Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Selfish Writer: Or Why Making Yourself Happy Makes Readers Happy

Are you a selfish writer? By that I mean, are you genuinely happy when you write? Is what entertains you what in turn motivates you to…

·        Tell a good story?
·        Spin a great plot twist?
·        Delight in a really evil character?
·        Have fun with your dialogue?
·        Fill a world with passion and creativity?

It can be hard to be “selfish” when we write because there is a fine line, I think, between being self-indulgent – which readers rarely enjoy – and being genuinely selfish, or writing for oneself first.

I try never to be a self-indulgent writer, writing ONLY for myself, but in the past I’ve been very guilty of trying to please others BEFORE myself. My first book I kind of wrote to make my agent happy, my second book I kind of wrote to make the readers of my first book happy, and so on.

But lately I’ve been a smidge more selfish in my writing. I’m less concerned with what “they” might think and more concerned about what “I” think. Which isn’t to say I’m trying to shun my audience, bore them or ignore them, but instead I’m trying to guide them a little more forcefully.

And, really, isn't that our job? To do the thinking for our audience? To make them think this guy's the baddie when, all along, it's been... her? Isn't that kind of what they're paying for?

In the end, you know your story best. You’re the ones most familiar with your characters, with the world you’ve created, with the tension you’ve built and the relationships you’ve forged. Part of becoming a better writer, for me, is learning to trust myself more – to be more selfish – when it comes to making choices in my writing.

I’m tired of wondering if something my characters says will be politically correct, or if a way I’ve described one of my character’s skin color might offend some readers, or if the “cool kids” – or even the reviewers – will like it.

These days I’m more interested in telling a better story, unfiltered and headlong, and in turn I’ve been having a LOT of fun writing my last few projects. Not that I didn’t enjoy my first few, but I think as we learn we grow, and as we grow we evolve and I think I’m enjoying a little of that process right about now.

And I hope that, as I have fun with my writing, as I begin to enjoy my characters more, trust them more and trust my own choices more, that the readers will as well.

Case in point: I picked up a few cozy mysteries over Halloween. I like those, when done well. These were Halloween-themed, and I swear I couldn’t get past the first 20 pages in any of them. They just all seemed so formulaic, so rote, like the publisher called the writer over the summer and said, “Hey, listen, we’d like to move some units over Halloween. Can you whip us up a story real quick?”

I dunno, to me I could almost feel the work the writer was doing on every page and, well, I get enough of that at home. The books I’ve enjoyed most, whether they were serious nonfiction, or sappy romance, or murder mystery or police procedural or dystopian YA, were the ones where I got lost right away in what was happening on the page.

Where I wasn’t thinking about anything else going on in my life but what might happen next. When the writer was in complete control of the story from the first word and led me on a journey that was better than expected.

Anyway, those are my thoughts for this week. I feel like I’m rambling a little, but you know what I mean: I know writing can’t always be fun, and I know we can’t ONLY make choices for ourselves, but in the perfect world, we can smile when we think about our WIP and really dig into it, knowing that, if nobody else enjoys it, at least we will!

Yours in YA,



J.A. Campbell said...

I think you have to write for yourself first, otherwise what's the point? But you're right, you can't be selfish either. A fine line indeed.

I love what I do!


Kimber An said...

I compromise. If I wrote only for myself, I would be flitting from one story to the next, criss-crossing genres and sub-genres, like back before publication and I'd probably never get another contract. But, now, I write for Readers too. So, I rely on reader and reviewer feedback and my editors telling me what's selling right now. Then, I pull out a story that I love that fits their bill too.

I am okay with the compromise because I figure *all* of my stories exist inside my own imagination anyway. I can visit them anytime I like. Why should it matter if I can't share it with the world yet? You never know when the trends may turn and suddenly one of them will be hot. And then I'll write it up.