Why Can’t I Have It All?   8 comments

Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?


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I love the questions that require thought!

You’d think it’s a fairly binary question – creative versus market-oriented — but as is often the case, PJMcLayne has asked a question this week with an answer that is more nuanced.

There are two ways of doing art – and by art, I mean any creative endeavor. One — you can create for your own amazement. I wrote books for my own amusement for decades before I published for an audience. When I was doing that, I could afford to be bold and original, to try out plot lines and narrative techniques without fear that anyone would say, “Well, I’m just going to read another book because this one is … weird … boring … unbelievable … hard to follow ….” You get the picture. I loved what I was writing and I wasn’t concerned what anyone else thought because nobody else was ever going to read it.

The second way to do art is, obviously, for an audience. Writers are no less performance artists than my daughter — a gypsy musician who also dabbles in dance, painting and metal sculptures — not to mention graffiti. For that matter, my mother — a waitress — was a “performance artist”. Her audience consisted of the customers who followed her from cafe to cafe all over town because they appreciated her “art” in serving them. If you want to do art that has an audience, you have to consider what your audience wants.

So, am I original or do I give the audience what they want?

Can’t I do both? Take a pause and think about that. Of course, I can!

Creative on the First Draft

Image result for there is no new thing under the sun

I follow Stephen King and Kurt Vonnegut’s advice to write for my own enjoyment. I don’t consciously start by thinking “what does the market want?” I often read a book (written by another writer) or watch a television story (written by another writer) and think “What if …?” Or maybe it’s a news article that gets my attention, makes me wonder how someone got to the point where they did X. A character will stir in my mind and tell me his/her “what if”. In a way, it’s derivative in that I’m getting ideas from other writers. But my character is original and he tells his own story. He doesn’t inhabit that other writer’s universe. He lives in mine. His actions are motivated by his own personality. As I’ve often said – my characters tell me their stories and I write them down. Without a “living” character in my mind sharing the details of his “life”, there would be very little writing going on. In that way, I am utterly original.


I’m also not very mainstream — as a person, I’m an iconoclast. How many anarchist-admiring libertarian Southern Baptist evangelical Christian American-Indian-white Alaskans have you encountered in your lifetime? Yeah, I didn’t think so. That’s bound to show up in my writing and it does.

I took up a topic in Transformation Project that you don’t see a lot of novelists tackling outside the zombie apocalypse trope. I have an apocalyptic scenario where government is not the answer — where even the government of the small town at the center of the series can’t save the community. Not going to tell you how I resolve that problem, but I think voluntaryist solutions represent a distinct minority opinion in dealing with large-scale crises. We human beings, particularly of the modern-American type tend to think big government solutions are the only way to solve problems. I disagree because I see the “what if.” In this, I am writing for myself — what I would like to see in some parts of the world if society went seriously off the rails. When I’m writing my first draft, it is all about creativity and what I, the writer, want to put on the page.

Mercenary on Rewrite

That said, I only deserve to get paid for my work if I provide value through that work, which means I do, to a certain extent, need to be aware of what readers are looking for in a novel. What good is it to write a book that nobody else wants to read? Successful writers recognize that the success of their book(s) depends almost entirely on conforming to audience expectations. Being aware of that doesn’t mean you can’t be creative, innovative — original — but, yes, honing my originality so the audience will enjoy the read is paramount for having an audience.

And that’s where rewrite comes in. When I sit down with my gravel-draft (the roughest of the rough draft), some of my main questions are:

  • Would anyone besides me want to read this story?
  • What about this section? Yes, I love the dialogue — the back and forth between these two characters is wonderful — from my perspective. So what about everybody’s else’s perspective? Do I really need to describe the Eiffel Tower in all its detail to an audience that can google it and see it for themselves? I can feel the cold Shane is experiencing in this scene, but will someone who has spent their whole life in Texas feel the cold if I don’t describe it?
  • While I prefer to use proper grammar when I write is my adherence to those rules slowing down the reading? What if I tweaked these past tense sentences to make them more present tense since it’s clear the character is thinking about the past?
  • Do the details of how the Delaneys are coping with having no running water or electricity really need to consume 20 pages? Doesn’t that constitute an info-dump? Hey, look at that. I wove the entire thing into three sentences scattered through a chapter and I won’t bore my audience!

That’s paring a creative work with audience-aware editing. I remain free to express myself creatively, experiencing Wordworth’s “spontaneous overflow of powerful emotion”, but I don’t let creativity hinder what I deliver to the audience.

And, really, why are independent authors publishing their books on Amazon if not to have people other than their family and friends read the book? I don’t want to disappoint those strangers (especially since they’re willing to pay me money for what they read) and so, I combine creativity with more prosaic skills like editing and market analysis.

Announcing a Book Launch

If you want to see what creativity and rock-solid writing skills produce together, Gathering In (Book 5 of Transformation Project) debuts tomorrow Tuesday, October 22 and is currently on pre-order. You’ll save $1 over its launch price ($2.99) and $2 over its full retail price $3.99). It will also be available in paperback come Tuesday. All earlier books in the series will be on $1.99 sale from launch through Cyber Monday.

Life As We Knew It

Objects in View

A Threatening Fragility

Day’s End

8 responses to “Why Can’t I Have It All?

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  1. I write in more than one genre, and so it’s easier for me to see which books readers prefer. The trouble is, I don’t always want to write more of the same!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t write for popularity, or even for sales. I just write to get the words out of my head, because wherever they might have come from, they clearly want to be heard.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very interesting take on this, Lela. I enjoyed reading your thoughts and congratulations on your book launch.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I always have mixed emotions when I pare down parts of my stories while editing. I know how hard I worked to write them in the first place and it can be hard to let them go.


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