I’m beginning this series of posts in the Writing Tips category, but it differs in an important way from my other writing advice. This isn’t a series about how to write fiction or non-fiction. It’s a narrative of my experiences as a writer, with some helpful insights along the way.
When I started writing I made a crucial decision, motivated largely by stubbornness, to “go it alone”. I didn’t ask friends or family to buy my books and review them, or subscribe to my blog. I didn’t seek out editing help, professional or otherwise. I didn’t use my personal social media accounts to advertise my writing.
This was and is a bad idea for any writer trying to get noticed. However, it has given me a unique perspective, worth sharing. There is some inspiration here. If you can achieve a small measure of success going it alone, imagine the impact your writing could have if you apply the techniques and principles I use, but making full use of all of the support available.
Not to say that I’ve been entirely lone-wolfing it. I’ve benefited from an excellent community of writers and readers here on WordPress, sharing encouragement, feedback and inspiration. This is the exception, rather than the rule.
Why not? Here’s a list of the Useless Book Club’s top commenters of 2015 before we get started:
Going It Alone #1: “What Should I Write?”
“What should I write?” A question I have asked of myself and others. One of those was a mistake, and you can guess which from the title.
This could be one of the few chapters in this series where going it alone is the best approach to take. My experiences suggest this is the case. Let me tell you about them and I’m sure you’ll agree.
My first attempt at a novel was historical fiction. It was intended as a gritty, melancholy and realistic look at the life of a medieval Norse explorer on his maiden voyage. This is the sort of fiction I have always enjoyed reading most, although I do have wider interests. Vikingr has been well-received in the limited audience it reached.
What about the second attempt? For this I changed my tune significantly and took a stab at writing high fantasy. Magical beings, mythical lands, characters with supernatural powers, etc. A genre I would enjoy reading, but which I chose to write in because I thought others would appreciate it. The reception of Firequeen was confusing at first. I wondered how it could perform so poorly compared with its predecessor.
There was a simple answer to this puzzle. Firequeen just wasn’t as good as Vikingr. I had written a worse novel. Behaved as a worse writer. How?
“What would you like to read?” was how I decided to write a fantasy novel.
This is the right question to ask yourself and the wrong question to ask another person, or think about asking them. I wrote a fantasy novel with an audience in mind, rather than because I wanted to write fantasy. The same goes for “What should I write?” and there are a number of reasons for this.
You will be more committed to your favourite genre, motivating you to push yourself further as a writer. There will also be a greater familiarity with how the genre treats plot, setting and characters, as well as knowing what other authors have done to death. The last is vital, as there is little point reproducing an idea which has already had the excitement leeched out of it by previous authors.
So you should only write inside your preferred genre? No, creativity doesn’t perform well in confinement.
Your decision to expand outside your favourite genre should be entirely your own, not the product of questioning which genre a real or imagined audience will appreciate. I’m writing a series of long-ish fantasy short stories at this moment, and they are much better (judging by their reception) than Firequeen.
This is because I’m now ready to write fantasy. The largest reason behind this is probably the fact I have, temporarily, worn myself out with writing historical fiction. My appetite to write the castles, warriors and swords has waned. It will return, but for now I can devote my attention to fantasy.
There is one other important factor. I have been reading more fantasy and taking a close look at how it is written, who the characters are, what the setting is like and how the plot flows, in contrast with a historical novel. More on this at a later date.
If you want to start writing novels, or are wondering why a previous one didn’t work, ask yourself what you would want to read. Don’t think about anyone else at this stage. The concept, the light-bulb moment of the novel is all about you, the author.