Or How I Threw Away the Formula and Started Over from Scratch. Sort of.
NOTE: If you got here from the Monday Morning Memo, welcome.
Also, if you want to do the Writing Wednesday status report, check out the Brad Whittington page on Facebook for the Wednesday posts.
For a writer, there are two ways to approach fiction:
- Write to a market.
- Write for yourself.
One of these choices gives you better odds of making a living from writing. Three guesses which one. *
Assuming you’re not some kind of literary genius who has no need to resort to picking one or the other, writing in a popular genre gives you the best chance to make a living writing fiction. Romance, suspense, thriller, sci-fi, fantasy, glittering vampires, etc. That’s called writing to a market.
Or you can just write for yourself. For the joy of it.
From the beginning, I chose option #2 and stayed the course for nine novels. On purpose. As it does with many things in life, it all comes down to the why. Why you write determines what you write.
I didn’t come to writing to pay the bills. I already had a day job. I came to writing to tell a story.
I piddled around with writing from early years, junior high at least. In high school, I started my own underground newspaper. I produced two issues, turned the crank myself for the 50 or so copies I printed on the church’s Gestetner mimeograph machine, similar to the one in this video. I was also the editor of the college newspaper for a year, largely on the strength of my “journalism experience” and the fact that nobody else wanted the job. Well, one other guy did, but he just wanted to run the paper as his own propaganda machine.
I wrote a lot of essays and editorials and such. I toyed with fiction, writing half of a short story in high school and a complete short story in college. But a huge barrier barrier prevented me from spreading my wings. I was lazy.
Writing fiction with a typewriter is labor intensive, especially the edits. In 1981, for my freelance consulting work I got a computer with Word Perfect and my last excuse faded. I jumped in with all four feet. I wrote a lot of crap, but I also read a lot of books on writing and slowly improved my craft.
Twenty years later Welcome to Fred got published by accident and I kept going. I enjoyed myself and it paid okay, but it didn’t cover the mortgage. Especially in Honolulu.
In 2016, after writing whatever I felt like, my ninth novel, The Reluctant Saint, was released, I decided to try something new.
I decided to go for option #1. I set out on an experiment to write a novel in the dead center of a viable market, the whodunit.
The question on the table: Can I write a novel I’m proud of putting my name on while meeting all the expectations of a certain type of reader? The jury is still out.
I know what you’re thinking. “Oh no! He’s abandoning all his faithful readers in a big money grab!” Set your mind at rest. This leopard can’t change his wardrobe this late in the game.
I’m aiming for something closer to Muffin Man than Welcome to Fred, but with more attention to the puzzle. The market is crowded. I don’t expect the money to be significantly different.
And I’m still sticking with option #2. Since 2006 my day job has been freelance writing, gun for hire to the highest bidder, and it pays the bills. In fact, if all goes well, a Dummies book about Artificial Intelligence will show up on the shelves later this year. It won’t have my name on it, but I wrote the sucker.
But when it comes to fiction, I still write for myself. And for the other misfits in my tribe.
However, as far as the writing process goes, everything about this project is different. As a rule, other than an occasional pull quote or a comment about how things are going, I don’t talk about my novels as I write them. So why break form now?
Many of you are writers, some aspiring, some accomplished. Writing is hard work even in the best of times. Perhaps particularly in the best of times when life is plentiful, and a multitude of distractions compete for our attention.
The truth is that all writers struggle, from the aspiring neophyte to the multi-published author. The blank page assails us all, taunting us, daring us to take the chance, to put it all on the page and stand by it.
For this project, I’m throwing out my process, all the little tricks and shortcuts I’ve used for the past 40 years, and starting fresh. New genre, new process. It’s daunting, scary. I have no idea if I can do it.
And I’m going to document my steps, my creative choices, so you can see how the sausage is made. By exposing my own struggles and inadequacies, my hope is that you will be encouraged to pick up the pen, or keyboard, and keep slogging forward on your project.
Ready? Let’s go.
* I am using Truby’s book (more on this later) for the pre-production phase of the writing project, as I have done for my last six novels. I started at the beginning and toward the end of Chapter Two I came across this excellent advice.
“You should always write first for yourself; write what you care about. But you shouldn’t write only for yourself. One of the biggest mistakes writers make is to fall into the trap of either-or thinking: either I write what I care about, or I write what will sell. This is a false distinction, born of the old romantic notion of writing in a garret and suffering for your art.”
Which, now that I think about it, is exactly what I decided to do for this novel, despite my grand pronouncement at the beginning.
Also, you might consider giving Truby’s book a shot. It will come in handy when I start working through the development of the story.