Friday, July 31, 2009

Friday Mixed Bag: Writer's Manifesto

Sorry for missing my book review yesterday. I spent about 2 hours in a dentist's chair being poked and prodded, so I wasn't feeling much beyond sitting in my chair at work and trying to look like I was busy while I just tried to suffer through the day. On the plus side, my dentist and her dental assistant began wearing flavored gloves, so as they drilled and poked, I was treated to the pleasant flavors of both grape and cherry.

Writing is about two things: discipline and passion.

Discipline is that thing that gets your butt in the chair and gets you writing. Passion is that thing you have to have for a project. It will carry you through self-doubt and long waits and bad news and days when you're just not feeling it.

Both discipline and passion are absolute necessities if you want to be a writer. All the passion in the world won't put your fingers to the keys and all the discipline in the world won't infuse your book with that little bit of extra ooomph that it needs to go from great to amazing. Passion and Discipline are symbiotic; they can't survive without each other.

Lately I've been feeling pressure to write a book that I'm not particularly passionate about and to ignore a couple of books that I can't get out of my head, because the market might not support them. And that's led me to question why I write in the first place.

Do I write because I want to sell books or because I have stories to tell that no one else in the world can tell and I'll explode if I don't get them out? Yes. Both. I'll admit it, I want to sell books. I want to make money. I want to quit my job and travel the world and write awesome stories. But even if that wasn't a possibility, I'd still write. I'd still write because I can't not.

So while I have these ideas that I want to shout from the rooftops. Ideas that I want to pet and hug and love and name George. There's a fear that they're not salable. That the marketplace won't accept them. So I should work on these other ideas that are more salable but that I'm not so passionate about. Um. No?

I'm the writer. It's my job to write the best book I can write without worrying about whether it can be sold. Listen, I'm no J.K. Rowling. Not by a long shot. But no one wanted her book about a boy wizard at first. She wrote a book that the market didn't want and then her agent convinced the market that Harry Potter was what it had been missing. And I think that's the magic of publishing. An awesome writer writes a book no one knows they wanted to read, and an awesome agent convinces a publisher that it has to have that book. Tough jobs all around.

So what has a better chance on the market? A book that the market is asking for but that the writer doesn't love, or a book that a writer loves that the market doesn't know it wants yet? I mean, that's the great risk with writing, isn't it? You write the best book you can and hope that there's an audience for it. But you don't write a book FOR an audience because that audience may be dried up by the time your book gets there.

I was inspired by the story of Audrey Niffenegger. She wrote her book "The Time Traveler's Wife." It was good and awesome and eventually it got onto Oprah's Book Club and blew up. She could have signed a second book sight unseen and made a boatload of cash. In fact, I remember reading that she was offered a contract for a second unwritten book, but she turned it down. Six years after publishing "The Time Traveler's Wife," she sold her second book for five million. I wish I could find the story now, but the gist of it was that she didn't sell a second book until she'd written it so that she didn't have deadlines or pressure and so that she could write the book she wanted to write. And according to her editor and agent, it was worth the wait. I'm no Audrey Niffenegger, not by a long shot, but I am inspired by her.

So here's my manifesto: I will only write books for which I am overflowing with passion. I think to do anything less would be a disservice to myself.


  1. Good on ya. Your books will be better for it. I'm balancing feedback I think is market-driven with making sure I still love the book when I'm finished. Don't know about you, but I'm looking forward to a publishing industry that's ready to take chances again.

  2. I think the worst thing a writer can do is think about the market for their book. As you said, this business moves so slowly, the market is liable to change anyway.

    Plus, even if there is no market for that book you love, there might someday be. And wouldn't that be cool to just whip it out and say, "Already done."


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