A week or so ago I was given a book titled Good Advice on Writing. The book is a tome of quotations from famous authors to other writers about a variety of topics. I thought it might be pertinent to share a few of the quotes that caught my eye, and to talk a little about them.
"Better to write for oneself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self."
As I was browsing the quotes in the book, this one was the first to catch my eye. What Cyril Connolly is trying to say resonates with me a level that I think many writers can relate to. Writing is an artistic endeavor, much the same as painting or making music. When we put our thoughts on the page we are baring our souls to the reader with the distinct hope that what we have to say will mean something to someone else.
Why write for yourself? I can only speak for myself to answer this question, but the truth is that if I worried always about what my reader might or might not like, my books would never get written! I was a reader before I was an author, and so the specific loves I have for certain tropes and themes finds its way into my own stories even if I don't realize it at the time I'm writing the novel or story. The same thing goes for the aspects of stories that I don't like. One of the particular tropes that I dislike would never find its way into my story because I don't write stories that I don't like.
Shouldn't authors think about their audience before they write? Of course we should! Doing our homework is part of the business of being an author. But there are two separate sides to being a published writer. The WRITING AUTHOR and the PUBLISHING AUTHOR. The writing author is the side that must concern themselves with the craft of the story. The writing author must keep plot and character motivation in mind while making the story they love come to life. The PUBLISHING AUTHOR is concerned with the business side of writing. This includes selling the stories we write. In order to find our targeted reader groups we have to do research and study genre and shelving and meta-data tags. It's hard to meld these two sides of writing when it comes time to put our stories on paper. How do we choose between what our target audience EXPECTS us to write, and what we WANT to write? There's no real answer to that question, because each author approaches the solution differently based on their personal goals for their career.
In many ways, my books don't fit into expected genre roles. Redshift is both hard science fiction, romance, and time travel. Desolation is fantasy romance and literary fiction. Providence combines fantasy romance elements, many pantheons of gods, and pirates! Deciding how to present these stories to readers can be a challenge, because there are so many categories the stories can fit in to, and many readers who can relate to them. When it comes down to it, as an author I fall squarely into the category of writers who write to satisfy themselves first, with the hopes that readers will fall in love with the stories, too. I could never force myself to write to reader expectation if I hated what I was writing-- my distaste for the story would show in every word and readers would see it immediately!
So, in the end, I think I have to agree with Cyril Connolly. Writers who satisfy themselves first, will inevitably satisfy readers. And that's our true goal-- transporting readers to worlds and into situations we create with hopes they will love them as much as we do!