When I began this series with the very first post, I told myself (and all of you) I would never tell you how to write. It’s not for me to say; I have been writing something or other since I could hold a pen in my hand, which gives me roughly 22 years of experience on the subject, and I still don’t feel qualified to give advice.
I have, however, received a lot of advice on writing, much of it unsolicited, some of it useful. Lately I have seen a lot of posts by bloggers, authors, etc. containing lists of rules for writing a successful novel. Rules for avoiding elements, things that are overdone in writing, things new writers do wrong… you name it, and there is probably a list out there for it. It’s a thing now, people want to know the secret. How did you do it? How did you get so famous? What do I need to do to break through into the NY Times Best Sellers list? TELL ME!
I won’t tell you. Mostly because I haven’t done it myself yet, but also because I believe all those lists and rules are a lot of snake oil. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. In the end, we’re the ones who decide the outcome. We’re the ones holding the pen. All the rules and guidelines in the universe won’t make your story stand out if you don’t have a good story to tell. They might even smother your book, diminish its potential if they make you cut out what makes your story unique. Because that is what rules do: create cookie cutter novels for public consumption.
Here’s how I approach writing:
1. I follow my heart. I may think the current trend is awesome, and I want to ride that wave all the way to the top, but that’s not how it comes out on paper. The stories I write are all personal to me in some way. Many of them come from dreams I’ve had, a scene, a character, a setting, and the best ones are the ones that just flow, without much correction or pressure from me. They’re not trendy or “popular,” as evidenced by the number of low ratings and a couple scathing reviews for Bastien. Ask me if I care. The answer is not so much, because…
2. I write to make people feel, not to make them comfortable. There is a whole genre of books I like to call comfortable. I believe the industry term is “beach reads.” They’re books you read to while away a boring day or two. They entertain sufficiently, and you sigh contentedly at the end, but you forget the characters’ names two days later. What’s the point? I want a book that will make my heart pound. I want my palms to sweat, my eyes to get sore from staring so intently at the page. I want to be brought to tears by someone’s loss or heartbreak and I want to cheer the heroes when they finally–FINALLY–defeat the bad guy. I want to remember that book months later and reach for it again to relive it a second time. And a third. And a tenth.
And if those are the kind of books I want to read, how can I even attempt to write anything less? My characters are strong-minded. They have their opinions about a great many things. They are also strong-hearted, and put all of themselves into whatever they do. Sometimes that makes for very unpleasant situations. Sometimes they’re the kind of people you’d want to punch in the nose at a party. You hate them, you love them, but either way you are there with them every step of the way. That’s the hope, at least.
3. I write for myself first, for my readers second. I have seen authors in the past pandering to the wishes of their fan base. I’ve seen them change entire books to appease the masses, and I always wondered how different the story might have been if they’d just stuck to their guns. This is the less-than-friendly truth about my books: Readers, I love you all dearly and I treasure the time you give me to take you away into my dreams. But they are my dreams. I am the one who thought them up; I am the one who gave birth to these people, places, creatures, and things. They are my children in that sense, and I won’t have them any other way. There is a reason for this, too:
4. I recognize that people get out of books what they read into them. I’ve heard it said that no two people ever read the same book. It’s true. You can tell by the many and varied reviews they leave. You can never please everyone. They all have their own preferences, borne from lifetimes of experience, hopes, dreams, heartbreaks, and tragedies. What I think of as matter-of-fact has, in the past, grievously offended. What I thought of as heart-wrenching has been shrugged off as bland. I can’t change that, and I wouldn’t if I could. That’s what makes books so exciting; we identify with them on a level so personal it’s as if the writer is speaking to us alone. And lastly…
5. I do it for the love, not the paycheck. Would it be awesome if I could make a living off my books? Absolutely. Will I forever strive to achieve that goal? You betcha! But I’ll do it by pushing myself to write the best story I possibly can, not by pandering to current trends, or hooking people with paid advertisements, or trolling for tons of reviews. And if that means I’ll live a life of dreary day jobs, secretly nurturing my passion after hours, then so be it.
Writing is the ultimate in DIY. It demands all of your energy, your talent, and perseverance. So my DIY Lesson for today is: DO IT YOURSELF! Don’t let someone else hold the reins on your story. Don’t let them tell you what to do and how to do it. Believe in your characters, give them everything you have, let them speak in their own voice, and they will not let you down.
Until next time! 🙂