Key Supporting Goal—WHAT to Write (from Write It Forward: From Writer to Successful Author)
At the core of being a writer is the writing. Everything else is secondary to that. So this is the most critical supporting goal you need to define.
Mark Twain said, “write what you know.” This makes sense. Your platform is based on your experiences. However, there is a danger to this as you might be too close to reality and not be able to achieve the suspension of disbelief that fiction requires.
What is your platform? What unique experiences have you had in your life? What could your publisher put on the back inside flap of your hardcover that would make readers think you knew something about what you are writing?
Write what you want to know. My friend Elizabeth George writes literary British mysteries. She was a schoolteacher in Orange County, CA. But she traveled to England and became fascinated with it, particularly the class structure. So she invented two characters, one a handsome rich nobleman, the other a plain, lower class woman and teamed them together as detectives.
Write what you are passionate about. Study writers. Some writers focus on a specific locale that they are passionate about: Dennis Lehane and Boston; Michael Connelly and LA. Others a specific topic: Stephen Pressfield and ancient battles. Others a specific character: Sue Grafton and Kinsey Milhone.
Write to fulfill a need. Sometimes you just have to say something. Be careful, though. Make sure you aren’t lecturing the reader. The primary reason people read fiction is for entertainment. So what makes a consumer want to read it? How does your story connect emotionally with the reader?
“If you do not tell the truth about yourself, you cannot tell it about other people.” Virginia Woolf.
This is a FEAR many writers have. They feel they are revealing too much of themselves in their writing and exposing themselves to the world.
But don’t sweat it. How many authors would you recognize if you saw them?
And even if you put your mother in the book as a character, it’s probably not a problem because:
- You have to write the book.
- You have to sell the book.
- Your mother has to read the book.
- Your mother has to recognize herself in the book. Most won’t.
People are going to know things about you from what you write. You can’t let that inhibit you. Remember, you always have the excuse it’s fiction. I start many of my presentations by reminding people I’m a professional liar. I get paid to make things up.
No matter what, once you are published, someone is not going to like what you wrote. And they will feel it’s their solemn duty to let you know that. It’s part of the job.
Out of every 100 emails I get about my books, 99 are nice. That 1 that isn’t used to really bum me out until I adjusted my attitude. Now I do the following:
If it’s nasty email (not a thoughtful critical one), I immediately stop reading and hit delete. I don’t need to pollute my mind with such thoughts. Then I smile and think, that book really must have affected that person to get them so angry. I’d rather have anger, than apathy.
A question that always comes up at conferences is: “What’s hot?”
The answer: Who cares?
I’m not saying you should ignore the market. Indeed, you have to study and follow the market, because it’s the business and it’s important to profile your readers so you know how to best reach them when your book is published. However, there is such a time-lag in publishing that what’s hot now, might not be hot three years from now (year to write book, year to sell it, year in production).
That timeline is changing, but so far, not that much for traditional publishers. For self-publishers, we can have a book up in a day on electronic platforms. But I doubt you can write a book in a day based on what’s hot.
Writing about something you don’t care about, but are doing it simply to try to ride the latest vampire/steampunk/lawyer/serial killer wave, will show up in the writing.
You don’t control the market. Sometimes you hit things at the right times, sometimes you aren’t lucky. I wrote a suspense novel (Bodyguard of Lies) with two female leads: one an assassin, the other a housewife. I received little interest in it during the 90s. Now female leads in a thriller are hot.
My vampire book (Area 51 Nosferatu) came out before vampires were hot.
I recently wrote historical fiction with the first book covering 1840 until the battle of Shiloh in the Civil War (DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War). I was working on it for a while before someone pointed out to me that 2011 is the 150th Anniversary of the start of the Civil War. That was just a coincidence. I wrote that book because I’m passionate about the subject matter and the people involved.