What’s in your writing DNA?

[This post first appeared on the LearnHowToWriteANovel.com web site]

As writers, so much of our time can be focused on what we write.

We identify with genres as a way to draw people to the style of our writing. We immerse ourselves in storylines that drive what we’re writing or editing. We throw around elevator pitches to hook potential readers or publishing partners into the magic of our stories and what we put on the page.

Sometimes people are interested in how we write, so we talk about our writing process, post photos of our writing nook and talk about the way we turn 2000 average words into 1000 great ones. Or we explain how we capture the raw clay of an idea and shape it into something that touches lives.

One thing I’ve been exploring more and more is beyond the what and the how. I’ve been exploring who I am as a writer. My writing DNA, if you will.

In genetic terms, your DNA is a collection of your fundamental and distinctive characteristics. The parts of you that are truly you at a micro level.

I believe writers have a DNA as well. And it’s important to identify because great writing comes from deep within.

I was fortunate enough to attend the ACFW Conference in Nashville in 2016. The keynote was Ted Dekker, and he imprinted on me – among everyone else – the fact that the best writing comes from within. Not in a social media/selfie sense where you talk about yourself, but your writing reflects who you are at a micro level. What you care about deeply. The message you have to share with the world. What you believe and why you believe it.

So if our writing DNA is an amalgam of our ethics, values, experiences, take on the world and ability to put that into words, what is yours?

I’ve been thinking about my own writing DNA. I started with my values. What do I care about? What do I believe?

I am someone who likes to think deeper about life, who values conversations that go beyond “how was your Friday?” When it comes to my beliefs, I am someone who likes to make people think – to pitch a curveball into a conversation. When it comes to how I express myself, I am someone who cares about language and finding the exact word for the situation, using words as a paintbrush or fine-pointed chisel.

I am now using these as my touchpoints to drive my writing. This is what I care about, and the best way to get readers to care about my writing to is to ensure these touchpoints appear in there too.

So if I am someone who likes to think deeper about life, my stories need to be about exactly that. The Baggage Handler is an allegory that asks people to consider the question: “what baggage are you carrying?” If I am someone who likes to make people think, then my dialogue must be probing for the reader. I need to ask them questions or toss them curveballs while they are reading. If I am someone who cares about finding the exact word for the situation, then I need to spend longer polishing my work, being more craftsman than wordsmith.

So that’s what I’ve come up with for my writing DNA, and how it drives my own writing.


If I were to ask the question about your writing DNA, what would you come up with? Which of your values would make their way onto the page? And how do we know as readers that what you write has come from deep inside you?



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