Two years ago, I started a post with this very same quote. It was about reading what you want to write (something that I still think is important), but I want to talk about the actual quote itself. Or, specifically, the advice behind the quote.
“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write
Photo credit: Colton Witt on Flickr
it.” —Toni Morrison
Being that I’ve been involved in the online writing community for several years now, I’ve heard a whole lot of writing advice over the years. And my favorite, next to finish the book, comes from that quote above—write what you want to read.
It almost seems obvious. I mean, of course we’d write what we want to read, otherwise what’s the point? But when you’ve got a finger on the publishing pulse, sometimes writing what you want to read can be a little scary—especially when you hear what you really want to write isn’t really selling right now (or worse—it’s selling like crazy now, which means by the time you finish your book and are ready to query it, it very likely won’t be).
And I mean, it is scary. Terrifying, even. Because what if you put in all that time and effort into a novel that doesn’t sell?
As someone who has done that many many times over, let me tell you what will happen:
- You’ll be disappointed.
- You’ll be really disappointed.
- You’ll put that manuscript aside, work on something else and completely fall in love with it.
- You’ll learn from your experience and be a stronger writer because of it.
Also, here’s what won’t happen:
- You won’t die.
- Your hopes and dreams will not spontaneously combust into a raging ball of fire.
- You won’t lose your ability to write.
- You won’t love your shelved manuscript any less (probably).
- Your previous manuscript won’t disappear into a black hole, never to be found again (I mean, unless you want it to, in which case you won’t mind).
So if you think about it, your worst-case scenario really isn’t that bad. You’ll have written something that you loved, that will always have a special place in your heart, and it’ll always be there waiting for the day when you’re better prepared to share it with the world. And also, you’ll be a better writer.
Writing something you don’t want to read, in contrast (as in, writing something you think could sell, but you aren’t necessarily uber-psyched about) is almost guaranteed to lead to this:
- A slow, agonizing writing process that your heart isn’t really into.
- An even slower, more agonizing editing process that your heart definitely isn’t into.
And maybe you’ll finish it. Maybe you’ll edit it and query it. But chances are, anyone who reads that manuscript will be able to see that you weren’t really into it. And even if it does on the off chance sell, do you really want your debut to be something you don’t even like all that much?
Personally, I can’t imagine working on something for as long as hard as it takes to get a book to publishable quality if I didn’t love it. It sounds like it’d be a pretty effective punishment for something, to be honest.
Writing is meant to be enjoyable (most of the time). It’s meant to be a way to turn the stories and characters and worlds in your head into something tangible, something you can share with others.
But if you want other people to love your work, you need to love it first.
So sure, pay attention to what the market is like in the publishing world, because it’s absolutely important to be informed and aware. But when it comes to writing books? Write what you want to read and forget about the rest.
Do you agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Writers, do you write what you want to read? Join the discussion at @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)
"If you want other people to love your work, you need to love it first." (Click to tweet)