Surely everyone’s had the thought at some point.
‘God, why is every thriller since Girl on the Train a ‘girl on the something’?’
‘Ugh, why is every chick lit book set in Cornwall this summer?’
‘Why do all the covers look the same?’
‘Why have they all got song titles?’
‘Why is there always bunting?’
Why doesn’t anything seem original any more?
I do not write ‘typical’ chick lit. There is not going to be a little house/cafe/cottage by the sea/beach/river. Nothing I write is adorable or sweet. Occasionally it’s heartfelt, and sometimes it’s sentimental. But most of the time, I like to think, it’s funny and it’s genuine.
I’m not saying none of these other chick lit books are, I’ve read a lot of them and they’re very good. What I’m wondering is why we all have to be marketed the same. When I look at the books that grip me and demand attention, they’re the ones that have been marketed to look different, to stand out. From some authors, the different and the unique is embraced. For others, we are encouraged to write ‘same, same but different.’ The tropes of the romantic genre must be met, and manoeuvred and there should be no surprises. X meets Y, include something marketable, create a cute location, throw in a wedding or an island holiday, give it a happy ending and wrap it up with a bow.
Now, no author wants their work made small in that way. No one wants to think this story they’re writing doesn’t have value. But I’ve lost faith in the market, a little. Perhaps because I’m following hundreds of authors and bloggers, so that every romance book this summer seems to have the same blue cover. Because every thriller says it’s the ‘next girl on the train’.
I was burnt out, basically. I was tired of writing stories that already seemed to be written. I wanted to write stories that tested me, that I could measure my craft by. I could easily spend the next ten years knocking out snarky women’s fiction, but I didn’t feel like I was growing. So I’ve decided to experiment.
When in doubt, play. As a kid writing stories, I didn’t let not knowing about something stop me. One week I’d be writing a Ten Kingdoms sequel, the next a story about two special agents working to defeat a government agenda. The week after that I wrote a story about a girl being afraid to start dating, and then one about two twins called Ruby and Sapphire, who each had psychic abilities and were recruited by MI5. In between, I wrote fanfiction for TV shows, and got myself a little following.
Now, most of these stories didn’t have legs. But the point was, I was unencumbered by fears of branding and marketing and having a name. I wrote because a story appealed and it was fun. I played with genre and expectations, and just let the story tell itself through my fingertips.
So I’m doing the same again. I dealt with feeling like a tiny fish in a huge pond of ‘same, same but different’ books and decided to write something different. This has of course, left me in a pickle. As I’m now writing a whole bunch of books at once. I’ve got my romantic comedies for Canelo (the first of which will be out on 24th July 2017), a darker Ruby Tuesday novella (Out sometime in September 2017) a magical realism book and a thriller under a pseudonym. I’m also quietly plotting a more serious women’s fiction book.
My ideas, before expanding my space and genre, were beginning to stagnate. I wasn’t excited by anything any more. Everything felt the same. Now I don’t feel the need to stay in my lane, I’m making greater progress.
So, when you’re feeling weary and blue, when you think you’re stagnating and unsure of what story to tell next, I would encourage you to remove your fences, your limitations and your fears. And just write for fun. The stories that need to be told have a way of making themselves known.
How do you deal with a lack of ideas, and do you ever feel like all these books are starting to look the same?