The Evolving Writer

Sometimes I wish I was one of those people who find a writing niche they’re comfortable and that will make them buckets of money. Most of the best-known writers are in the mainstream. They know what their audience wants, and they write to that audience. Many of them also write to a formula or a number of formulas that serve them well. What this means is that if you’re among their audience, you know more or less what to expect from them. I’m not the audience for those writers, and I can’t be one of those writers.

On one level, my problem is that I’m easily bored. No matter how well-written a formula book may be, no matter how interesting its character, by the third iteration (and even the second, sometimes) with plot twists galore, I’ve had it. A long time ago, I figured out the success formula for such books (movies, TV shows). It’s familiarity plus novelty.

That formula doesn’t work for me, either as a writer or a reader. By the time I’d finished and published my first two books, Hidden Boundaries and Crossing Boundaries, I knew I was in trouble. For one thing, they didn’t fit any genre, and they weren’t even recognizably cross-genre. For some reason, Privileged Lives turned out to be fairly normal near-future science fiction. But looking over the stories that I’m actively working on, it’s easy to see that I’m running off the beaten path again. How am I supposed to classify a first-person story by a mute slave? There’s no sex, no beatings, no romance–none of the “normal” plot devices that people expect from “slavefic.” And very little dialogue. How do I classify a story about the developing relationship of a dom and a submissive, that has no sex, and very little of the paraphernalia or tropes of BDSM?

Every genre has its accepted tropes and clichés. Readers expect them and, for the most part, want them to be there. What happens when they’re not? They’re completely absent or they’re turned upside down or inside out. The story includes elements from other genres but doesn’t quite fit any of them. Publishers avoid such stories like the plague. If you want readers, you’re going to have to self-publish. And, let’s face it. All the media noise about self-publishers who’ve made it big? Their books fit neatly into popular genres and meet readers’ expectations for those genres.

When I look over some of my incomplete stories, I realize that my concept of how I want to write them has changed. When I started most of them, they would have fit (more or less) into some accepted genres. Instead of learning to fit my writing to genres that readers know to look for, I find myself moving further away. My image of the kind of writer I want to be is evolving. The crucial question is whether epublishing is encouraging readers to evolve and look for something “other.”

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13 thoughts on “The Evolving Writer

  1. Yes, that fomula thing is why I never watched “Murder She Wrote.” Once you’d seen three or four episodes, you’d seen them all!
    And my SF is also not formulaic. It’s quite a hybrid of future history, off-world adventure, interesting intelligent extraterrestrials who are no threat to Earth, giant insects who are intelligent and no more evil than human beings, the difficulties of communicating with lifeforms speaking alien languages – and all that coupled with a major love story with a male protagonist who has more than a bit of Rochester from Jane Eyre in him!

    1. I used to try to watch TV series that other people would recommend, and it usually took only a couple of episodes to figure out the shtick.

      An SF protag! I’m hooked already.

  2. It isn’t easy being green. Or different.
    I understand your dilemma, I think. While a lot of my stories more or less fit into a “Twilight Zonish” (Youngsters! The Twilight Zone had nothing to do with vampires!), many of them are just “out there” retellings of dreams.
    What I’ve read of your work stands alone, and is readable for what it is, not for what it isn’t.

  3. I can relate to your problem, I have it too – though not in the short story department which I’ve ruthelessly written inside a genre for, whenever possible (I was a single parent, I needed the money; I still learnt a great deal BTW.)
    I think ebooks will end up being what TV has become in most western countries. The genre stuff will sell, the gems might even disappear and we will see a general dumbing down. The mainstream publishers will still print some ‘literary’ fiction, but I see a lot of people falling through the cracks – unless they’re incredibly lucky. I don’t like to think this way, and I believe there will always be exceptions, due to good marketing or simply a great story, but I think they will be few and far between.

    1. Good for you, that you could stick to a genre. It’s hard enough to earn money writing and if you can learn to do that, you have at least a chance. Digital publishing opens doors and closes them at the same time. I don’t remember whether it was Dean Wesley Smith or Joe Konrath who said that luck is one of the factors in becoming known. He’s right, and there are a lot of cracks to fall into.

  4. Great blog. As an evolving artist, I’ve battled with the market and of conforming to it and that has consistently sounded the death knell of creativity inside me. Money is the means of our survival, no getting away from it, but where does creativity fit in the money game? Money is a pretty hopeless and soulless task master at the best of times, so I’ve chosen to abandon it beyond the provision of keeping body and soul together and will not allow it near my writing, art or photography, in as much as I am able. The need to live a creative life is as far beyond the boots and braces of everyday life, as thoughts, which can change the world, are beyond the customs and mores of society. Honing and practicing ones craft should not, as far as I am concerned, have anything to do with financial considerations, unless one so chooses, any more than a factory should be compared to a sunset. Best wishes. Keith.

    1. Thanks for stopping by. I really enjoyed your current post and read a few more.

      I don’t need to earn a living from my writing, but I can certainly use whatever money I can earn from it. That said, money will never change or motivate how I write. I write what I have to, in the sense of “I can’t write any other way.” I’ll never have a huge readership. I’ll never have a best seller. But neither of those possibilities has any power to motivate me.

    2. Good one, Keith! I’m willing to work my guts out to sell my books AFTER they’re written to my satisfaction, but I would never let commercial considerations into how I write my novels, neither the style nor the story.

  5. Just read your reply to Keith’s comment, Catana. Good for you, too. Imagination is a sacred thing. It needs to be unfettered. Sadly, i feel it will become rarer and rarer with the web’s emphasis on information.

  6. I am reminded of that wonderful expression: ‘Art for arts sake, money for gods sake.’ Creativity and necessity, an unholy alliance. I do not know a single artist who can keep those two rascals apart, nor yet sit comfortably with them either.

    1. The question is whether the necessity is the practicalities of life or the need to create. And I suppose it’s made easier if you don’t consider yourself an artist. I know that some people consider writing an art, by definition, but I don’t. I consider myself a story teller, not an artist.

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