Saturday, June 17, 2006

Right from Your Heart?

R.L. Stine, author of almost 200 hundred books for children and the originator of the Goose Bumps series, is skeptical about how writers approach their job of writing for an audience. Here is what he says in an excerpt from an interview by Sharon Miller Cindrich that was published in the June 2006 issue of the WRITER magazine.

Advice: I hear other authors saying, “Write from your heart. Write what you feel.” That’s horrible. What a way to turn people away from writing. I’ve never written a single thing from my heart. I write to entertain people. I pick out an audience, and I learn about them and what they like, and I write the best book I can for them. You can make a really good living and have a lot of fun writing things for other people.

I just returned from a trip and had over fifty queries waiting for me (it was a weekend, after all). Much to my sadness, I had to reject all of them. Do you know why? I passed up going further with them because, as a reader, none appealed to me. Most had ideas that had already been done and the rest, those that had some idea appeal, were poorly presented.

So maybe there is something to what Mr. Stine is saying in the short paragraph above. Maybe you should stop writing what appeals to you or your critique group, who are, after all, writers too, and begin to write what appeals to readers. Readers are the ones who will ultimately determine whether you are a success or a failure as a commercial writer.

As a writer, you should determine what you want from your writing. Do you want to write from your heart and appeal to those readers who connect with that, or do you want to write as R.L. Stine does, with an audience in mind that dictates your product? Or do you want to do both? Most writers want to produce what is in their hearts and then find an audience for it, which you must realize is terribly difficult and doesn’t really fall neatly into a business model. How can it? Think about Leonardo da Vinci. Not as in the code stuff, but look at how he managed his career. He knew balance, and that was part of his genius and success. He knew what was necessary to be able to do what he really enjoyed and still make a living at it. What we see too often is writers who insist on writing what they want to write, and then expect there to be someone—a publisher or agent—who finds them an audience. This is backwards, and probably the basis of why there is so much confusion in this profession. We agree that you must do what makes you happy, but as we have said numerous times before, understand that it may not lead to publication. The writer who offeres audience appeal is the one who gets published.

When you write for an audience, you create an experience for them--not you--so you must write they want to read to be successful. Enjoying the experience of writing is fine, but just remember that, like any performer, you need to offer the audience something that it wants.