Happy Tuesday, friends! After October’s NaNo prep sessions and a breather, we’re finally back to this series! YAY! *throws confetti*
How are you all getting on with your NaNo projects? We’re nearing the end (if you’re behind, like me, and this is the last thing you want to hear, ignore me and pretend everything’s fine) already, and I expect your sanity levels aren’t doing too good. Which is why it’s important to remember that you shouldn’t be writing this book for anyone but yourself.*
You’ve probably received similar advice before, but what does it mean and why is it so important?
* and all the people who said you couldn’t, of course.
Writing a book is hard work, friends. Whether you’re a plotter, a pantser, or a plotster like me, you need to have your world figured out, you need to know your characters, your plot needs to make sense, the words need to get written, and there are all these other things you need to pay attention to besides.* Don’t let anyone convince you this is easy money!
The last thing you want to do is go to all this effort for other people, because–and this might hurt a little–other people won’t care about your book like you do. Sure, there’ll be readers who fall in love with your fictional babies and create fan art in their honour, but no matter how much work you put into it, there’ll always be someone who hates what you’ve created. This is much harder when you write your book to please someone else, because that someone might be the same someone who now hates your book.
I’m not saying you should write for yourself just because rejection will be easier to accept.** There are loads of reasons why you should write for yourself, and today we’re looking at seven.
* like always having enough tea in your cupboard, and not running out of snacks.
** I won’t deny that’s not a plus, though!
When I started my first ever blog, I was studying photography at university. It had been drilled into me that being professional was everything, but it wasn’t stressed enough that you can still be yourself, too. As a result, my first blog lacked personality and didn’t sound like me at all. To be honest, I’m still working on that now! You might get that I’m an honest girl who smiles a lot from my blog posts, but do they accurately convey my sarcasm or that I swear enough for my swear jar to fund a new library for my colleagues at my day job?* Fuck no! Something to work on next year, I think.
But I digress. I found it difficult to write posts for said first blog since I felt I couldn’t be myself, and that drained my motivation to keep it up.
The same is true for your books. When you get too focused on sounding a certain way, you adjust your voice so much you no longer sound like you, because you think whoever you’re writing for might enjoy it more. And then your book will lack all the things that make you you–all the wonderful things that could make your book uniquely yours!
And guess what? Those people who don’t get your voice and want you to change it to suit them? They’re not your target audience. So there’s no need to try and please them.
* not that I have a swear jar… If we had one, we’d be able to get a decent-sized library built between me and some of my colleagues! Maybe we should look into this!
Writing is hard enough as it is. There are times when your characters ignore what you planned for them and go their own way. Times when you’ll run out of tea and snacks. Times when you’ll curl up into a ball and cry in a corner because writing a book is
slowly quickly robbing you of your sanity.
The more you focus on what other people want, the more you’ll cut what you want, and the less happy you’ll be with the end result. When you create something like a whole new world from bloody nothing, you should at least feel proud of your achievement by the end of it. When you’re consumed by what everyone else wants, this’ll be harder. You might feel happy for them, but how about for you, hm? This is your book–it should be your pride and joy, too.
My favourite books are the ones that made me feel something. I feel like I’ve connected with the author, have shared their vision for the brief time it took me to read the book. When you write the book you want to write, you pour a part of your soul into it, and that’s when your readers are going to connect with you. It’s that clear, brutal, amazing honesty you just don’t get from books that lost sight of their authors.
There are plenty of stories out there which mimic each other to a degree*, which lost their unique voices to play it safe, and which, I think, lack something vital.
* I’m not talking about all the books of one genre, or all the books with orphans who get adopted by their aunt and/or uncle and go on to save the world. These can still be amazing, and they often are.
It’s said that everyone has a story inside them–you’ve heard of this saying, yes? Only you can tell your story your way. This is why, even though so many scenes and whole plots get repeated, we still enjoy them over and over again, because different writers add different things to them.
It’s insane how often people have said ‘Wow! You’ll be the next J.K. Rowling!’ since I announced I was writing a fantasy book back in 2015. But here’s the thing: I don’t want to be the next J. K. Rowling. I want to be the first me. I grew up with Harry Potter and love the books, but they’d be very different books if I’d written them. Our voices are completely different! Harry Potter was J. K.’s story to tell, not mine, and only she could write them in the magical way she did. Just like only I can write my books in the way I do.
Just like only you can write your books in your way.
It’s so liberating to just write and let the words flow however they want to come out. It’s easy to get bogged down under so. much. detail! when you’re really just trying to get a first draft written. You want to get the names of every town and river right*, you don’t want to mess up the lore you created, you keep referring back to the map you’ve drawn–this is tough enough as it is, friends. When the words finally flow without you interrupting yourself, they definitely shouldn’t stop because you’re worried about what someone else might think.
* never mind the names of your characters *ahem*
At the moment, readers love strong female MCs, BFFs who comfort each other and fight sometimes maybe, and same-sex couples. That doesn’t mean your book needs to have all of the above. If your main character needs to be white and male because he was born to white parents and doesn’t have boobs, that’s fine. Let him be male! If he’s straight, let the boy be straight!*
Listen to your characters. If it turns out you were wrong and they have a better idea of who they are, let them make the decisions. I wouldn’t change a straight character into a gay one because readers happen to be into those characters right now. I also wouldn’t change a transgender character into a straight one because I’m straight. My characters are who they are.**
Don’t get me wrong. It doesn’t hurt to see what the general bookish market loves or hates right now. If we all wrote the same type of characters depending on what readers love right now, all books would be too similar. You can absolutely treat what the market wants as a guideline, but don’t feel so pressured by it that you end up changing the core of your manuscript.
* Your characters will ignore what you plan for them anyway, so you may as well just give up now and listen to what they’re telling you.
** Example: One of my characters in Darkened Light started out as a straight girl, but turns out I was wrong and he’s actually a gay man because what do I know, I’m only writing the thing??
When you put so much of your time, effort, and soul into something, you’re allowed to do it for yourself. If others love it, great. If not, who cares? As we’ve already talked about, some people will hate it anyway, so you do you.
For those times when you don’t know what you want and your characters choose that moment to give you absolutely nothing, having an ideal reader can be a massive help. Your ideal reader can be someone you know who shares your love for the genre you write and understands you and your writing. It’s often easier to ask yourself what someone else might do, but if this someone doesn’t understand your book and maybe doesn’t even like the genre, your book is going to drift off in the wrong direction. I have two ideal readers, and when I’m stuck and ask myself how they would solve the problem I know I’ll still move forward in a way I’m happy with.
And that’s it for this series! It was a short one, I know, but I hope you took something away from it. If there’s anything else you’d like to know, ask away.
In this very brief series, we’ve talked about:
The next series is about the basics of blogging, so if you’re new to the blogging game or just want some pointers, keep an eye out for the first post in two weeks time 🙂
Do you have an ideal reader? Do you write for yourself, or do you worry your voice won’t appeal to too many people? Make yourself a tea, get some biscuits, and let’s chat!
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