Monday, January 20, 2014

Write What You Love

Larry Brooks interviewed best-selling author Philip Margolin on his latest book and a bunch of related writerly topic. This comment from Margolin struck home for me.

Don’t try to figure out what you must write to get published or make the bestseller list; write something that excites you. If you look at most first novels, even ones that aren’t particularly good, they all have a certain energy that comes from a writer getting an idea that excites them.

I think this is right on target. If you look at what's hot now, you're looking into the past. A traditionally published book often takes about a year from its acceptance to its appearance in bookstores. Many times the lead time is longer. The manuscript must be edited and revised, copy-edited, and proof-read. Cover art must be commissioned, sketches reviewed and approved, and cover designed. Sales teams need catalogs about six months in advance. That's not counting advance reading copies (ARCs) to review venues like Publisher's Weekly. Finally, the book must be printed and distributed so that it is available at your corner bookstore on or slightly before the release date.

Even with epublishing, which does not require the long lead times for preparation and distribution of the physical book, there is a gap between the finished product (which hopefully has been through a similarly-rigorous process of editing and proofreading, not to mention cover art and design!) and the initial conception of the author -- the decision to write this particular book. Writers vary in how long it takes to write a novel. This involves not only the speed of creating that first draft but on how much revision the draft needs. And how committed we are to making each book the very best we can, which means both learning our craft and not turning out hastily-written slip-shod work. For most of us, care requires time.

So the ebook or print book you see in the stories may have taken anywhere from 6 months to 6 years in creation. Who wants to be that far behind the times? More to the point, who wants to spend that much of your writing career imitating what someone else was excited about 6 years ago?

Fads will come and go, tastes will change with the seasons. Publishers merge or fold and even more arise. Wonderful books receive lousy promotional support and fizzle. Mediocre ones catch the public's fancy and make pots of money. We as writers have zilch control over any of this. I truly believe that chasing the market is not only futile, but deadly to our creative lives.

The only way to have a satisfying career is to write what you love. It is not enough to guarantee commercial success, but without it, you might as well take a job as an accountant. The paycheck's a whole lot more reliable.

If you've enjoyed this essay on nourishing yourself as a writer, please check out my collection, Ink Dance: Essays on the Writing Life. It's filled with stories, advice, commiseration, and inspiration.

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