Write What You Want or Write What Sells?
Dana Leipold is the author of two books of poetry, a writing guide, and a new novel about abuse and survival called Burnt Edges. She uses her author website to provide resources for other authors and to explore the dilemmas and challenges most writers face. Her essay, reprinted below, on how to choose subject matter for your writing – whether to use your heart or your head or a combination of the two – is insightful and useful to anyone engaged in writing.
Answer the “Why” First
WHY are you writing? What propels you to the page? Is it the need to share your ideas with a large audience? Is it to express yourself? Is it to create something that’s never been created before? Sometimes the answer isn’t as obvious as you think it is.
When I first started writing, I thought I just enjoyed the process of writing so it didn’t matter what I was writing as long as I just wrote. But let me tell you, if you end up writing a white paper about database management just so you can write…well, it’s not really that fun. Believe me. I’ve done it many times. So, you may not really like writing for the sake of doing it. It may depend on WHAT you are writing.
Then Tackle the “What”
I’ve tried my hand at writing non-fiction, humor, young adult, and science fiction. Each of these genres comes with its own style and “rules” (although we all know rules are made to be broken, especially when it comes to writing). I read lots of books in those genres and tried to learn how to emulate them. In many cases, I did okay but it wasn’t great…my definition of great being that I was good at it and got lost in doing it. When I get lost in doing something, I feel like I’m passionate about it and usually end up with something pretty great as a result. But, that didn’t happen when I wrote in these genres. So, it also depends on HOW you feel about WHAT you are writing.
Next, You’ll Examine the “How”
When I wrote Burnt Edges and as I’m working on the sequel, I get lost in each moment. Emotions pour out of me like a firehose. It’s almost as if I’m not actually writing it, I’m just transcribing what is flowing through me. This is what I’m talking about when I ask: HOW does it make you feel when you write? You should feel like you are in another dimension, suspended effortlessly by the scene or character…like nothing else in the world exists. When this happens you arrive at the next question: WHO is going to read this?
Finally, You Get the “Who”
My stories are not mainstream. They are not easy to read by the pool on a summer day. As the director of my imprint said the other day, “This story is no chicklit.” My stories are honest, raw, and real. The people who read them are people who are seeking something other than pure entertainment. They are seeking the truth. They are seeking something that makes them feel. My market may not be as big as books like Fifty Shades of Grey or Gone Girl, but I’ve finally reached a point where I have defined my niche.
So, should you write what you want or what will sell? For me, that answer is I am writing what I want. The sell part of it will come if it’s meant to be but the most important thing is I’m staying true to my WHY, WHAT, HOW, and WHO. Maybe for you, yours will align with a big market. Maybe not but at least you’ll feel confident that you’re writing what you’re meant to write.
Dana Leipold, Author