Lately I’ve seen an unnerving amount of articles about how you can “write a best-selling book in only two weeks!” I even came across one blogger advising that time or inspiration starved writers hire someone else to write their book. To me, acting like the book itself is merely some product that you could import from China if need be in order to accomplish a larger goal is an oddly backwards attitude towards writing. It’s like saying you want to have a baby so you have someone to wear all those diapers you were hoping to buy. The way I see it, the sole value and end goal of writing a story has to be in the writing and creation of the story itself. Anything that may flow from that – sales, acclaim, 5 star amazon reviews – has to be completely secondary, or else you’ll fail.
The reason I write is to explore, discover, and create. Prior to writing my debut novel, The Threat Below, I had been seized by this image of a mountain surrounded by thick clouds, with only the peak breaking through the soupy white ocean. And what if, I would wonder, no one knew what lived below those clouds? But, whatever it was, everyone feared it and knew it was deadly. This became a compulsion for me, and I had to figure out what lived down below the clouds, and why our characters were trapped above them. Because I went on this quest, the story was born. That feeling you get when you read a great book, the intense desire to know what happens next and ultimately what in the world is going on – it’s even stronger for the writer, if everything is firing the way it should.
I’ll take it one step further. If you yourself aren’t obsessed with your characters, immersed in your world, and swept up into their conflicts and predicaments, how can you expect anyone else to be? The very first audience for all of my stories has to be me. I don’t mean this in a selfish, dilettantish, “I don’t care what you think of my stories, they make sense to me” way. That disposition is it’s own brand of poison. But rather, what I mean is that the author has to be the first line of defense against boredom. If I don’t love the journey, and it’s essentially my journey, how will anyone else?
Since I’ve worked for years in film and television, this has been a lesson I’ve learned via the time-tested though unpleasant method of making mistakes and suffering the consequences. I’ve written certain assignments and specs and pilots because I thought they would be good for my career, but ultimately they didn’t help at all because they weren’t stories I really wanted (or, even better, needed) to tell for the sake of discovering the story itself. I wanted to tell it because maybe someone would buy it. Or thought they would put me on a list of hot writers. It was a waste of time. Just as wasteful as if I’d write a book for the primary purpose of making sales.
Write the story you’re dying to read. If you do, there’s a pretty good chance (as long as you are disciplined and smart and put in a tremendous amount of effort) that you’ll find others who are dying to read it too. Thrill and surprise and entertain yourself. Don’t concern yourself so much with what other people may want while you’re working through your rough draft, because then you’ll lose focus on your adventure. And really, what other people really want, despite what they might tell you they want, is to share in your adventure.