Write Your Truth
“Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.” ~Barbara Kingsolver
My husband and I were going out to the movies. We were in the mood for something light so we chose something that looked cute and funny. We knew it wouldn’t be a moviemaking masterpiece, so even though the critics had been harsh, we decided to take our chances.
Before the movie we went out to dinner, ran into a friend and chatted for a bit. Her dinner companion, whom we’d never met, heard what movie we were going to see and blurted, “Oh, it’s really bad.” We were taken aback and I’m sure she could see it in our faces. She continued, “Yeah, I saw it last night, it was just like, really stupid. A waste of time. But hey! Maybe you’ll like it! Have fun!”
That was kind of a downer. But we already had realistic expectations of the movie, and it turned out we thought it was cute, fun, and funny. A thoroughly enjoyable night out. The general response of the others in the theater seemed to agree with us.
The experience got me thinking about a whole bunch of things… like how our expectations influence our experience. And how art and entertainment are so subjective (as we’ve discussed so many times on this blog.) Those thoughts led me to another conclusion I keep coming to over and over:
Since we can’t please everyone with our work… since readers (like movie watchers) bring their own expectations and subjectivity to their experience of our work… it doesn’t make sense to try and predict what people want to hear and write that. You’ll never get it just right. Instead, simply write your own truth. Say what you want to say. Be honest in your writing—honest about who you are, what you think, what you question and doubt, what you fear—and eventually, as you master the craft, you will connect with readers.
I doubt you’ll make that connection as long as you’re just trying to predict the market; as long as you’re writing what you think publishers are looking for; as long as you’re resisting writing from your deepest core.
Many factors will influence whether you’re published and whether you have commercial success—including the market, and the overall quality of your writing (which can be judged by many different criteria). But your writing will improve and connect with more readers as you get better at writing what you think and feel and know rather than what anyone else wants to hear from you. Keep in mind that you can do with within any genre that exists (or any that haven’t been coined yet). You can express your truth in a paranormal romance as well as a dystopian YA fantasy or a crime thriller.
Readers’ opinions of your work will vary but in the end, the way anyone responds to your work will only matter if you’ve written the truth as you know it, or are discovering it.
Of course, you’re always hearing how important it is to learn the market and know what’s saleable, and you may be tempted to attenuate your writing to fit the market. But even if you’re writing toward the market, you also have to write your truth. It’s what usually produces the best writing, the kind that touches people and makes them think and feel.
This is what you have to offer the world: Yourself. Put it on the page, even if it’s scary.
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© 2011 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent