Sunday, January 30, 2011

Strings Attached

REMINDER! New Mystery Agent contest coming February 1, with special surprises when Operation Awesome hits 300 followers! Now back to the blog:

My friend Tracey had another insightful post the other day, From the Heart or from the Head. As she pondered what book idea to pursue next, she wrote:
I've blogged before that “write what you love” is some of the worst advice given out in publishing. That loving what you write will only get you somewhere if what you love also happens to be popular.
I’m grappling with the same issue. The next novel I want to write is a difficult, time-consuming historical that is not inherently commercial. Yes, it’s the kind of book I want to immerse myself in as a reader and writer, but it’s not necessarily one that will sell in this very challenging market. And for me, that matters almost as much as writing a story with personal and literary integrity.

So I suggest that instead of writing what you love, you have to love what you write.

Our books are like babies in many ways, but if you’re trying to write to get published, writers have no room for unconditional love. We should try to use our love to make our books good and publishable, not just cling to our words and ideas because they are ours. Loving what you write is hard work, and there are strings attached to this kind of love.

So I pulled out my indispensable copy of Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass, and I think I found a way to make my beloved historical better – a little bigger, a little higher concept – before I start it. It may not be the next Hunger Games, but I’m hoping that I can execute it well, and if I do, that it will interest readers besides me, and hopefully earn a contract.

And you know what? I already love it.


  1. We do have to write what we love because we never know what story will take off. It doesn't always have to be a big trend. There are hundreds, if not thousands of examples of books that didn't have what would seem like the most enticing subject, but were and are popular. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing comes to mind.

    Good luck with your manuscript!

  2. I think that's a fantastic way to look at it. (To give a little more context to that quote, it comes from having written several novels without paying attention to trends, and being told by agents that 6 months ago they would have jumped on a given story but now it's a rejection.) Ultimately, we need to love what we write. If not, why bother? But there's nothing wrong with being practical about it. And yes, sure, some people will get lucky regardless and start a new trend, but most of us won't.

    Good luck with historical!

  3. This sounds awesome! I'm excited to read it! And for what it's worth, I'm reading from the SCBWI NY tweets that historical YA just might be the new dysopian. :) Since two of my favorite writers are currently working on historicals, I certainly hope so!

  4. Yikes, better get cracking or I'll miss this train too. ;)

  5. Ack! Typo in my comment: dystopian.

    Don't worry, Kelly! Take your time. I'm pretty sure dystopians are still getting snatched out of slushpiles, too. Nothing's ever really over. That's why I love this post on writing what you love.

  6. It helps to know what's out there. Like another of idea is an original fairy tale, but I've heard agents and writers are inundated with them. So first historical, then fairy tale, when they'll be back again. Both ideas are kind of timeless, actually (well, technically an historical is the opposite of timeless, but you know what I mean).

  7. Wow, just read a great quote from Sara Zarr at SCWBI, by way of Alice Pope and Laura Bradford:

    No matter what the quality of work you do, there will be a time when the marketplace does not want it.

  8. This is very wise advice. I think you have to strike a fine balance between what you are inspired to write, and what you need to write in order to meet a market. And after that, like Kelly said above, sometimes the timing just isn't right even then.

    What time on Februaray 1st?? I'll check back tomorrow for more details.

  9. Great advice! Donald Maas is awesome.

  10. I try not to let love have anything to do with my writing. Don't get me wrong. I love to write, but WHAT I write often surprises me, seemingly a flash of inspiration out of the blue and might be nothing I thought I'd love to write about. I think the question is not so much loving WHAT you write, but what makes you write. I love the inspiration I get even from the unlikeliest sources. By the way, I'm your number 300!!!

  11. Yup, a Donald Maas fan here too. I've been pondering this kind of issue lately as well, because 2 of my 3 completed novels happened to come at some awkward times (the one I'm getting ready to query might be too late in a trend I wasn't aware was happening when I wrote it), but I really believe the whole process is worth it anyway, even if our books don't see the light of day.

    I actually blogged about that last night; beyond loving my writing, my writing actually IS me. For good or bad lol.


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