Happy New Year!
I expect some of you made a New Year’s resolution somewhere along the lines of writing, or writing more, or writing every day. Good for you! I wish you much diligence and consistency. Some of you made different goals. You are going to write a book this year, or you are going to get published, or you have always wanted to be a writer and this year you are going to write a book and get published. Or some variation of the theme. Good for you!
But here’s a question.
I am not trying to be snarky, or ornery, or belligerent. I really want us to think about our motivations. What is your reason for wanting to write a book? Writing a book is work. Most writers I know don’t like the act of writing overly much. They like having written a book.
I say again, why?
Do you just have to write? That’s sort of okay, I suppose. But Why? Why do you just have to write? It is obsessive compulsiveness? Is writing how you work through your inner demons? Writing is a good way to do that. But what has just having to write got to do with writing a book? They aren’t necessarily the same thing. Are they?
Do you want to write a book so you can be an author? Why? Do you want to have something to talk about at parties? Do you want to use it as a pick-up line so you can get a date? I know someone like this, so I am just asking. Why do you want to be an author?
Do you want to be able to say you wrote a book? There is value in that, don’t get me wrong. But if this is your reasoning, will you be content with anything you throw down on paper or are there standards involved?
Do you want to write a book other people will read or is writing the book just for you and your identity? Either option is fine, but these will lead down different paths.
Do you have something to say? This is a good reason in my opinion. You want to write a book because you have something to say. Are you willing to learn the necessary information so you can say what you want to say in a way that the person (or people) you want to say it to will actually read it?
Do you want to entertain? This is also a reasonable thought. Will you work on your writing craft so that you actually write something entertaining?
Do you need or want your book to sell? For some, this doesn’t matter. For some (most?), being able to sell their book and have people like it is enough. Some want to be a New York Times bestselling author. This is also a good goal but will also take practice, and time, and work.
Let’s move forward with the assumption that you want to write a book because you have something to say that you feel is important to put out into the world (remember books have premises and themes that put the main idea out there, even in genre fiction), and you want to have your book read and loved by as many people as possible. Are you willing to do the work involved even if there is no guarantee that your book will sell, or be loved? If you get bad reviews from readers, will you use that as a learning tool but keep writing, and keep working on being a better writer? If you book only sells three copies because it is competing with three million other books published that year, will you be content that you want to write books and keep writing?
I ask that question because I know more than a couple of reasonably successful authors that got upset about something or other and quit writing. They were more successful than most writers, and yet they quit. Their success didn’t meet their own expectations. What are your expectations about your writing? If you don’t meet those expectations are you going to keep going? Are you going to quit? Think about that now.
What kind of book do you want to write? This is important, so pay attention, because you want to publish a book that sells and that readers will love, or so you said a minute ago. You need to know the marketing category, and the genre, and tropes, and reader expectations, and more if you want readers to love your work.
Why? Why does the kind of book matter?
Because readers have certain expectations of what a particular kind of book, i.e. the kind of books they like to read, looks like. This means that you, the author, need to know what that is so you can meet your readers’ expectations. I am not saying write in the hot genre of the moment. I am saying that if you want to write a thriller, you need to know what thriller novels are, how they work, what they feel like, etc.
If you want to write a thriller, how many thrillers have you read? Yes, that matters. Do you read thrillers? Have you read any thrillers? If you want to write a thriller shouldn’t you read thrillers, and have read as many thrillers as possible so you have examples in your brain to draw from? How do you expect to write a great thriller if you’ve never read one?
Think about it. Think about your motivations. Why do you want to do what you do? Why do you want to do what you’ve made a resolution to do? What will discourage you or keep you from writing? And how will you get there?
This coming year, I encourage you to not only write, but improve our writing. Learn the craft of creating characters with clear motivations, and conflict, and learn how to write great dialogue, or plotting, or scene setting, or whatever craft element is your weakest skill. You will have to practice these things to improve them. It’s possible that this book you have in mind to write is just a practice book to help you learn craft. That is an okay motivation for writing a book too. You want to write a book so you can learn the process of writing a book, and become a better writer. It’s all good. But start writing it now.