Saturday, August 02, 2014

Go Ahead . . . Write Your Passion

By Michelle Griep
“Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.”
~ Cyril Connolly
literary critic and writer

“What’s the point of writing a book if it’s just going to sit in your desk drawer?”
~ Mary Sue Seymour, 
agent/founder of The Seymour Agency 

Now then, with those quotes in mind, consider the following dilemma . . .

You spend a year constructing a story. It's somewhat of an intricate plot. The characters are flavorful and well developed. Your voice is strong. The writing is as well. You know all this because of feedback you've received from publishers. All is good—except your story is more Dickens than Austen. It's a little edgier, a little darker, spending more time on the streets of London than in the ballrooms and dining halls. There is a publisher willing to pick it up—if you completely change the plot and focus on high society instead of the vulgar commoners.

Would you rewrite the book? Should you?

This dilemma is one of the most common predicaments facing writers. Should an author write to fit the market or stay true to their inner self? This isn't a problem for those who are Austen or Amish or a zombie on the inside (or whatever the current trend is), but for the rebel at heart, this issue is a constant demon to battle.

I contend unless you write a story you're passionate about, your lackluster attitude is going to show through. While it’s tempting to write something that will get your foot in the door at a publishing house, jumping on the current bandwagon isn’t necessarily the best way to go. Writing about a topic you don’t have a passion for—that doesn’t mildly interest you—is going to show up in your voice, kind of like a white-bread country singer attempting some hoodrat rap. It’s hard to disguise. And honestly, who's got time to read a milquetoast novel? Who would even want to?

It’s tricky to find a marketable niche where you feel comfortable. How in the world does one accomplish this?

Buckle up. Here we go...

First, focus on a theme and/or truth that fires you up. If your central message falls flat, it doesn't matter what genre you've chosen to write in. It will fail. Does the act of forgiveness make your heart beat faster? Unconditional love? Conformity? The injustice of throwing away a perfectly good grilled cheese sandwich just because it’s a little burnt on one side? Getting excited about a message has a way of getting your creative juices flowing.

Next, think about traditional mainstream genres that could possibly work with your theme. Don’t worry. You’re only brainstorming at this stage. You're not committing any vows here. This is simply an exercise to bend and stretch your authorly flexibility and it’s way easier than contorting your body into a forearm-stand scorpion pose. Go ahead and Google it. You know you want to.

After that, ponder some of your favorite stories. The tales that have stuck with you throughout the years. What are the plots of the novels you love? Imagine those plots in a different genre. Same story, just different trappings is all.

Now that you've loosened up a closed mind (hopefully), write down a 2-3 sentence story idea in one of those mainstream genres (such as romance, mystery, contemporary, historical, etc.).

That's all. Now set that piece of paper aside. Pick it up next week and see how you feel about it. Either that idea will have grown on you by then, or chuck it aside and repeat the process. Eventually you will land on a story that will resonate with you on the inside while being something more marketable than Regency Amish Zombie Aliens. Run that story idea by an agent or editor before you commit to writing the entire manuscript. If their eyes light up, you've got a winner that just might sell and a story that's coming from your heart.

Of course, that's great for new story ideas. It doesn't help when you've got a finished manuscript such as the dilemma at the beginning of this post. In that case, if you can't cheerfully rewrite the story, then cut bait and move on—or self-publish and move on.

Which is a whole other topic.

Michelle’s been writing since she first discovered blank wall space and Crayolas. Her recent release is A HEART DECEIVED, a gothic regency put out by David C. Cook (June 2013). If you’d like to keep up with her escapades, find her at or or stalk her on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.


Henry McLaughlin said...

I so appreciate this post. I have found myself on the horns of this dilemma, especially with one story that is close to my heart. Thanks for the insight and techniques to see a fit for my stories. This blesses me and encourages me.

Nicole said...

Good points and instruction all, Michelle. With the understanding that craft is essential, the indie/self publishing route has opened the door as you concluded for those stories we bled on the page to write. The rebel in me adheres to the no compromise more because if I'd wanted to write that trendy or more "fitting" story, I would've written it in the first place. But not everyone carries that inflexibility in their passions - and that's a good thing for them. Really good post, Michelle.

Rachel Leigh Smith said...

As you know, Michelle, I've been through EVERYTHING trying to hit on something a traditional publisher might want. But I'm just too far outside the box and choose settings and characters they don't think they can sell. I think they're wrong, but oh well.

I moved into self-publishing, and I'm having a blast! Releasing my first book in six weeks.

Michelle Griep said...

Yay Henry! I love it when God uses posts to encourage people. Go write like crazy!

Michelle Griep said...

It's an interesting era in publishing because there are now so many options. Thanks for your comments, Nicole!

Michelle Griep said...

Woo-hoo! You go, girl!

Janice L. Dick said...

Thanks, Michelle. I really needed to hear this right now.