Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has arrived, stop thinking and go in.
- Napoleon

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Why Write What People Might Not Want to Read

Skipping down my blogroll this morning, I came across a bizarre thought. According to my blog buddy, JenWriter, someone somewhere made a strange statement about only querying ideas - not written manuscripts - because it's irrational to spend all that time writing a book people might not want to read. I guess the theory is to only write a book interest in it is guaranteed.

Ummm, yeah.

I'm not going to rant about it here. I think Jen did an awesome job addressing the fine points of that, and I already added my own ranterly comment to support her. But I did want to talk about the mindset here.

Why do we write books we aren't certain someone will want to read?

I guess I could go with the old standby for any endeavor that seems outlandish to those who don't do it. Like the answer to the age-old question of why anyone would climb Mt. Everest - because it's there. I could say the same thing for writing, but it doesn't nearly cover the drive. (As I suspect the 'because it's there' answer doesn't really cover the drive behind climbing Mt. Everest.)

I could fall back on the answer that I write because I have to. This is, in part, true. If I don't write for a long period of time, I tend to get a little batty. The stories pile up in my head. The characters whine and scream and babble enough to drive me to distraction. I talk to myself. (Okay, I talk to myself MORE.) I'm sure it's really quite a sight to watch me wander through the world going through writing DTs. I mean, sure, I could hold it all in and let the stories play themselves out internally, but we really don't want to be fitted for an I-love-me jacket.

So, why really do I write books before I have an offer in hand?

Because I'm not writing books just to see them in print. Yes, I want all my books to be published. Yes, I want other people to read and enjoy them as much as I do. But that's not the primary goal. If all I wanted was to publish, I would write anything. I'd be cranking out whatever I thought the market wanted, as quickly as I could get them out, to get as much moolah as my books could net me. I wouldn't care if any part of me was in the books; I wouldn't care if my own beliefs were pushed aside if that's what the market called for. I'd sell myself to the highest bidder and be done with it. (And in my darkest times, believe me, I've thought about it.)

But I'd sooner cut off my left hand and call myself Stumpy.

Right now, I have four books ready for the market. If none of them sell, so be it. I just look at it as 'they were ready for the market, but the market wasn't ready for them'. And then I write the next one. And the next one... Ad infinitum. Maybe five years and five more books from now, the market will be ready for the first four. Maybe those books will only be published after I'm long dead. It doesn't matter. I wrote them. I'm proud I wrote them. They're MINE, and they always will be.

Now, aside from that, each book was also experience in writing. The more you write, the more experience you have, and the better each subsequent book will be. (Unless you're a moron, and you don't learn from experience.) I wouldn't trade a minute of the untold hours spent writing any of my books, short stories, poems, essays, unfinished novels, etc. Those hours are only wasted if you let them be. Could I have used those hours to do something else? Sure. I could've read every book in the house, caught up on all the television shows I missed over the past few years, gotten a degree, learned how to paint, designed my dream home... There's always something else I could be doing, but for me, those things would be wasted time - because... :drumroll:

They aren't writing time.

And no matter what else I find myself doing, I'm thinking about writing anyway, so what's the point? There's writing, and everything else. And everything else is either distracting me from writing or it's experience I can use to make my writing better.

What do you think about the whole thing? Why do you write? What would you say to this misguided pseudo-writer if you could?



Travis Erwin said...

It's all about the passion. either you have it or you don't and you can't explain or talk someone into having it. Like you I'm either writing, thinking about writing, or counting off time until I can finish what I'm doing and get back to writing.

My prediction is that writer will wsh out within a few years. They want it to be easy and that simply isn't the case.

Janimé said...

I would call it as much of a need as a passion.

The best programmers program for the sake of programming, whether or not they ever use much of the code they write.

Which would be why I won't ever write or program - can't do it like that.

But I have danced, and I think some of the need is there. I don't dance actively anymore, but when I hear music, I still see movement. Probably always will.

JenWriter said...

I did rant a bit there, didn't I? Well, I was annoyed.

Writing for me can be very therapeutic. It's why I still try to find the time to do it with everything else going on in my life right now. Because if I didn't, I think I would go batty. And in August when I have a chance to breathe and don't feel like I need something therapeutic anymore, I'll do it because I just love doing it.

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

I think the 'query before writing' approach often works well for non-fiction. I don't think it works so well for fiction, except perhaps to the extent that some writers I know, when pondering several ideas for their next book, will ask their agent's opinion. I often see the theory that if you can only write a really good book, it will be published and do well. I've never seen any actual evidence for this, though.