Using themes to stay focused (& the importance of Post-its)

I keep a yellow Post-it note behind my computer. It reads:

*Why you should follow your dream*
Appreciate what you have
Value of solo travel

You can probably tell what these three phrases have in common: they’re themes in my book.

Why you should follow your dream gets asterisks because it’s the main theme. I’m writing about taking a leap in life, and I hope my story will inspire readers to do what they’ve always wanted to do, whether or not it involves travel. I want to help people realize that if I could leave a job I loved to backpack solo, they can make their dream happen, too.

I keep the Post-it on my desk to remind myself just how important these themes are to my book. More important than the premise (woman backpacks solo through Africa). More important than the story (which I ain’t giving away just yet). (And if you don’t know the difference between your book’s premise and story, here’s a blog post from Writer’s Digest to help you figure it out.)

My themes keep me on track. Whenever I start to feel frustrated or lost in my manuscript, I check out my Post-it. Is the scene I’m working on helping to advance one of those ideas? How can I use this part of the book to strengthen a theme?

Notice that none of my themes are really about me. Yes, my travel memoir is about my experiences in Africa. But although memoir is the story of an individual, it’s never solely about the author. Memoir is about something bigger than the author. It’s about resonating with readers. And how do you resonate with readers? With your themes.

If you had a Post-it on your desk, what would it say?