Not really. I don’t even own a Duran Duran shirt, but now that I have your attention:
Why choose a career in writing?
“I’m a writer. I’ve written a book. Wanna buy it?” I bet you hear that more and more often. The world of publishing has evolved over the last ten or so years, it’s just as easy to publish a book as it was to create a mixtape of the best Duran Duran tracks in the eighties. Take that Duran Duran mixtape, for example, it’s not going to go over too well with metalheads. With writing, you must be very careful your mixtape of words doesn’t stunt your growth.
Random Example with 80s Music Analogy:
It’s incredibly hard to find an audience to invest time in listening to your voice. If you trick a group of Motley Crue fans into spending a few minutes with your words, they’ll leave pissed off after hearing “The Reflex” ten times. And, they will turn around and tell the Van Halen fans that all you play is Duran Duran.
Be honest. Write from the heart. If you don’t like Twilight, don’t write a book about bedazzled vampires. Avoid the pitfalls of trend jumping. If not, you’ll constantly be running from scorpions after falling down a hole. You’ll spend your entire career forcing yourself to be something you’re not. That’s not what writing is about.
When developing a brand, or in the case of a writer … your voice… too much negative publicity is a death knell. If your story is shitty or a complete rehashing of an established author’s bestseller, your career will be short-lived. That’s not to say negative publicity doesn’t breed recognition. It does. And in some cases, it can be a part of your success if you can recover from it. So, don’t fear it. At some point, it will happen. But in the beginning, do your best to avoid it. If Music From The Elder was KISS’s first album, the band wouldn’t be on its twentieth farewell tour today.
So why do you write?
If you’re writing to become rich, you’ll end up poor, miserable, and feeling like a failure. Writing, just as any other art, should be sincere. Before you start your, “Once upon a time…” you need to be OK with the notion that it’s not going to buy you that house in Malibu. There’s a good chance the royalties won’t even be able to buy your groceries at Target. You really need to be all right with that. After that realization, if you still write the story, I probably want to read it, unless it’s dinosaur porn. I definitely want to read that.
Listen, I’m not going to bullshit you and say making enough money to live comfortably from writing isn’t one of my goals. Of course, it is, but I do not outline an idea with the hopes it will land me a new Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabriolet. I write a story with one goal in mind … to have it read, and to hopefully gain a reader or two. OK, that’s more than one goal. So what.
I’m not stating anything groundbreaking. But in today’s market, the reasons for starting a career in writing are blurred by tainted visions of success. It’s like when I found out there was a professional miniature golf association. It’s putt-putt for Christ’s sake. Anyone can do it. Not true. Well…anyone can do it. But very few make a career of it. Writing isn’t that much different. The ability to self-publish opens the door to everyone. Thousands of books are released every month. Each of those authors have their motives for telling their stories. If the motive isn’t pure, the odds of success are about the same as an original member Led Zeppelin reunion. For that to happen, someone is going to have to contact John Bonham’s spirit and convince him to tour, and then there’s Robert Plant. It’s not going to happen.
If you’re writing to become the next Stephen King, just stop. Stephen King already exists, and he does a pretty damn good job at being Stephen King. Besides, he writes a hundred or so books a year. You can’t compete with that. Don’t write to walk in someone else’s shadow. Write to be the first and only you. Be original. It’s OK to pay homage to your favorite writers, but if you copy their style verbatim, you won’t be better than them. Soon, your readers will realize this and stick to the original. Readers today do not have time to waste on bullshit. There’s an awful lot of facebooking and tweeting to be done. Social media affords everyone the opportunity to be a critic. Do you really want to be the subject of a 140-character rant on how your book is a rip-off of Sometimes They Come Back? I know what you’re thinking…Hey maybe someone will see the tweet that loves Sometimes They Come Back and read my book out of curiosity. True…they might. And they will be disappointed because you didn’t do it better than King. At that point, you’re known as New Coke.
Case Study : A Kiss-Off
Creature was a band in the 80s that you’ve probably never heard of. Why? Because they were KISS clones. I’m not talking the clones from KISS Meets the Phantom. These were much worse…they tried to perform. There are many reasons Creature failed. They looked like a flea market KISS singing Cinderella cover songs at the county fair. But, that’s the shit that was selling records in the 80s. The main reason Creature failed was because KISS already existed and had an army of loyal fans.
Maybe the success of E.L. James inspired you to pick up the pen. Sure, she turned Twilight fanfiction into an insanely popular Fifty Shades trilogy. That lightning in a bottle scenario is as rare as an 80s hair band scoring a hit in today’s world of manufactured pop music. Your Walking Dead fanfiction of Rick catching Daryl having an affair with zombie Lori will not spawn the next great trilogy. When you see the sales numbers, you’ll feel gutted, and question your choice to become a writer. This is a good thing, because you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.
There are no ulterior motives with the right reasons to write. No masquerades. No bullshit. You write because you want to create something others want to read, be it fiction or non-fiction. If you’re a writer, you’ve heard the saying, “write what you want to read.” This is true to an extent. I’d like to think you would want to read well-written stories with concise plot lines. But, while a goal should be to write the story you want to read, you need to make sure others want to read it as well. It goes back to the Duran Duran mixtape, writing a story about Duran Duran fans narrows the reader. Throw in plushies dancing to “Girls on Film” and you’ve broaden the audience. The simplicity of it is…yes, write the story you want to read but remember the key is to get others to read it as well.
The American Dream is changing. For many it’s still fueled by the allure of fame and fortune. And failure will crush most of those, paving the way for the next wave of wide-eyed hopefuls. Musicians can create their next record with a computer and a free afternoon. Writers can write and publish a novel without leaving their couch. In a world where it’s much easier to get your product to the masses, it’s much harder to get it seen. That’s why you must be true…and good. Don’t worry, if you’re true, you won’t let yourself create something that isn’t good.
If your bio says, “I’m a writer. I’ve written a book. Wanna read it?” then you’ve created something you should be proud of. And that is why you should choose to write.