir? Or for those of you who’ve spun lovely children’s tales? What about bodice ripping werewolf smut? — not a genre broadly known for bestowing pearls of wisdom, true, but all the better. In my case, I wrote an epic fantasy series featuring magic, mayhem, and malevolence… and evil cats. Though isn’t the whole point of such a story to free us from finger-wagging? Mm-maybe.

Okay. Let’s all take a step back and acknowledge that heavy-handed preaching is a powerful anti-aphrodisiac.  There are enough reasons to be sanctimonious in real life; I don’t need my dwarves clamoring into gemstone pulpits to remind me of how banana plantations commit human atrocities. Self-possessed preaching is never a good look, whether it’s Jiminy Cricket teaching us how to avoid being struck by vehicles whilst crossing the street, or Madonna informing us how riches and fame don’t solve problems after all. At least not all hers… Anyhow, preachiness is like a quicksand. The more pages you spend courting the soapbox, the more likely you’ll get caught in hypocrisy off the page later. The paths of self-professed angels are of a height and slippery, or so I hear…

Then again, a tale without any message, even an old message in new packaging, risks coming off as pointless, or worse, vapid.  Nobody wants that either. There are already enough Michael Bay movies to have all our brains melt out of our ears.

Perhaps the biggest boogieman of all is, if you’re not clear on your message, you risk your readers (or perhaps your foes?) soothsaying your intended wisdom from your literary entrails. I’m here for ghoulishness of most varieties, but not this sort. I like my entrails inside. Point is… your violin rarely gets to remain in the void. 

Thankfully, as is most often the case, there are intermediate grounds, and you as the composer, budding author, and brand get to decide where you’ll fall. Are you someone who’s penned a series as a vehicle for their message? Or are you someone who found your message amid weaving the tale, having poetically written to think, rather than thinking to write? Or are you someone who, at the last, looked back at your literary journey, and only then perceived your mindset and moment for what it was, ephemeral as the cherry blossom? Maybe you’re a little of each.

As a reader and lover of human narratives myself, the story of how you came to know your message is as wondrous to me as the message itself. Maybe more so.  I doubt I’m alone in that feeling either. 

So, if you care to be a writer of any sort, then I advocate that you articulate your message without self-consciousness. Only you could have inked your tale, and yours is a worthy story. Make the tale of your message’s discovery part of the broader saga too. And always remember, you are your most powerful literary device. Be you hero or villainess, leverage it and bust a move.

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