I was flipping through my Entertainment Weekly and you know how they have the funny quotes in the front from characters in shows you don’t watch? I like to read them and have a laugh, but this particular one this morning caught my eye.
It made me think: why do we write? What are our goals and aspirations when we start a novel, a novella, a story? At a basic level, we want people to read our work. Maybe post a nice review. But is it more than that? When we plan a series is our first thought, Jamie Dornan would be awesome playing my main male character if were to be turned into a movie. I doubt E. L. James was thinking anything past just making fun of Twilight for her own amusement when she was writing 50 Shades of Grey.
I think this quote says a lot about the industry, too. Hollywood is having a terrible time coming up with original ideas, and it seems services like Hulu and HBO are happy to pick up their next best thing from a book, The Handmaid’s Tale and Game of Thrones, respectively. But there has been a shift in what’s trending, and gone are the days of blockbuster deals for a YA series like Twilight, Divergent, and The Hunger Games. The whole thing does make me wonder how Hollywood chooses what to make into movies and what it won’t. Nicholas Sparks is always good for a movie, and I wonder if he sits down to write specifically thinking his next book will be turned into a movie. There are other authors who have tried, or at least, their books have tried, to break into the movie industry and have failed miserably. (I’m looking at you LeAnn Rimes and Nora Roberts’ Northern Lights.)
Joanna Penn loves to ask, “how do you measure success?” Is it when you finish a book, when you publish? When you are picked up by an agent? When your book is optioned for the movie rights?
It pays to have goals when you sit down to write–to know the direction you want your writing to take and who you’re writing for. It helps with the marketing of your book, it helps to know what your plan is going to be once your work is completed. But putting too much pressure on yourself, to picture your character sitting next to you on your desk, legs swinging off the edge, saying, “Hurry up and wrrriiiitttteeeee me, I want to be in a mooooovvvvviiiiieeee,” will do more harm than good.
Love what you’re writing is a standard rule when writing your books. Love your characters, love your plot. I’ve always advocated writing to market, but hopefully somewhere along the road, your passion and what sells meet. Sitting down to write expressly for commercial success is the wrong way to go. You may find success, but then you’re stuck writing what you don’t like. Eventually, that will come out in your writing, and once you stop caring about your stories, your readers will, too.
Success doesn’t come overnight–sometimes even us writers forget that as we are blinded by the success of indie authors such as Hugh Howey, Andy Weir, and Mark Dawson. Top indie author sellers like Melissa Foster, Bella Andre, and Linsday Buroker have been at this for years and have a strong backlist. They don’t stop writing, they’re always publishing new material, creating new content. It’s easy to forget how much freaking work this is.
So, go write, do the work; I wish you all the success in the world–movie rights and action figures of your characters included.