One of the earliest pieces of writing advice I remember was that writers — especially new writers — shouldn’t try to write to trend. In other words, don’t look at today’s hot books and set out to write whatever’s currently leaping off the shelves.
There are problems with aiming for trends, not the least of which is the glacial pace of publishing. Say Cyborg Unicorns are the hot new thing, so you set out to write your own cybercorn book. You spend a year writing your book, another year submitting, and then if you actually land a deal, it could be yet another year before the book comes out. In this highly optimistic scenario, you’re already three years behind the trend, which means there’s a decent chance the rest of the world has moved on to Shakespearean Cthulhu*.
Of course, an established writer can go directly to the publisher saying, “Let me write you an awesome cybercorn book.” If you’re a fast enough writer, you might have more luck riding the current trends.
But that leads to the other objection, one which I admit is totally bogus**, and that’s the idea that a real author writes from the heart without worrying about trends or popularity. The best stories are the ones the author loves.
The thing is, I have no proof for this. I think my writing is better when I love the story, when I’m excited about the ideas and the characters and so on. But can a skilled writer churn out a tale he doesn’t care about and still make it good? Why not? I don’t think of writing as a mystical art, inspired by divine muses. It’s a craft. A good carpenter can produce beautiful bookshelves even if she doesn’t particularly love shelves — or even if she doesn’t love this particular set of shelves — right? Why doesn’t the same apply to writing? Doesn’t a writer who refuses to write anything she doesn’t absolutely love risk falling into the same trap as the one who refuses to write until the muse gives him the perfect story idea?
None of which changes my deeply held conviction that I write better when I love what I write. Maybe the love doesn’t make it better; maybe it just makes it easier. All I know is that I try to write what I love, and while this approach hasn’t made me a New York Time bestseller, is seems to work for me.
All of this is a long-winded way of talking about my drive to work this morning, where I was brainstorming more ideas for the fourth princess book and realized how much fun it could be to write to one of the current trends:
Princesses vs. Zombies.
Sadly, I don’t think I’m going to do it. The idea isn’t right for the series, and doesn’t fit with everything else I want to accomplish in book four.
But wouldn’t it make one hell of a story? Danielle, Talia, and Snow kicking undead ass together.
Who knows, maybe I’ll have to do a fifth book after all….
*Note to self: pitch this anthology!
**Yes, I grew up in the 80s.
August 19, 2009 @ 1:12 pm
And now we’re in Robert Pirsig territory with his “Quality” argument (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Lila). Once you know how, you can do almost anything. However, if you really love what you’re doing the “Quality” of it will shine through. It is a definable quantity which is most notable when it’s present than when it’s absent.
And Shakespeare Cthulhu…. hmmmm (clackity clackity clack).
Jim C. Hines
August 19, 2009 @ 2:23 pm
Can you read a book and tell me whether that love was present? If it’s a definable quality, I want to know how it’s defined and measured, ’cause I’m difficult like that.
Sadly, I’ve never read Z&tAoMM, though it’s been recommended from time to time over the years…
August 19, 2009 @ 4:32 pm
I think I can see in a story that the author was having fun (although it’s a bit more nebulous for me, Terry Bisson you can see enjoying himself as he writes his short stories). I can do it better with music. You can really hear when the band is into their own performance and having a good time playing and when they’re doing it for the money (one performance energizes the listener, the other doesn’t).
Reposting a comment « Twenty Palaces
August 19, 2009 @ 5:44 pm
[…] Hines has an interesting post on his blog and LiveJournal about writing to follow a popular trend and, through my own dumbosity, managed to […]