Separating the Chaff from the Grain: Part Three - So What Should We Write

>> Friday, January 22, 2010

Setting aside, for the moment, the still outstanding question: what makes "great literature"? What makes a classic? Are they the same?

For those of you who thought that was yesterday's post, I was really focusing on how hard it is to say, with certainty, that something is "crap" and the "good stuff" - at least for me. I do think the question of something being classic is a little different, but I don't want to talk about that today.

Today, I want to go back to the question I posed at the end of part one. If publications are just doing as the market demands, and clearly the market demands things that may not have depth or grammatical excellence or literary staying power. So, if what's being published is so different from what you're writing that it can't be reconciled, what do you do?

Well, that depends on why you're writing. Me, I'm writing because I have stories to tell. I would love to be published so that I could share my stories; however, if I never am, I can live with that. I love writing. I love that I have a day job so that I am able to write only things that interest me, only stories I would like to read. I have seen authors that write in similar styles, so I know it's not impossible to publish this, but I have no expectations that selling a book will make me rich and famous. And, I suspect a significant reason I have not been published is that I'm not nearly as aggressive as I should be marketing.

If it turns out I'm wrong and I'm just writing things that interest no one but me, I'll write for myself then and so be it. (Which might be why I don't market it as hard as I should).

If being published is what it's all about for you, though, you are either going to have to be a superlative marketer or you're going to have to find out what publishers are looking for today and give it to them. That might mean writing "cheap" thrillers and romances. That might mean dumbing down or sensationalizing science (as long as you're not making the science WRONG, I'll just sigh gustily). That might mean focusing on celebrity gossip.

If you do that, though, for your own self-respect, I can only advise you to make you thriler or romance or science the best you can, with a modicum of grammar and at least a basic understanding of language. You don't have to follow my suggestion, but it would sure make things easier for me.

But it's OK. The world needs all kinds of writing and not everyone has the leisure to write for themselves. Nothing wrong with giving people what they want. Especially if you do it well.

At least that's what I think.


  • Relax Max

    I think there must be two, at least, kinds of writers: those who, like you, as you said in this post, do it mostly for their own enjoyment (and if they never get published, they can live with that); and those who have a burning desire to write and do nothing else, because it is a very real passion - they cannot LIVE without writing. The later don't want to work at another career. A few exceptions, of course. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle comes to mind (like his protagonist's sidekick Watson, he was a medical doctor, and other things, and he is an example of one who made money writing as a hobby) - but mostly the second kind of writer would LOVE to support themselves with their writing. The only reason they still have a day job is because that writing breakthrough just hasn't happened yet.

    I think the latter person will apply himself to the business end of writing more fervently and persistently than the former.

  • Stephanie B

    I suspect you're right.

  • Roy

    Most of my favorite writers - Stephen King, Ursula K. LeGuin, Harlan Ellison among others - all say that they have no choice but to write; it's who they are. So I suspect the writer we most like to read fit Max's second profile.

  • Stephanie B

    The more I think of this, the more I'm not sure there's really a difference. I've tried not writing - can't do it - and have dreamed and worked to be a writer my whole life. I don't do business in my real job either - I suck at it and it's not about attitude. I'm the Girl Scout that would have had to fork out the money for my whole allotment of cookies. But not because I'm not passionate about writing.

    Or maybe that's just how I want to see myself. Maybe none of those people had families. Maybe having the drive isn't the same as having the talent. I'll stop there before I get depressed.

  • Jeff King

    I think famous writers, ones we are talking about, have to write have to create have to tell the tail... their work is so well written and tells of stories that TONs of people can't help but read and recommend to everyone they know...

    I believe it’s about finding the right person to love your work and fight to get it out there, then it’s about advertising and promotion of said work.
    There are tons of movies and books that are really good but no one has ever heard of them. If no one ever hears about you work, how can they buy it...

    It sucks but these to things go hand in hand. It is what makes or breaks you, in so many words... Got to have the one to have the other, this doesn’t even talk about the authors that gave up writing because of the struggle it consist of. Those authors could have been famous authors, if not legends. But gave up and couldn’t overcome the challenges it takes to even get into print regardless what it takes to put you book in front of millions of readers…

  • The Mother

    I'm taking this course on intellectual history--it's amazing how many pivotal works that influenced history and thought found their publishers after the author's death; and how many were privately published and enjoyed only in small circles.

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