Writers tend to be a very specific breed. We have certain things we really like, things we are comfortable and familiar with, and we like to stick to them. When we write, we aren’t just spewing words onto a bit of paper; we’re creating. Ours is a labor of love, and sometimes that can blind us. We start wearing a black beret at a jaunty angle and correct people who speak about us. “I’m not an author; I’m a literary artiste.”
Sometimes we get caught in a loop and write the same thing over and over because we think we’re stuck in that genre. Other times, and purely to make money, we go out of our way to write different genres the market says is hot and the work comes out disjointed because we hate the genre we picked.
Today we are talking about the story, the passion, and the mind directing it all.
Don’t mind him, he’s creative
As authors, we are often immensely proud of our works. And rightly so, because we published few are the ones openly telling our stories to the world. Even if the book is not perfect, it is still a better effort than anyone else who hasn’t published their work. And when the reviews and the sales and the accolades all go well, we feel a real sense of accomplishment that we put together a story and made it work.
Unfortunately, a lot of authors begin to take their stories too seriously. They may lose focus on entertaining the audience, or get bogged down by a negative review. Writing is a craft, something meant to be worked at and honed over years as each successive work is produced. You should not be aiming to create your magnum opus at the beginning of your career. Sometimes we use writing to get the emotional validation that we lack in some other area of our life, and when we aren’t flooded with millions of dollars and perfect reviews we feel the same crushing sense of worthlessness.
Regardless of the exact personal reason, sometimes we authors take our stories too seriously. We may refuse to listen to our editor’s advice, or take it personally when readers criticize a part of the book which doesn’t speak to them.
One of the best things an author can do is to stop taking writing so seriously and relax about their stories. Don’t start just phoning it in, but don’t get so personally attached to the individual outcomes. Remember that you are working at a craft thousands of years old, and only beginning your lifelong journey. If your goal is to write one book and become famous, quit now.
Imagine if the movie Guardians of the Galaxy had taken itself seriously. It could have still been a sci-fi movie with the same characters but no humor or self-awareness on the part of the writers at all. Imagine the movie with all of the over-the-top scenes and humor scenes entirely removed. If the film had considered itself art instead of entertainment, it would have been an outright terrible movie. But the writers made sure not to take their work too seriously, and it turned into something spectacular. Keep this in mind.
What is the target audience for this work?
This is something that my former editor hammered into my brain, and it’s a consideration I’ve taken to heart and have found myself repeating to others.
Before you write, figure out who your audience is.
Is it yourself? Are you writing for you, and hoping the audience will find something to enjoy? This can take the form of writing something half-baked and putting forth no real effort. Perhaps you have believe you no audience, you’re writing for yourself so you just get it over with and call the work good enough. Or, are you going so far off the creative ledge that your characters are now spiritual concepts instead of characters, so that you can brag about how you wrote a fully impressionist story? If your audience and beta readers can’t follow you, why are you publishing?
Are you writing for one select audience even though you believe the market requires something that’s going to make you miserable to write? This can be a sign of burnout, or of a mismatched setup between the author and what they believe is expected or necessary.
The previous approaches have the chance to be extremely problematic. So what’s the answer? You write for the whole group. This includes the people you’re comfortable with and uncomfortable with, your significant other, the young kid in your family who’s going to read the book, the grumpy old reader who’s going to give you a bad review no matter what, and it also includes the author. Write something everyone has a chance to enjoy. Your job is not to make them enjoy it, but to give everyone an equal chance to engage with it and find something to enjoy. And if you’re not enjoying it, you’re not going to be able to keep coming back week after week with the creative juices flowing.
Okay, now I’m intimidated
Don’t be. Remember that you’re writing so that people are going to have fun reading your book. You’re not writing so that your book will be world-renowned and everyone in literature circles will know your name and call you up to chat. You’re writing so that people have fun. Perhaps there is some pressure to fit within a writing time frame, create a setup that’s easily accessible for certain audience members, or consider including elements of one primary genre, but the point is still to have fun.
If your work is entertaining and engrossing, and if you find the right niche and approach, you’re doing this correctly. Writing is not a science and trying to game the system by finding the most horrendously niche genre to blow up may sound good on paper, but if you’re writing a genre you personally despise just to sell a few books it is doubtful you will gather many readers. Your work is going to feel flat and passionless, and you’re likely to shove it out the door without polishing it the way a book requires.
Write stories which entertain your reader and yourself. Push your creative skills a bit more each time, and learn from each successive work. This is the secret to progressing in the craft of storytelling.