Monday, August 8, 2011

Are you writing for you or readers too?

Quick reminder - your 100 words are due today. Click here to read details on this round's prompt. There's been such phenomenal creativity in this round! I don't envy the judges, having to decide which are best.

Since we're talking about getting published, I think it's only fair to bring up the question of why bother with publication? I've been to a couple conferences in my life time, and I'm also a member of several writing communities where writers of all levels are welcome. These are some comments I hear frequently from new writers:

Do I really have to pick one genre? I want to be able to write whatever I want.
I don't want some editor telling me what I can and cannot do.
I don't want to have to write on a schedule. I just want to write what I feel like when I feel like it.

If these represent something you feel, what I want you to consider is who is your book for?

There's nothing wrong with writing for you. I think all writers can benefit from writing for themselves at least sometimes. I have a story that I see no market for (yet), but it's fun to write. So on Sundays when I get to relax, if I feel like writing, I goof around with that story. For me.

Fanfiction came up in our discussion last Thursday. I used to write Gilmore Girls fanfiction and had a blast doing it. Especially because I was in the middle of a season of rejection with my manuscript, so it was a wonderful escape to a place of instant gratification.

But if you're writing solely for you, why bother with the nasty publication business? I don't mean that in a combative way, I mean that earnestly. If writing is something you do just for you, then why bother putting it out there?

I bother because I don't write just for me. I write for readers. The first thing I ever had published was an obituary for my Papa. I was 23 when he died, and it was the only thing I could think to offer. I wrote it with the entire family in mind, but particularly my Nana. It was published in the Modesto Bee alongside the other obituaries, and my Nana loved it.

Even now, nearly 5 years after his death, Nana sometimes mentions it to me. "It was so personal," she'll say. "I had never seen an obituary like that before, and now I often read ones like that in the Bee." (Grandmothers are the best, aren't they? Because, no, I really don't think I revolutionized the way obituaries are written.)

That was the first experience I had with writing with my audience in mind. There's some indescribably magical about bringing someone else into your story world. I've received emails from girls saying things like, "My life is just like Skylars." Or "This scene in your book touched me because it's what I'm going through right now too." I don't say that to brag but to communicate the power involved.

When you publish something, when you put words out there, they aren't for you. Or they aren't just for you anyway. I don't always feel like writing a post for Go Teen Writers, to be perfectly frank. But Go Teen Writers isn't for me. Yes, it's fun for me. Yes, I feel like it's something I was meant to do, intended for. And yes, I love our community on here. 99.9% of the time, I'm eager to write my blog post. But there are definitely days where I would rather spend that 45 minutes editing. Or playing Wii. Or napping.

So what does it mean, practically speaking, if you decide you don't write just for you, that you write for your readers too?

It means picking a genre.
Guys, I'm passionate about cooking. Last Friday, I brined pork chops, we put a little barbecue sauce on them, and they were out of this world. Insanely good pork chops. I served them alongside rosemary rolls and sauteed snap peas.

Do you care? NO.

I mean, maybe some of you happen to be interested in food stuff too, but that's not why you come to this blog. Wouldn't it be a little frustrating if I suddenly started having "Recipe Tuesday?" Or if one day a week I didn't talk about writing, but instead discussed auto maintenance? Sometimes I toe the line and post a cute picture of my daughter. Like this:

(That was such a cheap way to work it in. Shameless. So cute, though.)

I keep it writing related on here because it's what bonds us. It's our similar interest. So don't you think it would frustrate your readers if you debuted with a sweet romance, then released a legal thriller, then a fantasy trilogy, followed by another sweet romance?

As a writer, I understand the complaint of "I don't want to pick a genre." But as a reader, I'd be darn disappointed to pick up a Sarah Dessen book and find it was about, like, witch princesses or something. This isn't to say you can never try something new. (Or that at 16, or however old you are, you must have your genre picked out. I'm not saying that at all.) I'm saying your readers will have expectations, and you will love your readers and want to make them happy.

It means you might have to write when you don't feel like it.
Fact of the writing life - sometimes you will have deadlines. Your inner artist might balk at this. You will have to get over it. I'm gonna go back to the blog example - I try to have a post on Go Teen Writers at least 4 days a week, and I almost always post by 7am. This sometimes means working in the evenings when I might prefer to watch 30 Rock and eat a bowl of ice cream. It might mean dragging my lazy butt out of bed early in the morning. I'll grant that I'm a bit of a nazi about my blog posts, but wouldn't it be weird if some weeks I posted twice and others seven times?

Again, I'm not saying this with any motivation except to communicate my main point - when you write for your readers, sometimes their needs get put before your own wants and desire. Not always, mind you. I've had readers send me IMs on a Friday night when I'm watching a movie with my husband. No thank you, I'm off the clock.

So, yes, being published traditionally will mean a deadline. Maybe a deadline that's tough for you to make. Readers deserve it, though.

It means you won't be able to ignore feedback. From your editor or elsewhere.
Here is the rule I follow for my writing:

The first draft is about me. If I want to talk for a whole paragraph about the gooey goodness of a grilled cheese sandwich, fine. Or if I don't want to describe the room my characters are in - I can see it in my head just fine, thank you very much - that's cool too. It's for an audience of one.

But the second draft is about my readers. My readers probably don't care that much about the grilled cheese. And they would probably like some idea of what that room looks like. I add that in because I care about them and their reading experience.

And when I send my novel to my editor, she gets to have her say. She bought the story, she fought for it in the pub board, and that earns her the right to be involved. I'll preface this by saying that I was blessed with wonderful editors. In books two and three, Jennifer didn't touch my content at all, and the suggestions made only enhanced my story and my message. I'm sure there are lousy editors out there who want to strip you of your writing voice and make your story their own. But I've yet to encounter them. My editor bought and fought for the story because she liked it, because she believed in it. The last thing she was interested in was rewriting it.

Wow. Way longer than I intended this post to be. Please feel free to join the discussion! As always, disagreements are welcome, rudeness is not.

One last thing, tomorrow the ridiculously talented Sarah Sundin will be here to give away a copy of her latest release, Blue Skies in the Morning. I adore Sarah's writing, and I'm totally pumped that she agreed to come on the blog.

Have a great Monday, everyone!


  1. Such awesome points, Stephanie! I'll be talking about a lot of this in my marketing workshop in Oregon next week--about how for most of us, writing is our ministry. Therefore, we have to treat it as one, which means giving of ourselves, not doing it FOR ourselves.

    As someone who is sorta-kinda shifting what I write, going from Biblicals that aren't technically romance to straight up historical romance, I can tell you that I'm thinking and praying a lot about how my couple hundred existing readers might respond, LOL. And that's not even technically a shift in genre! Though in this case, it's a change that's totally worth it, as it'll grow my readership by leaps and bounds, and perhaps then point them back to the other books.

    Another quick thought on that, which came from the awesome Karen Ball (a mover and shaker in the Christian publishing world), is that you can write in two genres (more if you include non-fiction) well so long as there are similar themes. Now, my Biblicals and my contemporary romantic comedies probably wouldn't pair well (sigh). But my intense contemporaries have similar themes to my historicals, so they would transition okay, if and when the time comes. =)

  2. This was a great post! I love the idea of writing for fun on Sundays.

  3. I loved this post! Lately I have been struggling with what kind of genre I want to write. Part of me wanted to do suspense novels while another insisted on YA Fiction and the other part of me bickered and said to Christian Romance. With so many ideas running through my head, I was having trouble understanding why I had to choose one. So I loved the fact that you brought the question "who are you writing for" up. It's something I needed to seriously answer. Ultimately, I know that I want to write for others and not just myself. Thanks for this, it helped me realize that there are some sacrifices you need to make in order to help your readers. :)
    And also, thanks for writing GoTeen Writers post, even when you don't feel like it. It is such a blessing to me! :)
    Clare K.

  4. Wow great post. Um I do have to say it was a little long. I loved how you put Sarah Dessen in there (yes I would hate to see one of her books have a witch princess.)
    I don't know what genre I would like to write. I like the idea of YA romance, that seems to call to me. I am currently writing something and I worked on one scene where he's proposing to her. I think that is what I would like to go for. But what if down the road I want to write something else. (I change like the wind if you must know, one moment I want to be a writer, the next a designer.) It just depends on my mood that day. I guess that's why I'm glad you brought up What genre and who are you writing for. As far as I see I can write what I want but not everything has to be published.
    Thanks for the post.

  5. Alana, YES it was so long. I tried to break into two posts but I couldn't find a good spot. You really nailed it when you said you could write what you want but not everything has to be published. Great thoughts.

    And also, Alana, there are a couple options for if you change your mind later. One is doing a pen name for your other genre. Another is just making sure your stories in different genres have the same elements (like ... there's always romance or whatever) so that your current readers will still be satisfied. Kinda like what Roseanna talked about in her comment.

    Clare, for the record, even on the rare occasions that I don't feel like writing a GTW blog post, about two sentences into writing, I'm happy to be doing it :)

  6. I am probably really weird. I love early criticism. I love to get criticism on a certain paragraph BEFORE I fall in love with it.

  7. I don't know if I could ever pick a genre...*sigh*...I think my brain would burst... :D
    But I guess I'd go for the F's (Fiction and Fantasy), though I've dabbled in practically every genre.

  8. This post spoke to me so clearly! And you made me laugh out loud (Whenever we have an opportunity to write 'LOL', we never take it, do we?:P) when you wrote about posting about cooking on here. I don't know why. :D

  9. Sananora, I see pen names in your future :)

    Glad to make you "lol" Emii!

  10. Hi Stephanie. :)

    I have a quick question about editors. How do you tell if they are good editors? And they won't go and rewrite your whole story? (Because the right to do that should be for the author)
    Or anyone else who'd like to chime in on those questions?? Please do.
    Fabulous post by the way haha. :D I'm definitely lazy a lot of the time, sometimes I am absolutely frustrated with my writing and I feel like everything I type sucks. :P

  11. So sorry I didn't answer you quickly, Jazmine.

    It depends on if you're talking about a freelance editor (someone YOU pay to improve your book) or an editor at a publishing house (someone who convinces a committee of people to PAY YOU for your book because it's so stinkin' good.)

    With freelance editors, you ask your writer friends for recommendations, you talk to past clients, and you clarify your expectations ahead of time.

    With the other kind of editor ... I don't know how helpful this answer is, but I think you can gauge on enthusiasm. I don't say this to brag, but my editor loved my writing - she loved my voice and stories and my ideas. I know this not only because she told me and my agent, but because she was always going to bat for me over there and was always interested in my input. Because my editor loved me the way I was, I wasn't worried about her taking over the story when we got to that part of the process.

    Make sense? Helpful at all?

  12. I'm writing the first draft of my story right now, and I tend to do this thing where I have the main idea for a scene but I can't be bothered to flesh it out with backstory/descriptions etc. so I just skip to the interesting part. Is this OK?

    Also, on days when you just feel completely uninspired and everything you write is awful do you still force yourself to write, even if nothing comes out right? (that rhymed! kind of...)

  13. My first drafts are pretty stripped down, so, yeah, I think that's okay.

    This percentage has no scientific basis, but 90% of the time I feel uninspired to write, I make myself do it anyway. Usually after a painful couple hundred words, I get into it and the writing/my attitude improve. The other 10% of the time, I reach for a writing craft book or something, like Bird by Bird, and flipping through my favorite parts usually motivates me to write. And then around that time, my kids wake up from their naps :)

  14. Thanks Stephanie! :)
    That was definitely helpful. I guess I'll just have to find someone that loves my writing too lol. That'll happen someday, I hope.