When it comes to writing, I think too many of us try to outguess the market, to look into an imaginary retail crystal ball and write to what we think will sell in one, two or three years from now.
That’s why so many bestsellers beget whole cities of stepchildren that don’t share any of the remarkable DNA of their non-biological parents.
All this determining up front what genre our novels are, trying to dissect demographics and reader habits, going onto listservs and designing our works to please readers who like dogs but hate cats, is both useless and self-defeating.
When creative people spend that much time devising the perfect strategy for success vis a vis other people’s responses, they lose sight of their own unique gifts and voices.
The seed that started this particular vine of thought came from a comment a fellow novelist made about the first few paragraphs I’ve written in a new book. This one isn’t a mystery; it’s just a project I’ve started because I want to write every day and am giving myself permission to explore different styles and ideas.
My friend said, “Pari, I think that’s the most honest piece of fiction you’ve ever written.”
She wasn’t saying this as a condemnation of my other work, but simply out of surprise at the rawness of the emotion in the piece I’d shown her.
Honesty in writing? I was so flattered, I didn’t ask her what she meant.
Last Saturday I was on a panel at a local bookstore with John Maddox Roberts, Jane Lindskold and Pati Nagle. Betsy James was in the audience too. We started talking about writer’s block and a bit about process. I said that I’d felt a change in my writing during the last five months or so since I’d come to terms with not penning more Sasha books for now.
I’ve begun to write what I want to write without worrying so much about where it “fits” into the market. (I’ll deal with that later in the editing or selling process.) And believe me, just because I’m playing with new approaches doesn’t mean I’m forgoing the hallmarks of good fiction for some kind of freeform lark. It’s also not a rejection of the idea of genre or categorization; I’m just not writing to any of those goalposts right now.
As a result, I’m working harder than I ever have, but the quality of the experience is different. I’m getting much more satisfaction from my daily effort. It feels – dare I say it? – more honest, more from the sincere heart than the analytical head.
Will my new fiction sell?
I sure hope so.
What if it doesn’t?
I’ll be very sad . . . but not defeated.
Either way, this slightly new focus is giving me a level of creative freedom that I think will serve me far better in the long run. At the very least, I’m not so damn worried about every publishing hiccup and trend.
The truth is I’m enjoying myself within the struggle of disciplined creation; the journey itself is becoming a lot more interesting.
Today, I have many questions that I’d like to discuss:
1. Writers: Should novelists write to a particular market? Should they follow the conventional wisdom of knowing where their books will go in the bookstores BEFORE they begin?
2. Here’s another bit of conventional wisdom: you should write what you’ve written so that your audience can understand and stay with you. Readers, what do you think of that?
3. Readers: do you know when you’ve found an “honest” writer? Or honesty in the fiction you’ve read? Can you give us any examples?
4. Everyone: Does honesty in writing even matter?
5. Everyone: What the heck is “honesty in writing,” anyway?