I’ve attended an embarrassment of conferences and workshops over the past couple of years (love that collective noun) and hence have heard many authors, editor and agents speak about writing and the publishing industry. I’ve also read articles by many, many more—both in print and on the web. Basically, where I would never pretend to have learned all there is to learn (not even close), I’ve learned a fair bit about this business called fiction publishing. And still, I’m constantly making little revelations or realizing last week’s revelations sucked.
I’ve blogged before about conflicting advice on Drunk Writer Talk and I think this week I’ve had another kind of breakthrough in terms of one of those dichotomies. Or at least I’ve resolved to start thinking about it in a different way.
On the one hand one often hears: “You have to write for the love of writing. Writing is a tough business. Fickle. Lots of luck involved. Even if you get published the odds are against you earning a real living.” So, write because you love to write, because you have to write. (Well, I don’t totally buy that anyone HAS to write. I know I don’t. I’m happy to make up stories in my head.)
As many times as I’ve heard this “do it for the writing” advice and nodded my head in agreement, as many times as I’ve repeated it to my friends and family and other writing acquaintances, I recently realized I’ve never really committed to this idea.
From the day I decided to start writing a novel, I had publication in mind. I even chose the first genre I tried (romance) based on economics and what I saw as improved odds—there are so many published, surely it would be easier to break in and find success. Ha!
And therein lies the other side of the dichotomy. Many industry professionals will tell you to be aware of the market, to be smart about what you write, to avoid subjects or language that may offend, to react quickly to the market and adapt what you write to what’s selling.
This always sounds like good advice to me, too. I mean, my first career was a pretty conservative choice and if I should wake up tomorrow at age 18, facing the “which University, which career choice” again, even with the supposed “wisdom” I’ve garnered over the ensuing years, I’m not entirely sure I wouldn’t make the same or at least a similarly conservative choice again. I’m pretty sure I’d at least ensure I had a back up plan of sorts.
What I’m realizing is that I’ve let this second piece of advice, the career planning advice, the what kind of writer do you want to be questions, the where do you see yourself in the market questions... I’ve let that advice, those questions, paralyze me when I’m in the early stages of every book I start to write (okay, until I’m in the home stretch). Molly, stop laughing. Now.
With each book, I’ll get a certain distance in and go “this is too dark to be marketable”, or conversely, “this is too silly, will be taken as chick lit and chick lit isn’t selling”, “this is too trite for literary fiction”, or “this is too heavy for commercial fiction”, or “this book won’t be a good follow up if the last one sells”, or "I should try a paranormal erotica", "maybe I should write YA", "maybe I should write an inspirational Christian romance" (okay, I've never said that one.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I still believe those career-minded questions are smart ones. I still think they encompass good advice. But I’ve decided it’s not the best advice for me right now. I’ve been in a very dark place about my writing. Very discouraged. Yes, I’m nominated for the Golden Heart. Yes, I’m happy about that and proud and know that over a thousand entrants who didn’t final—not to mention thousands of others who weren’t ready to or courageous enough to enter—would like to be in my shoes. I don’t mean to be ungrateful or to minimize this accomplishment. It’s just that I’ve been so focused since I started my first novel five years ago, on the end game. On publication. On publication with a major print publishing house.
And I know my GH nom, or even a win, won’t really affect that, especially because the nominated ms isn’t a romance. Sorry for the GH digression… Back on topic…
What I’ve decided—at least for today, this week, this month, this year, however long until I change my mind again—is that I need to write for the writing’s sake. In reaching this conclusion, I was remembering the heady days of starting my very first novel five years ago. Sure it was scary. Sure I thought I was writing something marketable. But I knew so little about the industry and I think all that ignorance freed me. Freed me to tell the story I wanted to tell. Freed me to put words down on paper and feel proud and good about those words, proud to see the word count, the page count, the chapter count piling up. Freed me to enjoy writing. These days, I’m not always enjoying it so much.
Now, I know (I hope?) that should I be lucky enough to have a career in fiction, that there may come a day when I will have to put career ahead of all other considerations when deciding what kind of stories to write, what tone to take, what themes to explore, etc. But for now? I think I just need to write.