Chuck Wendig wrote a truly inspirational piece on his blog recently, in which he said that all writers should write the book that they want to write, as opposed to the book they think they should write in order to appease a certain market. According to Chuck, a writer “should fuck fear in the ear” and write the book that pleases them first and foremost.
It is not new advice obviously. Many have argued that a writer should write from their heart and not to worry if other people are going to like the end result or not.
There is wisdom in that, of course. Writing to please others, or writing towards a certain market, is usually folly, and will often backfire on the writer. Readers can generally tell when a book is authentic or not, or whether it was written from a cynical perspective because the writer was trying to crack some apparently lucrative market.
If you try to write like other writers, you are taking away the single biggest thing that will most likely enable you to write a great book, and that is yourself.
What makes a book original at the end of the day, is not the genre or the story or anything like that. It is the authors interpretation of those things that makes the book stand out. It is also an authors only chance to stand out from the crowd.
The more of your authentic self you put into the book, the more original and unique the book will be, and the more it will get people’s attention.
So I agree with Chuck. You should kick fear in the fucking ear, dig deep and write from the bottom of your soul, a place that no one else on this earth has access to.
You have a potential wellspring of great stories and characters within you that only you can bring out. I don’t know about you, but I find that very encouraging, knowing that I have access to all that potential awesomeness inside me.
To really access it though, you have to let go of the need to please others, and focus on pleasing yourself first. It’s kind of like the concept of helping yourself before you help others. In this case, you have to please yourself before you can please anyone else.
So Fuck Market Research Then?
Not exactly. I think it still helps to know your genre, to at least be intimately familiar with it. To be honest, this shouldn’t be a problem for most writers anyhow. You will generally write within the genre you love the most, so you should already be aware of the books that have went before yours and what they contained. You should know what would please you as a reader of the genre.
I know there are many authors out there who swear by market research, in that they know everything about their audience before they write. They know what is selling well in the genre, they know what kind of covers are most popular, what kinds of titles are trending etc. All that seems to help. I know of writers who didn’t start selling until after they did that kind of research.
But the key thing with all those writers is that they also wrote from their heart. They wrote the kind of books that pleased them first.
So I would say, know your genre, write to market in the proper way, but also write what pleases you within those guidelines.
So Will Pleasing Myself First Guarantee I Write A Bestseller?
I don’t know. Maybe. Personally speaking, I haven’t written that kind of book yet. I haven’t dug down deep enough to get to the really good shit yet, to the stuff I know I am capable of writing, though I intend to on my next book, which will also be a change in direction for me.
Bottom line, it’s hard to write from your gut and not give a shit about whether people will like your writing or not. It is human nature to want to please others, and if your living depends on selling books (as mine does) then you can’t help playing it safe most of the time.
I think every writer owes it to themselves to at least once write a book that they want to write, a book that comes from the deepest, darkest part of themselves.
I also think that truly authentic books sell. Every heartfelt book I’ve ever read has ended up selling very well. How could they not?
For the writer, I think it’s a question of mindset. That’s what I’m discovering now as I gear up to go deeper within myself for my next book. It’s about purposely going to that deeper place and giving all your fears the finger. It’s about expanding within yourself, opening up the endless vista of your imagination and letting out whatever wants to come out, no matter how dark, no matter how personal, no matter how twisted or obscene or filthy or just goddamned wrong.
True authenticity is about accepting what is within you and not being afraid to show it.
All sorts of fears will try to make you play things safe all the time, or make you not even try. It is up to you to get get a handle on those fears and learn to manage them. Something which is a process by the way, a process made a lot easier when you dedicate yourself to being a writer and actually practice the shit out writing itself. It is worth mentioning here that Chuck Wendig wrote six books before he wrote a book that he really, truly wanted to write, a book that pleased him and only him forst and foremost.
So this shit requires a fair amount of perseverance so you can get to the stage where you finally feel able to get past your fears and write from the bottom of your filthy fucking soul (or is it just my soul that’s filthy? I’m sure yours is gleaming :)).
Chuck Wendig, genius that he is, has revised the Rifleman’s Creed into the Pen Monkey’s Creed. I have this printed out and stuck in my writing space where I can always see it. I suggest you do the same. Here it is:
This is my book. There are none like it, because this one is mine.
My book is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life.
My book, without me, is useless. Without my book, I am useless. I must write my tale true. I must shoot straighter than my fear who is trying to kill me. I must kill my fear before my fear kills my story.
My book and I know that what counts is not what others have done, what sales we make, what tweets I have twotted. We know that it is my heart that counts.
My book is a living document, because it is my life. I will learn it as it is my kin. I will learn its weaknesses, its strengths, its characters and plots and themes. I will put my heartsblood into the book and it will put its heartsblood into me as we become part of each other.
Before the Muse that I have shackled to the radiator in my office, I swear this creed. My book and I are the representatives of who I am. We are the masters of our fear. We are the ink-stained fools who press our fingerprints into the page for all to see. We are story and story-teller, one and the same. We are the gods of this place.
So be it, until victory is mine and I have finished my shit — fuck yeah and amen.