Sunday, March 30, 2014

Write What You Love

I've seen at least one professional writer mention that he writes what he thinks will sell.  To him, it isn't important whether or not he likes the story.  He simply writes what he believes editors will publish.  And he's had success in doing so.

To me, taking that approach to writing isn't any different than any other kind of production job.  My full-time job is producing code.  I didn't start the company; I create code based on the company's needs.  It can be challenging and rewarding, and I do my best to write solid code.  But I'm not going in every day developing whatever software comes to mind.

Assuming we have technical skills to go along with a clear perception of exactly what editors (and possibly readers) want, we could do just that: produce stories to fit the market.  But I would argue this isn't good for the soul.  Is your chief aim publication at all cost, even creating the kinds of stories you don't enjoy?

I've said many times that writers shouldn't be upset if they can't get a story published that they wrote solely for themselves; after all, they've already reached their target audience.  But if all we do is write for others with nothing for ourselves, how much are our hearts really in it? 

I primarily write fantasy and science fiction.  But suppose I perceive a need for a genre I don't read or enjoy.  Further suppose that I meet a magazine editor in this genre, and she asks me to write a short story to fill a current gap in an upcoming issue.  Should I do it?  After all, if she likes it, it's a publishing credit and a live check.  Being paid to write is a wonderful thing.  But at what cost?  I would be taking time away from something else I could create, something dear to my heart.  Granted, I may instead produce a story that no one purchases.  Is that a better use of my time?

There is no right or wrong answer as to what a writer spends time on.  Remove writer and substitute artist.  Sometimes, one simply has to pay the bills, and if it's not writing code, it might be writing words.  I understand that, too.  I don't know all of Beethoven's back-story, but this seems like it might be the difference between his 8th and 9th symphonies.  The 8th was written to match many of his contemporaries, and it feels dated and not like him; perhaps he was just trying to generate income.  Then there's the 9th, which is nothing short of genius.

I'm curious where other writers stand on this issue.  It might be different for those who have other vocations as primary income versus people who rely solely on writing. 

For me, at least for now, I only write what I love.  I'm passionate about the stories that come to my mind, and even if I can't get some of them published, I can at least look back on them fondly.

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