1. BillyJBarter

    BillyJBarter New Member

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    Self Indulgence vs Artistic Honesty

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by BillyJBarter, Jun 16, 2017.

    Wasn't quite sure what was the best category for this post so I've put it here.

    So I've always had story ideas, I like to write passages and tiny chapters in my notebook when I'm travelling and I've been doing this for the last 3 years on and off, but I've never committed to fully fleshing them out and forming them into a whole. One of the reasons is the constant debate going on in my head on exactly how interesting my ideas are to other people, and how much I should edit them to be more interesting without losing the essence of what makes them idiosyncratic to me.

    I don't really have any advice or answers, but I'm curious to know if there are any writers on here who struggle with the same debate and how they've managed to navigate it?
     
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  2. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    "If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would've said faster horses" – Henry Ford

    Make people interested in the same things you are :cool:
     
  3. RWK

    RWK Member

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    I write for me.

    If other people like my work, that's really, really great.

    If other people don't like my work, well, I wrote it for me.

    In this business of writing, you create your own definition of success.
     
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  4. BillyJBarter

    BillyJBarter New Member

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    Cool, I'll stick to my original plan then ;)
    upload_2017-6-16_22-44-42.png
     
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  5. Teresa Mendes

    Teresa Mendes Member

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    Don't be afraid and write what you love =) All ideas can be interesting, depending on the way you write. But if you want a bit of support, you can read about people expectations on the genre you're writing and have a notion of thing you should include. Like in romance the couple usually ends up together and in adventures the protagonist survives.
     
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  6. izzybot

    izzybot Transhuman Autophage Contributor

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    I've realized that I tend to berate myself for writing 'self-indulgent' things, but more recently I've been trying to talk myself into a different mindset, which is ... well, why shouldn't I really like the things I write? It feels like part of the same thing as the idea that if you actually like your work, it's the Dunning-Kruger effect - the "only amateurs think they're good" thing. Which I kind of think is bullshit.

    Chances are, you're going to end up making stuff that's similar to the stuff you like. And you're definitely not alone in liking that stuff. So there will probably be people interested in your stuff, too, as long as you make it well.

    IMO: Make self-indulgent schlock. It's what I do! And if you want to talk about artistic honesty, it's probably most 'honest' to write the thing that you actually want to write, not pander to other peoples' expectations, don't you think?
     
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  7. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    It's not an either/or thing.

    I think you do need to have an eye towards writing for an audience bigger than you; this will make you a better writer because you will have to be accessible and write genuinely sympathetic characters instead of ones that you instantly glom onto because you know exactly what's supposed to make them interesting. So you should be thinking about someone approaching the text fresh and how to get them engaged. In the end the only test of a piece of writing that matters is if someone else has the same response to it as you. That means you've done your job right.

    You also need to write things that are interesting for you because otherwise you won't want to write. You need to ensure that you are expressing yourself in a fulfilling way, because that's the only way that you see a project through. That doesn't mean just do that and that alone; it may only take small things in tone and style to make you feel great about what you are doing. Maybe just writing in a sci-fi setting is all you need, or having a prominent romance into the story. You always need enough to keep you engaged. But I don't think you should only do that. I have a truly self indulgent project (presently about 400k words long) that is pretty much porn and ego-stroking. It's about the life of a ruggedly handsome successful author and his adventures and travails. And it's fun to write and I can write it forever. But that isn't something anyone else should ever read. Maybe that's fine for some people, to just be writing. It's fun but it's not really writing. It's the literary form of doodling a penis in a note book. It's amusing and passes the time. But it's not work no matter how I dress it up.

    In the past I've used phrases like 'a book for people who are crazy in the same way as me' and that's a bit tongue in cheek but somewhat true of my first project. I don't think it's bad. But it is very unique to me. I wouldn't say that it's bad to write like that. But I would say that it's not the best that you can write and in the end you'll find that getting a bit outside of yourself and not pandering to your own tastes will end you up with a project that you can feel much prouder of in the end. It sucked sitting with a couple of completed books and knowing that, barring meeting my kindred spirit, no-one is ever going to want to read them. I feel vastly more accomplishment in having several more books that I am excited to try and get people to read.

    My more recent books are still very me. They're dark and weird and uncomfortable to read in places, they still have the emotional whiplash, they still have the troubling moral questions. But where I started out writing black comedy about heroin and politics (that's one book) and living in a cult (a major fascination of mine) today I write (don't laugh) teen romance that works as teen romance in it's own terms using the me parts as the unique and interesting element to them. If someone told me my earlier characters were interesting then I'd feel good, of course, but to me that's pretty obvious because I've known those characters my whole life. Recently when an agent told me that the first teenage girl I wrote was believable and engaging and sympathetic; that says much more about my abilities as a writer. It's more outside my comfort zone, but back in my comfort zone I wasn't doing much beyond writing fan fiction about myself.

    So, yes you need to indulge some in a book. And you need to write for an audience some. And, most importantly, you need to trust yourself that you know the difference, and that your indulgence is interesting to someone else, and ensure that what the audience likes is also something that you like and want to write. I think you need both.
     
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  8. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    That's one of the big things I came up with recently:

    If you love an idea because you love how it reflects on you for having come up with the idea, then it's probably not a good idea.

    If you love an idea in the sense that you wish somebody else had come up with it first so that you could get started on reading it already, then you know it's a good idea :cool:
     
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  9. BillyJBarter

    BillyJBarter New Member

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    Cheers man that was mega helpful. Something I was toying with, at least as a writing exercise, is looking at the themes of what I want to write and trying to inject them into a more well established genre, I guess like what your doing with your teen romance, I think its a good way of testing the strength of the themes as well. The theory being if they're interesting enough they should be able to work in a variety of genres and types.
     
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  10. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    Interesting...
     
  11. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    I strongly agree with this. Just giving yourself the room to explore new space is one of the best things you can do as a writer. It gives you the chance to see what really engages you, something that isn't always obvious. I am not a guy that you would think writes romance, definitely not for teenage girls. My journey there (see the next post) was not on obvious one. But that's really what I wanted to write, I just never knew. I've never even read a whole romance book and I can't stand how most people write it. But when I tried it I found that writing love stories was absolutely everything I wanted in a book.

    I'm a very character focused writer and that's what I enjoy writing. And then love makes people vulnerable, it throws up really difficult emotional problems and gives them really difficult decisions to make. And it's a situation where a single line of dialogue can be a huge thing. It lets you get really deep into the characters and make them cry. Especially to teenagers who are doing all this for the first time it's got so much space to be heart rending while staying firmly in the scope of reality. It's everything I wanted in a genre. I just didn't notice until I started writing.

    So just give yourself the chance to play with other things, look for the core things that tie human experience together. All stories are human stories and if done well can be told in any setting and any genre because things like sympathy and inter-personal conflict are universal. You can write an amazing political drama set in a street gang or in a parish council. You can write an amazing romance set in the zombie apocalypse. And, perhaps even better, you can make these stories more unique by putting them somewhere unexpected, use the genre conventions to play off the underlying themes and make something really unique. You can use the more violent setting of a biker gang to provide so much more tension to the political maneuvering, even if there isn't any actual violence there's the constant feeling that if the character does the wrong thing they are going to get murdered, not just fired. In the zombie apocalypse it means something different to say 'this is my last chance to find someone'.

    Not to digress too far; but I think that this is one of the reasons why the way we classify genre is useless to a writer (ironically with the exception of romance). Genre is nothing to do with theme, it's all about subject matter. Sci-fi is about technology, fantasy is about magic and castles. But a sci-fi book like Dune is, fundamentally, a fantasy book. I don't know one off the top of my head but I can imagine a fantasy book exploring trans-humanist themes just as well as sci-fi would; people using magic to leave behind their physical forms. I think this is what leads lots of writers who are just starting out into not really understanding what they are trying to tell. A lot of us start out thinking along the lines of 'I like Star Trek so I'm going to write sci-fi'. But what is it that makes you like sci-fi? I love sci-fi but not really because of the cool technology or even the weird and wonderful settings. I like the spaceships well enough, but what really grabs me is the kind of sci-fi that shows people being people. I love the bits of DS9 that show the federation as being flawed and imperfect and sometimes even somewhat monstrous. I like how it puts characters into situations with no right answers; where they are struggling really hard to do the right thing and sometimes falling short. That's what engages me with it. But a lot of sci-fi isn't like that. Just having space battles doesn't do it for me. I like how it uses the facade of utopia to explore just how short they've fallen from it and how people don't change.

    In that sense my teen romances are more like a certain kind of sci-fi than anything else. Underneath the seemingly happy middle class world of school and parents and parties there's so much sadness; a single mum working herself to death to pay the mortgage her bastard of an ex-husband left her, an insular lonely foster kid who's terrified of her foster dad; spoiled, pampered beauty pageant contestants with psychotically pushy mothers who demand they are perfect. It's not really about the genre as such; it's about those core things of being lonely and stuck in a world that doesn't live up to what they hoped and just trying to make the best of it. They're girls who want to do the right thing but somehow end up not quite managing it, who are still figuring out who they are and when they do they aren't quite happy with what they see in the mirror. But they meet a boy (or a girl, on occasion) and they find that when they stop lying and pretending and are just themselves then people will love them for who they really are. But this would work the same anywhere; any setting where it looks good on the surface but is imperfect underneath which is really any setting. My girls could be grown ups who work in an image-dependent industry; they could be princesses in castles wondering if being royal is really worth it. They could be on a spaceship resenting their parents for bringing them on this bloody mission and leaving their friends behind. They could be destined to fight vampires and be really sad that this stops them meeting boys and having fun.

    So; yes definitely give this a shot. Just take your writing to more places, make characters who are a bit different to your usual ones. Not hugely, not vastly different. But something a bit different, that takes you to a slightly different place. Still write characters that you like, that you want to write. Indulge yourself in that. But widen a bit more and think about what other people would like too; in terms of setting and the fine details and so forth. I think most writers find that just making their point is less important than sharing that point with other people.
     
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  12. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    Again, 100% agree.

    I think that it's completely natural to want to show yourself to be that kind of writer. And to some extent you almost can't help doing that. You know what you want to achieve by writing, you know the stories that you want to tell, so telling them should feel good. I can even understand being a bit smug about your ideas, at least when you first conceive of them. But it's the reading that really matters. Even if it's just you who reads it, it should be a story you want to read not just the story you want to write.

    That was definitely where I came a-cropper in my first idea. Not that it's bad, but looking back it was more of a therapeutic process for me, a place to dump all my cynical, bitter feelings towards the world in general and the world of politics in particular. For those who have not read everything I've ever posted here (and why not? I'm awesome!) I am an addict and shortly before I started writing I worked on doomed political campaign and I combined my chip on my shoulder about how people tend to feel about that, with some darkly funny pulled-from-reality political cock ups with these terribly earnest, terribly committed people who are so certain they can win who don't have a hope in hell. It's the most me I've ever put in a book; the main character in that is fundamentally me. I got to work out a lot of frustration in that book, essentially writing someone who was good enough at their job to say 'I'm a junkie and fuck you if you don't like it', letting her prove that her scars and her track marks don't stop her being smarter than everyone else.

    I still think it's a good idea. As with anything political it hasn't aged hugely well and after a thousand readings the jokes are less funny to me; it's hard to keep a farce feeling fresh on multiple readings, the whole shtick is playing off the unexpected and absurd nature which doesn't work on repeat reading. But still, I think it's a good idea. And it got me writing, so for that I am eternally grateful to it. It made writing easy, because I had a lot of stuff to get out. And I was quite keen to be that kind of writer; the weirdly intense personal type.

    But as I wrote I found myself going off in another direction. The personal stuff was engaging, sure. But I ended up being much more interested in writing the character stuff. It wasn't funny. But it was way more engaging. I found myself spending more and more time (and space) writing the 'opposites attract' romantic subplot. Something I've mentioned a couple of times on this forum was the occasion where I wrote one conversation that was 12k+ words long. And that was these two characters, just chilling together, finally both letting their guard down a bit and starting towards a proper romance. These two weird (in very different ways) people kinda finding each other.

    And that's what pushed me into writing romance. Yes, still with some bits of me. But after that the dark bits were more dark because that gave me interesting character areas to explore, not just because I thought it would be fucked up and I wanted to be that kind of writer. Now my focus is not on the really fucked up bits, it's on the really sad bits the ones that just flood the readers brain with impossible feels. It's a kind of romance that I'd want to read, that has extreme personal stakes and pain and struggle and people just sort of clinging together because no-one else understands them.

    It's still me. But it's not just for me. It's, you know, for kids :D. Central themes are still be yourself and people will accept you for it; just like when I started. But now it's not me trying to make myself believe that, it's trying to get the reader to see that, it's using characters that have a bit of me and a bit of them. I'm definitely still indulging myself to some degree. I know I stand a better chance of getting published writing straight teen romance. But that doesn't interest me.

    And all of this is just a very long way round to say that it's part of a writers growth to move beyond just writing for yourself. I think you do need to start just writing for you, or at least it's understandable to be doing that. Your first projects I think do need to be passion projects; they need a strong muse; something that you are burning to write. But as you move on and grow as a writer you find that you can be just as personal and effective while appealing to more than just you. You can keep all the stuff that really grabs you by the balls and extend that to grabbing others as well. You move from just speaking to the specific things in your head to speaking to more universal human challenges.

    All my books have made me cry. I still take some pride in making you care about things that on paper you maybe shouldn't do, that's part of the me in them. The turning point was moving from writing things that got to me because I had been in that exact position to things that would make everyone cry because they are invested and sympathize. I have been a junkie trying to make people understand that doesn't make me a bad person so that speaks to me very directly. I've never been a teenager who lost a parent or living through a really bitter divorce, but these are still things that can get me choked up. I've definitely never been a teenager lying about having cancer, with a boyfriend convinced I'm dying, thus I've never had to come clean and tell someone I love our whole relationship is based on a lie. But that's something that I think speaks to a lot more people. She loves him but she had to lie to him and eventually she can't just keep doing it. Sure, the conceit is very me. But you don't need to be crazy like me to cry with her.
     
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2017
  13. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Contributor Contributor

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    I think many, if not most, writers write the novels that they'd like to find on the bookstore or library shelves, if they hadn't written them themselves.

    There is the idea of writing to a market. For example romance is one of the more popular (most read) genres. An author could decide to write formulaic romances, based on the notion that many readers enjoy that sort of novel, even if the author doesn't necessarily enjoy reading, and even writing, that sort of tale.

    'Mercenary' type writing, while it may be financially satisfying (one could argue that little personal interest in a novel will affect the quality, limiting success), I think can make the process more difficult.

    Specifically to the OP, if your writing and commentary, observations, reflections are so personal, so dependent on context or experiences you've had that others would have trouble getting the point, there could be a problem. Sort of like an inside joke, where two close friends are talking, one says an obscure phrase, which brings the humorous event both experienced to mind. They laugh, but everyone else around them doesn't get it because they lack the context/experience.
     
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  14. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributor Contributor

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    I write for me, but I edit for my publisher and audience. I find that worrying about reception during the writing process is putting the cart before the horse. I just get it all on the page and then when I start editing, try to read metaphorically wearing the hats of my publisher, editor and readers.
     
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  15. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    ... I love it :D
     
  16. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    There's definitely a lot of truth to that but I do think writers, particularly unpublished ones, need to throw in a little bit of self awareness as they write. I agree that you shouldn't cynically sculpt a book just to be publishable or liked by certain people; that's what leads to really really bland books. But a book is a lot of work to go to without thinking at least a little bit about who you are writing for and if this book is going to work for them. Saying to yourself 'Ah I'll just tone it down in the edit' is how you end up having to write most of the book again. And, worse, is that you know what the book was supposed to be and you think it's much better that way but you're being constrained by other people and forced to change your ideas after the fact which is much much worse than choosing an idea (or setting or character) that works for you and works for other people.

    It's so easy to just take a couples of hours to sit with your idea and think about if it's something that your audience might respond positively to; it seems foolhardy to just jump in and presume that all your ideas are (commercially speaking) winners. When you have a publisher and you have an audience then you can be reasonably sure that other people agree with you that this idea is good. But if you don't have that; if you've yet to (commercially speaking) prove that you are on the same wavelength as anyone paying money for a book then I think it's worth taking the time to sanity check yourself. Just tell a couple of other people the top line and see how they react; that's all I'm talking about. Just a little bit of pragmatism.

    It's a mistake I've made myself to just write for me and assume there is an audience for it. It's how you end up writing books that don't fit into any genre. And that's not something that you can fix with editing. It's what happens when you didn't even try to express your ideas in a way compatible with the existing book industry. Just taking that time to sit down at the beginning and saying 'this is a romance book so the audience expects romance to be the biggest thing in this book' will help give your book the focus and identity it needs to stand a chance of being published. Perhaps all of this stuff is just part and parcel of 'writing a good book' to lots of people's minds but it's worth remembering that a good book is one that other people want to read. You shouldn't be pandering or making concessions to your audience, but I think you need to be aware that there is (at least theoretically) a reader other than you.

    I think the bottom line here is that thinking from the audiences perspective puts certain limits on what you can do and those restrictions breed creativity. It's the same reason why having a word limit is a good thing. When you have to fit your book into a box then you make sure that your idea is box (or book) shaped and makes you use every last inch of space effectively. When you have infinite space and no story telling boundaries you end up with worse books, IMHO, because when you can go literally anywhere no specific place feels all that interesting. Pushing at the boundaries is, I think, much more creatively stimulating than having no boundaries at all. Just accepting that the audience exists and has certain expectations of you as a write helps to ensure that your book might ever reach them.

    You should still be writing for yourself, absolutely. Should banish any thoughts of prizes and sales figures and all that as you write. But you shouldn't totally forget that your goal is to publish a successful book, not just to write it.
     
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  17. Rosacrvx

    Rosacrvx Contributor Contributor

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    ^^
    This. I wouldn't even bother to write if it weren't for this.

    I'm a huge horror fan. I can't imagine what my favourite genre would be like if Bram Stoker had thought, "Hm, maybe Dracula is too scary for the general public. I'll write about a nice fairy instead." Same can be applied to every other genre out there.
     
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  18. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I write mostly for my audience. I mean, I won't write things I absolutely hate or find morally repugnant or whatever, but from the vast array of stories I'd like to tell and characters I'd like to explore, I select the ones I think my target market will find most appealing.

    I guess it's pretty mercenary, but I want to sell books and I don't see writing as the true expression of my tortured-yet-beautiful soul. I just tell stories. Why not tell stories people want to read?
     
  19. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Contributor Contributor

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    Mercenary, as you define it BayView, I don't see as 'out of line' in any sense of the the phrase (not that anyone said it is--just making an observation). It's sort of modified from my view of writing, in that you're writing the books you believe many readers would like to find on the shelf, if you hadn't written them yourself. :)

    I will add that if a writer's content or story is too narrow, or obscure, or too niche, they may struggle to find a publisher and/or readership if self-publishing. I think a fair amount of the of the choice in what to write depends on a writer's goals as he or she begins a career, and how goals might change they continue writing/publishing.
     
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  20. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    It can also be pretty hard to figure out what readers do want, so if you're just guessing, writing what you'd want to read seems like a reasonable guess to make!
     
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  21. Rosacrvx

    Rosacrvx Contributor Contributor

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    This too.
    And it also depends on whether you think of it as a career, to start with. There are many factors involved in what brings you to this decision so I'll not elaborate. But I also think that I see myself making more concessions to popular taste in my future work, once and after I get the story that I really must tell out there. I'm already seeing this tendency in more recent writing.
    But I don't see it as a career so I don't know how often and in what ways I will worry about it. That's a question for later.

    Answering more specifically to the OP, I don't think popular taste should keep anyone from writing their first ideas. There will be time to please popular taste when you write your second or third ideas, if you ever do. And then you'll have the practice on your side to help you with it.
    I'll add some more: even if your primary goal is to sell, make money and be popular, the practice from your first "writing for yourself" novel will help, so I don't see the point in not writing what you want, for now, at least.
     
  22. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributor Contributor

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    I have to 100% agree with this. Most people will have to write write a lot of things before they produce something that's good enough for publication. I see so many posters here who just can't seem to put words on a page because they're paralyzed with second guessing everything about their story before they even start.

    I wrote over 30 unpublishable stories (some novel/novella length) over three years before I wrote something that could be submitted to a publisher. Every single thing I wrote was instrumental in getting me to that point. I think at some point we have to get past the idea that writing is a waste of time unless it's something publishable, and instead see it as an important and necessary part of the journey.
     
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  23. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    Again, I think there's some truth to that but I think there's more going on. In the abstract I totally agree that writing is what makes you a better writer and writing outside the norm and engaging with more kinds of stories, more characters, thinking from different perspectives and exploring different space will help you become a better writer even if those things are a million miles from publishable. And, if writers are writing these things specifically to expand their palette and explore their craft then this is all well and good.

    But I think most writers aren't sitting down to write a book in the certain knowledge that this is just an amusing writing exercise; I think most people are writing books because they think the idea has potential to be published. There is definitely a learning process in figuring out what exactly can and can't get published, about genres and the publishing business and agents and all the (horrible) machinery of the industry. And certainly the kind of ideas that writers believe have commercial potential will change. But I think most writers always think that they are writing something with the potential to be published. They may be wrong. They may be completely deluded about the industry or their abilities. But I think the goal is always to try and get published, or at least to be more than a document they never show to anyone.

    That doesn't mean that writing that isn't published is wasted. You only get better at writing by writing. You only learn about the industry by banging up against it and trying again. All of your projects are of tangible value to you as a writer, both on the business side and the practical side. It takes a lot of work, a lot of trial and error, and even a bit of luck to get the break through and you only get there by doing a lot of writing. So you need to do a lot and you need to accept that most of what you write, at least until you get a break into the industry, is not going to be published. But even knowing that, I think that most writers are still writing with the belief that what they are writing can get published; that this idea is a good idea with commercial potential.

    In a sense it is part of the journey to write lots of things that don't get published. But if someone came to me and asked how to get published I'd tell them that the only way is to try to be published lots of times; to write things that they think that can get published, and then do that again with a bit more knowledge and a bit more and a bit more and eventually to break through. Unpublished writing is still of tangible value but I don't think any of us would suggest to a would be writer that they could get published by writing loads of stuff they never show to anyone and then submitting one last book.

    We all need to be sanguine about publication, but that doesn't mean that we aren't still pursuing it. And that's why I think we need to keep an eye on an audience and on agents and publishers and give ourselves the best chances of achieving that.
     
  24. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    A lot of writers these days start out with fanfic, and while it's certainly published in a way and many of the authors are trying to build an audience, it's not a case of "trying" to get published... the publication is pretty well automatic. I'm not sure how that fits into the discussion, but it's what I thought of when I was reading posts.
     
  25. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    There's always a point of me when I'm writing a story that I think, "Who the hell besides me is going to be interested in this? It isn't exciting/original/whatever enough!"

    This is why I find critique partners/alpha readers so motivating. Even before the first draft is written, I have people telling me what they do and don't like about it and asking for more.
     

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