In the past week, we’ve talked about why you WRITE and why you READ fiction. And they’re not identical. Oh sure, there’s some overlap.
But scan through all those reasons people write fiction and you’ll find something interesting. For a lot of us, writing is therapy. Cheap therapy, but often amazingly effective.
On the other hand, most of us read fiction as a way of escape from our present wretched reality.
In both cases, it’s all about me. When I wear my writing hat, it’s all about me and my life. When I wear my reading hat, it’s all about me getting away from it all.
Now the problem is that our readers are not us. (Oh, those pesky readers!) Our readers, bless them, are wanting to get away from THEIR wretched reality, and they don’t necessarily want to wade through OUR therapy to do so.
There are two extremes we writers can choose:
1) I can “write for the market” and produce stuff that the readers want to read, even if it doesn’t contain a lot of inner truth to it. (I.e., MY inner truth.)
2) I can “write my truth” and produce fiction that is deeply meaningful to me (but maybe not to another soul on the planet).
What’s a writer to do? If we choose Door Number 1, then we’re “market whores.” If we take Door Number 2, then we’re “self-obsessed artistes”.
Every writer has to choose where to be on this spectrum. The ideal situation is to write fiction that is deeply meaningful to ME and appeals to zillions of readers. This is a lot harder than it looks. A LOT harder.
I don’t have an easy answer on this one. If it were easy, most writers would be writing best-selling Pulitzer-Prize-winning fiction. But most writers aren’t, and never will.
I think as a writer I could do worse than to write what I like to read. Hopefully others will like to read the same type of material and both parties will be happy.
Long term I find it difficult to do anything when my heart isn’t in it. I must be true to myself. If I don’t look after my integrity who will?
Having very little integrity to begin with, I don’t worry about looking after it all that much. I have a need for superficial amusement, so my basic method when choosing a topic is fairly simple. I take a mundane everyday event or situation and then lie like hell about it in the retelling. I always manage to go way over the top though, which alienates readers. So I have perfected the art of writing fiction that is not meaningful to me AND appeals to no one else. I like to think of myself as a pioneer that way.
I’m with Mark. 🙂 Hi Mark!
Jenny McLeod Carlisle says
I think my goals have eased off the Pulitzer, a little less than the Oprah show. Thanks to Cyndy Salzmann’s online Course for ACFW, I have identified my potential reader, and I think of her now when I’m writing. If I can just get my books into her hands, she’ll recommend them to her friends, and Voila! I’m a sucessfully small scale author! Good enough por moi.
Laura Ware says
I think if you merely write for a market you don’t write nearly as well as you do when it comes from your heart.
Eleyne Presley says
I write what appeals to me and what I would like to read. I write to experiment with ideas. I’m not currently writing for a market because I know that by the time I’m ready to market my work, whatever is hot now will have changed. And I know that if my heart’s not in the story and characters, the thing just will not get written.
Katherine Hyde says
I think the key is to make sure that if your book is therapy, it’s successful therapy. You can’t just invite other people to wallow around in your psychological muck. You have to come out of the whole experience with some kind of redemption you can share with your readers. That way, if they can identify with your problem at all (and most important problems are universal on some level), they can also identify with the hope you offer–provided it’s authentic hope and not just tacked on to make a happy ending.
That’s the kind of book I like to read, and that’s the kind of book I write.
Shirl Tourtillott says
I write to explore my beliefs and values. I think it’s called “theme” or “premise.” (I’ve never been sure of the difference between those two.) I try to discover my answers to questions like, “Why is there a hell on earth?” or “What happened to our sense of community?” I don’t write essays though. I write stories. Judging from the response of my on-line workshop group, I don’t do too badly.
Lois Hudson says
I agree with Eleyne about the shifting markets and the time factor.
But I do think that trying to analyze the writing, the characters, the
story, has a numbing effect on good writing. It’s too manipulative.
I write because the story is there and no one else can tell that particular
So, now it’s time to go write!
Way to go Pioneer Tom :-)!!
Joleena Thomas says
Randy, I’ve written that I write to find the world and I read to extract the truth; maybe a little different than pure escapism; nevertheless, your nimble elaboration leaves me thoroughly aware of the dilemma.
After quality content, I think it all comes down to craft. Talent only gets us so far–the rest is work: even if it’s a joy; it’s work.
But when you speak about what is meaningful to the individual–this is so poignant.
“To thine own self be true.” Without doing that firstly, we are not only cheating ourselves, but others as well. If we are good at the craft, we can stimulate interest even if we write what we don’t know, as you have demonstrated on your “Dog Blog.” Granted, you’ve got success behind you already, but look at all the time you put in first, and I for one, am very interested in hearing the continuing saga of “Happy The Wonder Dog.”
For those who can churn out what some may call “hack’ fiction, their’s equally does the job of taking people away, and even if they’re only doing it for the money at that point, perhaps they still are being true to themselves because that’s what “they” want.
However we think of it, there will always be those who succeed through not only greatness but luck and those–however great, remain obscure because the publishing world is driven by dollars like everything else.
Get it hyped, get it in, clear it out. No time to linger on shelves. Nothing is sacred, and who would have ever thought that hockey players could go on strike… Hockey players!
Can it sell? No matter about “change the world” or “have a story to tell” reasons, we can’t get away from it: writing for us may be therapy, but publishing is business.
June Varnum says
A story is a story is a story. Everyone I know, from the youngest to the oldest, likes a story. A story has to have truth to be believable. Fictional characters must show truth to be believable. For me,each page doesn’t have to be action filled. A quiet scene at the breakfast table can be emotonally charged; a single line from the point of view character or a minor character has touched my heart, brought tears or laughter. Such scenes, such stories make the book memorable.
Why do people still read The Secret Garden,Silas Marner;Tess of the D’Urbervilles; Shakespeare; Taylor Caldwell,Jack London? For a great and memorable story. When my stories are published, I hope readers will remember even one scene or one line that touched their hearts.
Writing is hard and I can always find a dozen activites more fun, easier to do–except I CAN’T NOT WRITE. So I glue myself to this chair and tap the keyboard.
Randy, thanks for this chance to connect with other writers, to read their comments. Good job, everyone.
Andra M. says
All writers write for themselves first, I think. But who’s to say I’m not like millions of other people out there? If it appeals to me, certainly it appeals to others. In that sense I’m not writing only for me.
I will say my first ever book came into fruition because it was the one book I always wanted to read and couldn’t find on the bookshelves. Without that mindset, I never would have wrote it.
Now, I think of my reader more. Last February I attended the Christian Writers Guild conference, and Jerry B. Jenkins said something in one of his speeches that has stuck with me ever since.
When he writes a book, he imagines writing to one person, his best friend since high school. He doesn’t try to encompass the thousands or millions of potential readers, because that’s impossible. Think of too many at once, then the story gets watered down. We might think, “Oh, this might offend that person, or this person might think it’s contrived, etc, etc.”
I have enough voices in my head, I don’t need to add thousands more. One more, the one reader I want to please, is much easier to handle.
Judith Vander Wege says
I like Katherine Hyde’s comments.
Marian Clough says
I want to write what I would want to read. If you’ve got a story to tell…any story…and if you write it well, I don’t think you can go wrong.
I liked everyone’s comments.
I love to tell a story, but I can’t tell it until I have created characters who have important things in their life to solve. The characters have to “live” for me, and I love the process of writing about their struggles and victories (or losses).
I think this feeds back to me because my life view is that you have failed if you never try in the first place, or you give up. I also think when you are writing from the heart, every writer’s life view feeds into what they write, what they choose to write about.
When you write on commission, when someone else chooses the topic, that’s where the conflict that Randy mentions arises. For me, I have to spend a lot of time finding what is meaningful to me in the commissioned work before I can write well and feel good about the outcome.
I enjoyed all the comments above. I know people have to write for “genres” but I also hope the next Tolkein lets that kind of “uncategorized” work loose on us too! Tho he, with his teaching had a paying job & thus could get the Lord of the Rings written & still pay the bills.
I was in the Country Music Hall Museum last fall Speaking of categories, I heard a man play the steel guitar. (If you know anything about country music, it adds kind of an electronic guitar twang and soft sliding tone to many songs). I asked him if he ever attempted say Classical on his steel guitar.
He didn’t record classical because there were no real markets for it. CDs cost money to cut, so the risk was too high.
But at least a writer (if they have another paying job…either writing for specific markets or just doing another thing for a salary)…at least a writer could dabble in another genre and only risk time and a rejection slip.
Susan Flemming says
Actually, I don’t believe I need to choose between Door #1 and Door #2, because I don’t believe that writing with the aim of achieving market success makes a writer a whore.
It is possible to write marketable fiction while writing fiction that speaks truth as I’ve come to know it. The key is to define what it is that we want to achieve through our writing and then aim for that.
Long ago I decided that first and foremost, I wanted to be a storyteller. I just happen to relate my stories in written form rather than orally.
A storyteller must always be mindful of her audience. She must tell her stories in a manner that will engage the listener/reader. She must grab their attention and hold it, otherwise she risks having her audience wander away before she gets to the end.
The best storytellers, the ones that people return to time and time again, are those who have learned how to speak their truth in a way that their listeners/readers can relate to.
Thomas Hamburger Jnr says
This is a wonderful blog you have. I’ve enjoyed reading your comments about fiction writing via a blog.
I made the brave (or maybe foolhardy!) decision to start my first piece of fiction via a blog. I try to post a chapter every day or so, and it’s just passed 70,000 words, and probably coming to a close. I haven’t really thought about the commercial potential of the story, but I’ve garnered a regular audience who seem to be liking (most of) what they’ve been reading.
Any advice is always welcome, though – and I have broad shoulders, so any criticism is also welcome.
Thanks again for a great blog!
Thomas Hamburger Jnr
Deb Ratcliffe says
I used to perform, playing guitar and singing, on stage. Only in a minor way in hotels, certainly not concert hall level but music really is about age too. I’m 50 and I know I will never do it for anything other than pleasure because opportunities become fewer as performers age except in the case of those already at the top. I began writing some years ago and decided I enjoyed this much more. I completed a degree in writing with honours in my forties to the astonishment and confusion of my family. My grandmother said, ‘That should be a nice little hobby for you, while giving me the ‘you’re out of your mind’ look. Perhaps their attitudes affected me for a while because I didn’t take myself seriously as a writer either until other people, not related, told me that I was. So I am now in the beginning of a novel that has undergone much planning without a single word of the story written yet. I avoid negative people as much as possible while in this early stage because I think the entire idea can unravel in an instant if others pick at it too soon. However, sometimes the planning can take over and the story gets put off which I think is my problem at present. I need to push past that barrier and just write. I am aware of the reader audience but there are also my own issues to write about. I am trying to balance the two which is not an easy task and I find myself getting caught up in the agony of what I should write and what I should leave out. This is not conducive to smooth writing but I’ll figure it out. I do welcome any suggestions.