So Chris Brecheen @ Writing About Writing (And Occasionally Some Writing) answers reader questions, and last Friday his answer was about choosing a genre to write in.
Totally awesome piece, and quite a boost because it basically hits all the issues I wonder about when it comes to my own writing and my incompetence when it comes to marketing.
For most working writers, crossing genres is a no-no.
But if you’re writing science fiction and you show up with something that’s clearly more in the literary genre (banal events, deeply troubled characters, ambiguous ending, focus on linguistic flourish over story, etc…) your agent and publisher are probably going to take a pass, and any new publishers and agents are actually going to consider your existing audience a strike against you.
While I dislike calling what happens in my major WIP “banal events”, let’s face it: it’s about a relatively ordinary BDSM couple who end up deeply troubled, and it has an ambiguous ending (I would never go so far as to say I have “linguistic flourish”, though). And guess what? My next two ideas at the beginnings of their journey to storyhood are sci-fi or steampunk-inspired ideas. (There’s also a dark, brooding political saga and a steamy “awakening depths of sensual pleasure” erotica running around somewhere, but those aren’t nearly as well-developed yet).
I think about writing a sequel, or a spin-off in the same world, or tracing one of the supporting character’s stories forwards (or backwards), but none of these ideas really inspire me (yet). I suppose if people read the novel and then turn around to say, “But we MUST know what happens next, and will pay squillions to read the story”, then I may very well find inspiration strikes after all, but I like leaving it as an ambiguous ending. And that’s only partly because I hope that will prompt readers to offer squillions to read what happens next.
Which is why Brecheen’s other advice is very reassuring:
And this is a big “however.” It’s a huge “however.” Perhaps the biggest “however” that exists within the arts.
What do you want to write?
The only thing you should be writing is what your soul burns to write. Write that book that is dying to get out of you. Write the book you’re aching to read. If that’s science fiction or fantasy, write that. If it’s one novel in each of six different genres, write them. Hang the industry. Trust that with passion and determination, you will somehow find a way to make the business end work (especially with all the exciting e-pub and self-pub developments in the industry).
Too many people have tried to write what sells or what they think would be popular and simply couldn’t make themselves interested enough to really keep writing. They ended up with two chapters they thought were going to “make so much money” and a strange aversion to their writing desk.
All those stories in random genres: action-adventure-steampunk, sci-fi detective, dark and brooding politics, erotica. Each one is an idea that it annoys me I have to wait to write it, because I’ve got to finish one project before I can focus on the next, and the current WIP is top of the list.
Writing isn’t lucrative. It’s not glamorous. The only reason to do anything as a fiction author is because you really, really want to. If you happen to write something that’s popular, wonderful. If there’s a way to market your book with a few tweaks, that’s up to you. But the only question you should start with is what book are you simply dying to read that hasn’t been written yet.
Now go write it.
When I started writing my WIP, when I first sketched out in my mind what would happen, why, who my characters were, and then sat down to write, there was only one reason. It was the book I wished existed, and didn’t. The story I was dying to read that hadn’t been written yet. No one else has written it since then.
I could wish that my muse brought me ideas that were more easily marketed together. But what the heck, screw the marketers. I believe in my writing, and believe that my passion and ideals will sell them somehow. Because, despite being scattered across space and time and genres, there are themes common to all of them, just packaged in different ways and with different outcomes. The same themes that I list in the “about” page for this blog, in fact.
How could it be otherwise?