This week, I was on holiday. Which meant I just allowed myself to read, relax, day dream and do all the other things completely necessary for a pleasant existence and a head full of stories.
Of course, I’m nothing if not a guilty energiser bunny who needs to be doing stuff. So I read a bunch of books and finished writing my ninth novel. And as I finished, I realised it gets easier. Not the writing necessarily, but the understanding of your own process. I know I will rush right into the beginning and think about fixing it later (but never will). I know I’ll get sluggish and peeved until I get to the love interest, and then I’ll throw myself into despair that it’s just a love story and wonder what the hell the point is. I know that at SOME point, however far down the road, after a bit of a breather, I’ll read certain parts, giggle to myself and say aloud, ‘Hah, I’m a funny arsehole sometimes.’
Knowing your process is as important as knowing your characters. It’ll allow you to keep hold of the sails in rough seas. Just as important – knowing your DIRECTION. Where are you sailing, and why? Why are you doing this, what’s the point?
What is the answer when someone asks you why you do the thing you love? The thing that makes you feel special and alive and truly understood for the first time in your life?
For me, I’m not so good in the real world, I’m awkward, often insensitive and goofy. I mistime my sentences and misjudge the room. But when I’m silent, when I’m writing a story, when I’m not required to talk or interact, I read the room like nobody’s business.
So how do we translate something that we love, something that we are, into a job? It’s not just booking blog tours, learning the lingo and scurrying after agents with the furore of a rabid Winnie the Pooh looking for a honey fix. It’s not just fighting about pricing and promotion and Bookbub.
It’s the question I have been on either side of over the years:
Are you a business, or an artist?
Now, of course, you can be both. That’s the obvious answer. But that choice comes down to a million little choices that fork off. Do you write a genre that doesn’t inspire you because it’s selling well? (business) Do you write something that might not sell because you’re in love with it? (artist) Do you make cut throat decisions based on the market, over your storytelling, do you explore and expand, or do you stick with what makes you the money, even if it doesn’t inspire you anymore?
I was listening to two podcasts this week. One was Joana Penn’s The Creative Penn, focusing on writing romance, in talks with an author called JA Huss. The other was an interview with C.L. Taylor about her newly released book The Escape, which I can’t wait to read.
The difference in these two podcasts, is one made me want to scratch my own face off with the unfairness of it, and the other made me feel uplifted and safe in the hands of my own craft. Both Huss and Taylor have written more than one genre, both have been bestselling authors.
Huss spoke about the romance genre with disregard, that it was boring and uninteresting, with the same tropes again and again. She said, in a blase manner, that she didn’t even read that genre, because she found it uninteresting. Her romance books were just a way to grab readers and then gradually make them read the darker books in the series. Don’t get me wrong, her books sounded great. Except the idea that someone can ‘tap into’ the romance market because it’s ‘easy’ (her words) to write and it sells best, when they don’t even read or respect that genre is really fucking irritating. It’s arrogant, dismissive and pretty much shits on all of us working within the genre to confront stereotypes about our readers and us as writers. But it’s all business, right?
Thankfully, after desperately searching around for someone to moan about this to, I instead listened the Cally Taylor on the HarperCollins book podcast. She talked without arrogance, with a great sense of gratefulness and joy about the dedication to her process, to the ideas that haunted her and demanded to be written, and the choice to write the safe book to fulfil her contract or to follow the story that wanted her to write it.
Taylor mentioned that writing authentically, writing the story that wanted to be written was the key. Not just jumping on the bandwagon to make money.
It was what I needed to hear. Maybe I will never be a bestseller because I don’t want to bend to the trend. It doesn’t make me better or worse than anyone – some of those books are beautifully written, packaged to look like other things because that’s how you sell them. But I needed to hear someone who’s had success tell me it’s possible to do it whilst still loving the stories you’ve created.
So, two sides, both alike in success, but two different approaches. What do you think? Where do you fall? Would you ever write a genre you didn’t enjoy reading because you might sell well? Is one genre easier to write than another?