A question I am asked often in interviews is this: ‘What advice would you give to a new or aspiring novelist?’ My response is always:
Write from the heart. Be true to yourself and don’t compromise to please the market. Markets change, fads come and go; your work will remain.
It strikes me that the modern writer may find this much more difficult than writers of a decade or more ago, because of one word: marketing. A little word, but one imbued with an awful lot of importance in the publishing industry. Authors are told they must write books that fit neatly into genre categories and conform to the norms in order to please readers. In short, they must think, before writing:
What will sell? What should I write?
What do I want, need, ache to write?
Some years ago, I read an article that has stuck with me, because it saddened me. In the article, published in Marie Claire magazine, author Merritt Tierce was bravely honest about her experience of publishing her first novel. Tierce’s debut novel, Love Me Back, had received excellent reviews: The New York Times called it ‘brilliant, devastating’. But there was no novel to follow, because, Merritt explained: ‘I haven’t been able to write since the moment I started thinking I could or should be making money as a writer.’ Ultimately, the business of publishing held the author back from writing from the heart – from writing for love, not money.
I have published eight novels over the past decade, and I have more in the pipeline. I cannot imagine writing what I ‘should’ have written in these books; to have tried to guess what a reader may want and then deliver it. Each of these books has been my baby, in a sense: infinitely precious to me. My heart and soul on paper. To borrow from Alfred, Lord Tennyson in Ulysses: I am a part of all that I have written.
For me, writing simply wouldn’t be meaningful without writing from the heart; it wouldn’t be joyful and sustaining and beautiful. Perhaps it would tick the boxes of genre conventions, but it wouldn’t be something I would want to read for myself, let alone share.
Writing from the heart means listening to my muse. It means writing my best writing. It means being the writer I dreamed of being as a little girl.
Writing from the heart means loving what I do, even on a day when the words don’t flow easily. It means looking at my books on the shelf and feeling pride. It means, I hope, inspiring my children and grandchildren to follow their dreams, whatever they may be, and to be authentic and whole-hearted.
I hope that whatever you are moved to do, you feel free to do so from the heart.
If you are a fellow writer – or, indeed, a painter or singer or dancer or any other creative soul – and you find that you are struggling to create what you really long to create, then I highly recommend that you read What We Ache For by Oriah Mountain Dreamer. This is a book that strips away all the ‘shoulds’ of art and takes you to the core: the essential need to create and to share that creation. If you are a little lost creatively, you may just find your way with this book.
Photo credit: Marc Dietrich/Shutterstock.com.