Monday, July 6, 2009

The Difference a Conference Makes: Writing for the Market?

The short answer is, don’t do it.

I just got back from the Solstice Summer Writers’ Conference in Massachusetts, and boy did it help me get back on the writing track. Well, the truth is, the conference was the start. I have to credit Betsy Lerner as well. The first chapter in her book The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers is “The Ambivalent Writer.” I never used to be ambivalent about writing; I didn’t have time. Lately, though, I’ve been spinning my wheels, and after finishing two novels, started three others. The one I decided to finish writing was the most market-driven. After half a dozen chapters, I bogged down. The subject (nuclear waste) was overwhelming and the genre (suspense) stifling. What was the problem? Mostly, that I was writing for the market.

While at the conference, I asked writers whether they wrote for the market. Essentially, the answer was no. Everybody’s aware of the market, and everybody knows there’s no room for schlock. But none of these writers was sitting there saying, hey, what can I write that will sell? There’s a word for that. When I got home and sat down to decide which of the three novels I would commit to, I recalled the chapter from Lerner’s book. When I reread it, here’s what struck me: “People who try to figure out what’s hot and recreate it are as close to delusional as you can get.” I recall laughing when I first read that. I wasn’t laughing now.

There’s no way to really apply this logic, except maybe to bear in mind that writing a novel is a long-term relationship. Integrity is key; so is involving yourself only if you can commit. If you don’t, it won’t work.

How’s it going with you?

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