A Novel Approach, pt. 2, (Follow Your Muse)

(Continued from yesterday.)

The worst reason I can think of to stick with a project is money. I’ve known a lot of writers who tell me they stick with projects they hate because their agent or some editor somewhere said that it was a great idea and was bound to be the next Harry Potter or Twilight or Captain Underpants.

And, sure, I can see why a promise like that could be tempting. Wouldn’t it be great to hear people say that you were single-handedly responsible for turning a whole generation on to reading? And the royalties! I can only imagine.

I’ve even heard writers say things along the lines of, “Well, I’ll write one bodice-ripper to get my foot in the door, and then I’ll focus on the writing that I want to do.”

But that’s a really bad idea for two related reasons.

The first is that the publishing industry doesn’t work that way. If your first book is a best-selling romance novel, your publisher is going to want the same thing from you for the rest of your literary life. Why? Because you’ve demonstrated that you can make a particular kind of product and make it in a way that’s particularly profitable. To allow you to do anything else would represent a risk. If there’s one thing that corporations hate, it’s risk.

The second reason why it’s a bad idea to write for money or to get your foot in the door builds directly upon the first: You’ll spend the rest of your professional life churning out the kind of writing that you hate—or at least the kind of writing that you don’t love. Maybe you’ll be able to make a living, but if you’re not following your muse, there’s a good chance that you’ll be miserable at it.

As with any rule, there are exceptions. Some writers have, in fact, transitioned from one genre to another or from a specific niche market to a more mainstream audience. Look at Stephen King! After making a name for himself in horror, he wrote Different Seasons. Then again, it’s not like Stephen King started writing horror with the intention of abandoning it for what some might call “more serious” writing. He wrote—and continues to write—horror because he loves it. He also happens to have written some highly compelling “mainstream” fiction, which I imagine he loved writing as well.

None of this, of course, is to say that you shouldn’t write the next Twilight. It’s just to say that you shouldn’t write it if your heart’s not in it. Only write the next Twilight if you can’t stop yourself from doing it.

The world will thank you.

(Continued tomorrow.)

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