This morning I read an article by a successful literary agent whose blog I follow, and it really got under my skin. In it, the author cautioned both published and pre-published writers that they need to find out what readers want from them–and give it to them, end of story. If they’re unwilling to do this, (I’m paraphrasing here) they should be content to scribble in their private journals and forget about landing contracts.
On the one hand I understand her point. There are too many people banging away at their laptops, rolling around in their special feelings, having mastered few (or no) writing techniques. Some of these same folks pound out a manuscript without having done the slightest bit of research on genre or publishing trends, much less on developing character arcs, writing compelling dialog, etc. They believe they don’t need to lay that kind of groundwork because they’ve just written the next bestseller, and bonus! it came from their hearts.
I get that these people are citizens of Pony Land.
So why did her post bug me so much? Because, at the end of the day, writing is still an art form, not a cranking out of tube socks on a factory line. And because while we writers need to aim high, (really, stinking high), we still have to write what we love, or else whatever we produce will be dead on arrival. We have to have integrity. We have to be brave. And, frankly, I don’t see how imagining what some faceless audience might want eighteen months to two years from now helps me do or be any of the above.
My takeaway from the article is that it’s imperative that a writer do her homework. She should read widely, both contemporary and classic literature. She should study craft books, visit craft blogs, and go to a writing conference if she can afford it. But when she sits down to her notebook or laptop she should write what is true for her without worrying about what the masses might think (they might never see her words anyway, let’s be honest). Otherwise, her chances of producing something real and clear are not very good, and even if she’s fortunate enough to be published, she won’t be satisfied with the words someone else told her to write.
What say you? Should a writer write for herself first and then others? Or should it be the other way around?