Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Should you write from the heart or for the market?

Hi peeps! Welcome to the first writing-geared post on the blog. This should be a regular feature of Wednesdays (days on which I'm still somewhat energized and not yet brain dead!).

Am I tackling too big a topic today? Maybe. All I know is that this discussion has been creeping up on me and my author friends lately. With the state of the economy and the writing market being what it currently is (Print v/s epub, Kindle, self-publishing, cutting of mid-list authors for the big names, etc), you may wonder what you really need to do in this business.

I cannot speak for everyone but I can definitely speak for me. Most of you know I write Indian/Mauritian cultural stories. I thus wrote my first story about a divorcee in Mauritian society (The Other Side) and instead of giving it the heavy and tortured flair of Mauritian literature, I chose to make it a light and breezy romance with a definite HEA. Spurred on by the success of that book (it was picked right off the bat by a local publisher and is still in print today), I started my second book in and around the same kind of society, this time the focus being a young woman of traditional origin who's on the fence with modernity.

Both stories featured behind-closed-doors or barely-mentioned-in-passing love scenes, which worked because of my 'conservative' market and because culture-based stories do not generally include racy sex scenes.
Then I tried to branch to mainstream - a whole different kettle of fish, I was told. The advice I received? This - you need sex in there.

My first instinct was to say no. I wasn't comfortable writing sex scenes (always thought my very traditional and conservative mum and aunties were reading over my shoulder!). But hey, I was told this was the rule of the market - no sex, no sale. And keep the works short so you have ample opportunities to rack up the heat! I bit the bullet.
The result was a 2oK-something time-travel set in the Regency era. Of course, it had the 'required' rake, and he bedded the heroine graphically at every opportunity. That, as I was told, was apparently what sold! And sell it did, right off the bat too!

But this story, thanks goodness, never made it to the e-shelves. Why? Well, when I got an opportunity to grab the work back before it came out, I jumped on it. You see - I wasn't comfortable writing graphic sex, even if that's what the market wanted. This just wasn't 'me', neither as a person, neither as an author.

So before you jump on any market fad or any market advice or market trend, ask yourself this question - will I be comfortable writing this? Right - you never will know unless you try. Fine - try writing it and see if your heart's in there.

Is it? Or is it not?

That's the question you should ask yourself.

What I'm getting at is this - if your heart is into something, it shows in what you do. How many times have you dragged your feet to do a chore? Granted, yes, you got the job done, even got it done well, but the fact remains, you had to drag your feet to do it. Now imagine doing something you're all revved up for. You can hardly remain still until you can get to this task, and when you do get to it, you immerse yourself in there so much time flies, and when it's over, you're like, that's too soon, I want to hang on to this feeling.

Ask yourself then if your writing is a feet-dragging chore, or an elation-filled endeavour. If it's a chore, you might need to reassess your position. Is it the writing itself that's drudging, or is it that this just isn't 'you'?

The fact remains that while writing should be a labour of love, it should also be a task you undertake with all your heart. When this is the case, have no doubt that the story that flows out of your pen (or keyboard) is one that is bound to be strong, solid, and overall a round story that covers all aspects of what constitutes a good story. Why? Because you wrote it with your heart in there, not just to fill a slot of the market demand and to make a quick buck or to get a shoddy credit.

Ask most good writers what they are after, and they'll most probably tell you that their goal is strong stories that they have invested all their heart and soul in.

Is it that hard to do? No, but you need to sit down and decide what you want. A good story most often brings you all of publishing contract, publishing credit, readership, and some money. Add to it that there's also the elation-filled author satisfaction that can tide you through weeks on end. Take all of these elements apart - contract, credit, money - and without your heart in your work, you may end up with any or all of these, but all of it may not last long - it may not bring you more contracts, credits or money. Whereas a good story, well, it can pave the way for your future career path.

Think with your brain and common sense, think with some logic - find what you want to do, and then think with your heart when you are writing. A story that has author investment and the author's heart and soul into it will shine out of the lot without you needing to do much work, and that, I believe, should be every writer's big goal.

Any questions, just holler!
From Mauritius with love,


Unknown said...

lovely blog post Zee - a topic we've discussed recently...I see it has inspired you as it has me. Actually, your post gave me ideas, and I feel emboldened. Thanks as always for sharing something beautiful, my Mauritian friend.

Rae Lori said...

Excellent post, Z! Yup this is definitely a very relevant post from a recent discussion. I feel really sympathetic to what you went through because I recently had a revelation with my own writing and the market. I love the last part where you layout how a future writing is in the stories you feel comfortable with. So true indeed. :-)

J Hali Steele said...

Very good post...and one many have discussed again and again. I think what it boils down to is: If YOU don't love what you're writing--no one else will. Period.

That's my 2 pennies!

Chicki Brown said...


I agree with you, because I've experienced the same issue. Writing graphic sex scenes is hard for me. I've tried it and have decided not to try it again. LOL!

In my inspirational stories I get off easy, because those scenes aren't acceptable anyway. In my contemporary stories, I try to keep it sexy without being at all graphic. Of course, my critique partners bleed all over the scenes and tell me where I've missed the mark.

Bottom line is write what you feel comfortable writing. Just like in the bedroom, the reader can tell when you're faking it.

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Rebecca Royce said...

Here's the thing, I totally agree on the feet dragging metaphor. This is true in my life and my writing. LOL.

But I have found that if I actually want to earn a living doing it, I have had to make certain concessions. So far, it's not been anything I've been unwilling to do or felt uncomfortable about.

Still, it hasn't been able to be all 'my' way if that makes sense. Great blog post.

AJ said...

Bottom Line . . . as I take the last line from the previous post. Write what you KNOW, what you LOVE, and instead of being a sheep in a sea of white, maybe you'll start a trend, and when everyone see's a little color amongst the white, they might be brave, and curious enough to try what it new! :-)

Catherine Gayle said...

I've been very lucky in that what I love to write happens to be one of the primary types of romance that continues to sell, and sell well. But, since it is something that is a constant within the market, there are a lot of people writing it, and there is a lot more competition. We'll see how it all pans out. I'm not giving up, I'm just trying to learn to write a better story, but still write what I love.

Kate H said...

Great article! It was one I was wondering about as well.

It's very helpful to see how others feel about the subject.

Zee Monodee said...

Hi Nat, my other island friend!!
Good to see you drop by. Yes, I was inspired by our current ongoing discussion, and felt it might be something a lot of writers out there were wondering about too.
That's really awesome that it has inspired you, and brought on some ideas too (What ideas??? Dish!!).
You're most welcome, darling. Glad if I can help in any way.

Zee Monodee said...

Hello Rae!
Yup, another one of our friend's circle discussions. It is so true that sometimes you are confronted with an eye-opener that completely shakes you and makes you reassess your very stand. Thankfully though, these episodes are a good thing!
I really feel that future writing is where your heart is. In a business where you can burn out faster than you can say 'bestseller', it's important to have the drive and desire to plod on because the going is definitely gonna get tough as you continue onwards.
Hugs dear friend, hope you find your way soon!

Zee Monodee said...

This is exactly what it boils down to. If you don't love your story, how can you expect others to love it? Your investment of the heart is going to show in a story, and people/readers do pick up on this little fact. Sometimes it can make the whole difference in a review or an opinion someone is going to have of your work.
Feel free to drop 2 pennies, 5 pennies, or even a whole dollar anytime here! :)

Zee Monodee said...

Hey Chicki
Lol at this line: "I've tried it and have decided not to try it again". Yes, this is very much what I felt like too. I have stories written in that graphic sex vein that are sitting on my hard disk, witing to be picked up and 'tamed' into sweetness! Maybe one day, who knows.
It's not exactly easy too to keep it sexy. There's a lot more than meets the eye in writing a believable and captivating love scene.
Another keeper from your comment: "Just like in the bedroom, the reader can tell when you're faking it." That's priceless!

Zee Monodee said...

Hey Rebecca
Good to see you here! You bring up a good point - earning a living from writing. It's true that some have some latitude as to what they will or will not write. It is as much a career decision as any.
Yes, I completely understand what you mean by 'my way'. There are things that need to be done, bullets that need to be bitten. For example, just because your heart tells you your story should be a 900-page ms doesn't mean you shouldn't consider that most stories in the genre feature in and around 375-400 pages.
But it's good that you've always done things that still sit comfortably with you.
I think it's about knowing which battle to choose, and which to fight.
Thanks for coming over!

Zee Monodee said...

Nice to see you stopping by!
Yes indeed - maybe you'll be the new trendsetter. Believing is a key aspect of everything. You have to have the confidence. No point in wearing a designer dress if you're gonna wear it like a potato sack - where's the confidence, the standing? Now with confidence and standing, a potato sack can even pass for designer flair! *wink*
All it takes is a little faith!

Zee Monodee said...

Hiya Catherine!
Lovely to see you here.
You're there in spirit, girl. Write what you love and strive to write it well, as best as possible. Then you have a bigger chance of shining above the lot!

Zee Monodee said...

Kate!!!! Hugggssss
So good to have you over!
Glad if the article could help, and shed some light on this topic. Writing is a reclusive endeavour and we're always wondering what the masses of 'others like us' are thinking.

Viviane Brentanos said...

Great article. I have to go with writing with the heart. I cannot write anything I do not believe in. I refuse to comprimise my style, ideas, endings blah blah just to appeal to the market. Let's face it; that market will change by next week. An author, as an artist must remain true to oneself.


Bella said...

Great post, Z. I'm with you on writing what you're comfortable with. I admit I actually enjoy writing love scenes...or shouLd I say, I like what my characters reveal when they're most vulnerable (naked). On the other hand, gratitous sex in a book bothers me.

Zee Monodee said...

Hi Viviane
Thanks for coming over and for the comment! Totally agree with you. You need an artist's vision if you're to be an artist. Sometimes it will not gel, sometimes it will hit, sometimes it will bomb. But that's what's life is all about - staying true to ourselves and living it as fully as we can.

Zee Monodee said...

Hey Bella
Good to see you dropping by!
Lol, lucky girl! It's true that characters reveal a lot when vulnerable, and what's more vulnerable than being with someone you have feelings for? Still, there is a line between showing this and gratuitous sex. That gets boring and takes away from the story. I'm not saying sex cannot be present in a book - there is amazing erotica out there, Megan Hart comes to mind - but one too many times, it is just strung sex scenes and that's a real shame.
Thanks and hugs!!