A little while ago, I came across this post about the importance of writing to genre conventions for marketing purposes at edittorrent. It reminded me of a question that comes up from time to time when I am talking to other writers.
For instance, I will tell someone who is in a similar career position to me (as-yet-not-conventionally-published-but-working-to-be) that in the course of writing my first two books, I learned more about the market and wrote my third book accordingly. Invariably, I will get some version or other of a head tilt, a look-down-the-nose, and a pronouncement of “oh, I couldn’t think about things like that, I have to follow where my creative spirit leads!” Nine times out of ten, this is followed up by a snide remark about vampires.
(Fear not! They say vampires are Right Out, so there’s no need to lose any energy feeling martyred now if you don’t want to write about them.)
But here’s the rub, as far as I’m concerned: you don’t have a creative spirit. You don’t have a muse. (Neither do I.) I have spent too many years deconstructing literature to believe in any of that romantic claptrap about Literature being Magical. You have a brain, influenced by the society in which you live, the company you keep, the job you do, the beliefs you hold, question, overthrow, rebuild (with your brain) on a daily basis. Writers, as I long have told my literature students, make choices. Writers make choices. Perhaps they do not always–perhaps they rarely–make those choices consciously, but they make them.
The product of the artist is informed by all kinds of unromantic things that are not in the least Magical. I understand that it feels like a muse or a creative spirit. I too have those voices that talk to me and to each other in my head; those characters that I could swear are real people just asking me to put words and flesh upon their living spirits by means of my books, but in the end, I decide what to write. I decide what to plot. I decide whether or not to write to a recognizable–marketable–convention or not and that decision will make a difference to whether or not I succeed in the kind of traditional career I want.
I am a highly creative person, mind you. My brain is just brimming with ideas and story fragments I long to fill out. But when choosing among those fragments, why not line them up with what seems to be the wisest market information available and choose which one to tell on that basis?
Someday, if I am rip-roaring successful, I will perhaps step outside of conventions (or into a less popular genre) and play there.
I may not even care to do this, though. After all (elephant in the room alert) some of this writing-to-genre/market stuff is about learning to write well. I am not saying all uncatagorizable writing is bad writing, but I am saying that being forced to fit your writing into a certain shape can be an excellent exercise for getting really good at saying exactly what you want to say no matter the form. It’s why I like to write sonnets and haikus. Once you master various forms, you are better equipped to play with them or outside them.
Mind you, I don’t exactly think that my gender-bendy historical adventures full of girl/girl and girl/boygirl kissing are exactly a tool of the man. So it isn’t as if my writing is without edginess or risk, but there are other aspects to the stories and the forms in which I am telling them that do fit conventions and categories, the better to sell my books.
How about you? What part does marketability play in your choices of what and how to write?