The question every young writer asks is: “What should I write?”
And the cliched answer is, “Write what you know.”
This advice always leads to terrible stories in which nothing interesting happens.
The best advice is not to write what you know, it’s write what you *like*.
Write the kind of story you like best.
We make art because we like art.
All fiction, in fact, is fan fiction.
The best way to find the work you should be doing is to think about the work you want to see done that isn’t being done, and then go do it.
Draw the art you want to see, make the music you want to hear, write the books you want to read.
-- How to Steal like an Artist, Austen Kleon
Somewhere over the last twenty years, I've been making a mistake. I've been writing what I thought people wanted to read. About ten years back, I wrote a rather long novel (with a co-writer, my lovely friend Liz) that no one will ever want to read.
It started out as a romance. At the time, neither of us actually read romance novels, and if we thought about the genre at all, we thought about it in terms of large stacks of cheap paperbacks with tacky covers, stacked in the used bookstore that we would never have looked at twice. (oooh, look at that, I managed to write a sentence that I didn't end with a preposition, even though I really, really wanted to!)
We very much enjoyed the writing of said romance. And then we got to the end of the story and realized that that's all there was. Romance.
Well, who the hell is going to read that? we asked ourselves. Particularly when you consider that not only is it fantasy romance, it's fantasy poly-amorous romance. Which meant that, yes, there was male-male sex. (There was also female-female sex. We're pretty liberal around here. Or horny. I'm not sure which.)
At the time, neither of us realized that there was, actually, a vast audience out there who do read what's commonly called "slash fiction."
So, we attempted to "fix" the story. To market it towards an audience that we thought might exist.
We added an adventure plot. A rather twisty bit of politics surrounded by some action/adventure.
We took out ALL the sex.
In short, we pulled all the colored feathers off a peacock, taped a feather duster to its ass and called it an eagle.
When really, it was a perfectly lovely peacock before we messed with it.
Since then, we've both started reading romances; I will forever be grateful to another friend who absolutely INSISTED that I would like When He Was Wicked by Julia Quinn. We've both discovered that something we believed was a weird, freaky fetish (ie, the male/male sex stories - ok, so maybe it is a weird, freaky fetish, but at least it's a weird, freaky fetish that is NOT unique!) is actually fairly popular. And there's a built in audience for it.
Just recently, I've found myself liking my own work more and more. Usually when I finished a piece, and then polished and edited and changed it and tried to shove it into someone else's box, I've not been at all happy with the finished product. And I was wondering to myself, why exactly, that was.
Had I really improved that much as a writer? Have I just lowered my standards.
Last night, I came to the conclusion that neither of these things were true. It was that I was finally doing it right.
I'm writing those stories that I want to read.
"What do you want?" Mr. Morden, Babylon 5