What Territory Do You Explore With Your Writing?

Laura Oliver

Photo credit: Laura Dobbs

I love this insight from Laura Oliver on the writing life, in a post called “Territory.” She discusses the themes that can permeate our writing, sometimes over a lifetime. (I’ve also heard this phenomenon called one’s “ultimate life concern.”)

Here’s a snippet:

Most writers have a territory they explore for a time—perhaps an entire career. It is the theme, subject, or question that predominates their work. It might be a belief they hold—love triumphs over all, everyone lies—and it might appear as a question, not an assertion. … This kind of revisiting makes possible a remarkable intensity of observation, which in turn can elevate work to a higher plane. What many writers find is that intense contemplation of a single theme gives a freshness and individuality to each story even when the subjects are similar.

Go read the full piece in the latest Glimmer Train bulletin. Or view the entire bulletin.

Posted in Creativity + Inspiration, Writing Advice.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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Sharon K Owen
Sharon K Owen

I’ve definitely found a territory to explore in my writing. It is both physical and thematic. For my Brands Crossing Series I’ve created a small town in north Texas and populated it with characters who will appear in all the books in the series. Thematically, I am dealing with family connections and the power they have over the characters behavior.


Very interesting. The two screenplays that I am struggling to finish both have the same theme and it was not intentional. The third story I am thinking about is forming into that direction. I thought I might be doing something wrong by letting the same theme creep in. So glad that I read it isn´t so. Also I watched Peter Jackson’s interview where he said that he admired Stephen King for being brave to explore the dark side of the human mind. I guess I am in good company. So I have been inspired two times in 24 hours. I… Read more »

Lynne Spreen
Lynne Spreen

I am thrilled to have read this. I actually have two “territories”: sleepwalking through one’s life, and fear of being alone. I’m excited to think that, by focusing on them, I may bring “freshness and individuality” to them. Thanks for a motivating post.