Deciding What to Write

When you’ve made the momentous decision to write a novel, you may or may not know what kind of novel you want to write. The conventional wisdom is to write what you love to read, and the mercenary wisdom is to write what sells. You may at this very moment feel yourself pulled in one direction or the other, based on the loftiness of your literary aspirations or the emptiness of your bank account.

One thing is absolutely for sure though: if you don’t love reading novels and do it pretty much daily, don’t bother writing one. Believe it or not, I do meet people who claim they are going to write a novel, and yet they aren’t avid readers and haven’t actually read a novel since some time in the early nineties (after returning home from an MC Hammer concert). Usually they are people who feel the world needs to hear their life story, and maybe the world does, but a writer needs a deep level of appreciation for the form in which he or she chooses to write. That appreciation is generally expressed in regular reading of that literary form.

Each of the above pieces of advice has its limitations though. You may indeed be a talented writer of the historical fantasy sword-fighting epics you love to read. Then again, you may find some other form much more enjoyable and natural. If you don’t have the patience to do extensive historical research, for instance, a historical novel may not be the best choice for you.

On the other hand, choosing the type of novel you will write based on what is selling now is a recipe for tired, copycat stuff, of which the world already has too much.

My personal opinion is this: you must love to read, and you must do it frequently (like, every day), in order to be a good writer; and you must love to write. But what should you write? Whatever gets YOU excited about writing. It shouldn’t be what your mother would approve of, or what your creative writing professor approves of, or what the current bestsellers are writing. The only way to stand out in a vast sea of fiction and still be able to keep your happiness afloat over the many years you will spend bobbing along is to love what you write. It should bring you some measure of joy–and that joy is what will sustain you through the hard times that are an inevitable part of the writing life.

The money may or may not follow, but that’s another blog post entirely.

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