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Monday, September 13, 2010

Do you write the book you want to read?

I turned in THE BOOK WITH THE TITLE SO FABULOUS THAT I DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME, which will be published by MTV Books on July 1, 2011, and I've moved on to writing my option proposal. I'm so excited! The sky is the limit for this book. The only requirement is that it should be the same genre as GOING TOO FAR, FORGET YOU, and THE BOOK WITH THE TITLE SO FABULOUS THAT I DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME. So I'm writing the book I want to read.

I'm being very careful about this. I've loaded the soundtrack onto my iPod, only songs I love. I've found cool names for the hero and heroine. I'm working on their characters, making sure they're people I'd want to hang out with. The setting is a place I'd kill to live. The stuff that happens in this book is stuff I love to read about in other people's books--if I read these hooks in the back cover summary when I'm standing in the bookstore, that book is an automatic buy for me. I am doing my best to make this the Best Book Ever--for me, at least. Tastes differ, but this book is perfect for mine.

But not everybody writes this way. At a writers' conference luncheon recently, I sat at a table with an author who wasn't published yet but was pretty far along, with more than one manuscript completed. She told me she wrote romantic comedy, so of course my ears pricked up. But then she went on and on and on about THE HUNGER GAMES, and when I said dystopian isn't my thing, she said dystopian is her FAVORITE. So I asked her: "If dystopian is your favorite, why in the world are you writing romantic comedy? Don't you write the book you want to read?" Her response is that she'd gotten that advice before, and it was the worst advice she'd ever received. People told her that she did not have a dystopian voice. She has a romantic comedy voice. She wasted a lot of time writing dystopian and now she is writing romantic comedy.

I don't want to mess with anybody's head here, because I do think what's good advice for one person can be terrible advice for another. But, trying to put myself in her place...I cannot imagine someone telling me that I do not have the voice to write YA romantic comedy and romantic drama, but I have a good dystopian voice, and I should write dystopian instead. I mean, I REALLY dislike dystopian. It would be like someone telling me that I was a terrible writer but I had a terrific aptitude for being a mortician. I would not run out and become a mortician. And even if I did give writing dystopian a shot, writing it would be like painting with my eyes closed. I would have no idea whether I'd written a good dystopian novel or not, because I dislike all of them.

Writing is hard, and navigating the publishing world is harder, but I think the most confusing and demoralizing time for writers is that period when they've completed some manuscripts, they've had some encouragement, but they haven't made that first sale. At that point some people beat their heads against the wall for many years and many manuscripts, acting out the definition of stupidity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. (Fifteen years and ten manuscripts before I was published...I am way guilty here.) I have watched people make one change and suddenly their careers take off. But turning your back on the genre you love in favor of one you don't love, just because somebody (who didn't buy your book or offer you representation) suggested it, is not a change I would recommend to anyone.

Weigh in, y'all. Do you write the book you want to read? Are you operating very successfully in a genre you don't prefer? Do you think "voice" is really an immutable part of a writer and is suitable only to certain extant genres? I would love to know what you think.

7 comments:

Lorielle said...

I write what the voices in my head tell me to write. Seriously. And hope that it's good enough that someone will want to read it.

Jennifer Echols said...

Now, that's pretty interesting to me. I'll bet a lot of people write that way very successfully. I could not. I am super-organized (Barb would say I'm just being a Virgo) and I have to know exactly what I'm doing and why before I start doing it.

Barbara Caridad Ferrer said...

Yes, you're being a Virgo. :-P

You know I've long fought this, even within YA, given that my heart truly lies with darker women's fiction. Not that I don't love YA, because I wouldn't be able to write it if I didn't love it. But... where am I published and where am I still waiting to be published?

And I love reading mysteries & certain thrillers, yet it doesn't perk the creative brain in terms of wanting to write them. I think I enjoy reading them because I can relax-- I have no professional interest vested in them, so I can just go with the story, if that makes any sense.

I don't know-- I full agree with you that a person should write what they love. But, at the same time, I've really spent this year giving myself permission to stretch my wings creatively and figure out if there's something else I love and can be good at that maybe I didn't realize before because I've been so locked into the contemporary realistic. So I've played with some historical, some paranormal... but by my rules.

It's been... oddly freeing.

Let's see if it bears any fruit. :)

Anonymous said...

I never write something I wouldn't want to read. Hell, sometimes when I'm in the mood for a book, I'll end up going onto my computer and reading past projects (and I always end up editing while reading) of my own.

Jenny O'Connell said...

Oh, I definitely write what I love to read!!! If not I'd be writing about shapeshifting vampires like everyone else! I'd love to be able to write a book in verse, but absolutely no talent there.

Danielle Joseph said...

Very interesting, Jen. I also like to write what I read and you'd never catch me writing or reading high-fantasy. I do love to read depressing books but have not written one yet. I think probably because I had a prett happy childhood and have not been drawn into something like that yet. However the book I'm working on now has humor and some sad moments. The perfect combo to me!

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

I always write the books I want to read. That is a big reason why I write YA because I was looking for a particular kind of book as a teen that I could never find.

However, sometimes the form of the book I want to read surprises me. I never really thought I'd step outside of contemporary realistic fiction (even though I read outside of it all the time), but I had one idea that really only works as a paranormal. Believe me I tried to make it contemporary and it just didn't work. So right now the stories I want are taking me into new genres.