Write What You Like

Sounds like a simple rule, doesn’t it?  But sometimes it’s harder to do than it seems.  People get caught up in what’s selling, in what’s hot.  They try to write for the market instead of writing the story that’s inside them. 

I learned that when I tried to write a thriller.  It was the last book I worked on before starting Reiffen’s Choice, the first book I sold.  The problem was, I don’t like thrillers.  Never have, never will.  At least not reading them.  (I’ve always loved thriller movies.)  But I had this great idea, and a great ending.  A shootout on top of Mt. Washington in a June snowstorm.  Very visual.  I was sure I could sell it. 

But first I had to write it.  Boy, was that painful.  Like I said, I hate thrillers.  My idea was about a serial killer who murders child molesters, and the biggest problem was that I had to write all these molestation flashbacks and come up with about half a dozen creative, graphic murders.  Very nasty.  I stated really dreading my time at the keyboard. 

Even worse, it was boring.  I was boring myself, which is a terrible sign.  If you don’t jump up and punch the air in celebration once every couple of weeks about a scene you’ve just written, chances are no one else is going to punch the air about it, either.  If the writer’s bored, pity the poor reader. 

So I stopped after the first draft.  I asked myself, what did I really want to write?  What would I really enjoy?  The answer – I wanted to write the fantasy that had been kicking around in the back of my head for last ten years. 

So I did.  It was a lot more fun.   

My agent, my editor, and my readers (at least a few of them) agreed.

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  1. 1. Ju Honisch

    I agree with you. My agent always wants me to write thrillers or detective stories because she can sell those whereas she somehow seems to have a problem with selling fantasy.
    But I just can’t get myself to do it. I think you have to love what you do to do it the best way possible.

  2. 2. Steve Buchheit

    Follow your bliss, as J. Campbell used to say. Doing what you enjoy is also a way of instilling Quality (as defined by Persig) into your work.

    And if it never goes anywhere big, at least you enjoyed it while you were working on it.

  3. 3. Alma Alexander

    Ju: it sounds to me like you and your agent are not a great fit. If you want to write fantasy and she can only sell thrillers that’s a kind of a major gap right there, and it might be time to seek a more fantasy-friendly agent for your work. Having an agent who is not interested in and committed to the stories that you want to tell is probably worse than having no agent at all.

    As for Sam’s point – and Steve’s concurring post – I can only say, AMEN.

  4. 4. Elias McClellan

    If I haven’t already burdened you (I’m old and forgetful) allow me to intimate my epiphany. Since I was 15, I’ve talked and talked about writing. Oh I didn’t actually write any thing. I was waiting until I had learned more (wasn’t smart enough for that astro-science degree), read more, (really, I always intended to read the entire fantasy canon) etc, etc. I even began a couple of spy, thriller, and/ or detective amalgams because, ‘hey that’s easy stuff.’ It was all tripe.

    Then I went to a reading/signing with Mr. Walter Mosley and he looked me right in the eye and said, “It’s supposed to be fun.”

    I completed my 1st novel, crime BTW, 6 months later. Now I’m finishing my second, the one I’ll start collecting rejections on. It’s not so dear to me as the 1st and I’m not so defensive of this work.

    From this site I’ve learned a lot about the brutal, SF/F genre. Some information confirmed suspicions about how hard it is to publish; I have a respectable stack of letters from SF/F magazine and others. Some was truly informative, such as the lack of promotion for SF/F. Most importantly though, the majority of writers here have demonstrated that a commitment to thoughtful, quality work is as important as that MIT degree in physics or a life-time spent reading other people’s works. Thanks for the reminder Mr. Butler.

  5. 5. Martin

    Can you give me advice? I write and draw comics. The type of scripts I find easy and fun to write are stories involving absurd humor. But while I like reading that kind of stories, it’s not what I love the most. That would be a kind of realistic slice-of-life stories — a genre that I find really hard to write.

    So should I write stories I find easy and fun to write, or stories I love to read?

  6. 6. S.C. Butler

    Ju – Alma’s right. Sounds like you need a new agent. Remember, the agent works for you, not the other way around.

    Steve – Nice expansion of what I’m saying here on your blog. Follow your bliss!

    Elias – Walter Moseley is dead on. It is supposed to be fun.

    Martin – I actually like SF more than I like fantasy. But I find fantasy much easier to write. I don’t think I have an answer to your question, though, because my current WIP is SF. Either way, I’m still writing what I like.

  7. 7. Elias McClellan

    Martin, I don’t want to sound (read?) like a smuck (I’ve sold NOTHING yet) but I think your story will tell you which direction to go. I want to write SF and I have a couple of ideas but the stories I’ve written/completed are the ones that have grabbed me and won’t let go. Right now, I’m about 50 pages from completing my 2nd, a crime novel.

    But my next story has already grabbed me and demands to be told. It’s not SF but fantasy, so there you go. You have your plans but the muse/book/idea has it’s own; the muse/book/idea usually wins.

    I hope my poor suggestions help in some way.


  1. Linkee-poo Follow Its Bliss « Genre Bender
  2. Writing What You Like « The Adams Zone

Author Information

S.C. Butler

Butler is the author of The Stoneways Trilogy from Tor Books: Reiffen's Choice, Queen Ferris, and The Magician's Daughter. Find out what Reiffen does with magic, and what magic does with him... Visit site.



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