Today I’m talking about two pitfalls many writers fall into. First, the desperate search for the holy grail of what’s on fleek (do they say that anymore?) or ‘trending’. And secondly, the pursuit of higher literary fiction as the only respectable way to claim ‘writer’ status.
It’s no secret that trends play a big role in what kinds of books get produced and published. Like some kind of secret surfing spot, the waves that peak are often unpredictable and by the time you get your board out into the fray, the ride has already passed.
In the same manner, when writers take it upon themselves to invest in their education with an MFA program or something similar, they are put into a strange and high-walled box of what constitutes ‘worthwhile’ literary fiction.
When, as writers, we are so desperate for that publishing contract, agent, representation, royalty check—or whatever your goal may be—we often forgo our ‘pet projects’ to work on something that will sell or is more ‘meaningful’ aka digestible by a higher caliber of reader.
These are pitfalls and I’m going to tell you why.
- No one can predict trends. No one. In an excellent class, taught by Todd Mitchell, he talked about a controlled experiment wherein three groups were kept isolated (online) and given the same songs to listen to, vote on, dissect, and judge. In every group, a different song was chosen to be ‘best’. In every group, when one song started to get more votes, strange herd-like mentality propelled it further. Bottom line, people will choose at random and marketing departments of publishing companies don’t represent the whole palette of readers in the world. Writing to trends, especially if it’s not something you love or are invested in, is a waste of your talent and time.
- MFA programs are great at exposing you to a range of writers, styles, perspectives and technique. I highly recommend if you have the money and time, to pursue one. But you don’t need a higher degree to become a better writer. Also, having an advanced degree will not guarantee you will be published. The main focus of an MFA program is to get you to finish a novel, a whole project. In the process, it will look down its nose at genre fiction, light-reads, and non-literary fluff. Which may lead you to believe that kind of writing is not worth your time. Even if you enjoy it. Even if most readers prefer a lighter, easier book for at least some (if not all) of their reading time.
So what do we do? Well…I’m going to offer you the best advice I’ve ever gotten.
Write what YOU love.Trends can’t be trusted and you won’t write with heart and fire if the subject doesn’t drive you. The world only needed one Hemingway. What the world is severely lacking is your book. Written your way. I’m not saying you can throw out good writing, grammar, decent editing and the one-two punch of great plot and snappy characters. I’m saying if you love your pet project about ghosts on a mission to save their grandchildren from mutated vampire bats, but you try to write a theory-deep mind fuck about 21st century American Existentialism, because you think it will be more impressive—nothing will go well.
Writing without heart, without passion, will feel empty to readers. AND it will discourage and squelch your flame…and a writer without fire inside will sputter to ash.
So write what you love.
When it’s done, you’ll be excited about it, you will nurture it…it will be easier to promote and share because you believe in it. And it won’t matter who else picks it up or loves it, because it’s already loved. Even if it doesn’t ‘make it’ by industry standards, you win because you have created something that brought you joy. Approaching your project with love puts positivity into the universe and it tends to circle back around. With every project you do with maniacal joy and persistent love, you’ll build the confidence in your work and your purpose as a writer, which is the beauty of creating as a whole. And it leads to miraculous things.
So get out there…without worrying about the current trend or if you’ll hit the sweet spot of American capitalistic consumption. Create what you love to create. That’s success.