Write what’s in your heart

This is a topic I originally discussed on my personal blog, but I still find it incredibly pertinent, so I’ve reworked it for you lovely Pub Crawl readers.

Well over a year ago, I had a lovely Skype chat with one of my writer friends. We got to talking about book ideas and how we both have dozens squirreled away. Some of these ideas are floating around in our minds without an ounce of documentation. Others are a couple bullet points in a word doc. A few are just clever titles in need of characters and plot, while some might already have a handful of chapters captured. Which to focus on next?

I began speculating about the right “follow-up” for my career after the Taken series. My writer friend wondered which of her story ideas she should run with while her current novel was queried. She was even kind enough to pitch a few of these ideas to me.

I instantly knew which was most appealing to me as a reader. I knew which sounded the most similar in style/genre to the book she was querying. I knew which was best aligned with current trends. (It’s worth nothing that the story was different for each of these three scenarios.) But screw the trends, right? Never write to trends. And who cares how I react to my friend’s ideas, because guess what? She’s not writing solely for me.

At the end of the day, the only thing you can do is write the story you’re most excited about. The one you find most compelling. The idea that haunts you, keeps you up at night, refuses to be ignored. There’s one story kernel in every batch of ideas that always does this—sort of rises to the top and waves its arms like a madman—so pick that one out of the bunch, and start writing it.

I think we sometimes focus on this “Which book should I write next?” question because our end goal is to share that story with others (aka: Sell The Book). Naturally, if we’re going to face the blank page and spend several long months in WIP-land, we want to make sure we’re at least writing something sellable. Or something that appeals to a friend/agent/editor/teen and so on. We go looking for validation before we even begin.

But I’ve finally learned that this doesn’t matter. At least not as a be-all, end-all. Because here’s the hard truth:

  • The novel you query might not get you an agent.
  • The novel you put on sub might not get you a book deal.
  • The second novel you put on sub might not get you a book deal.
  • The novel you submit as your option under contract might get rejected.
  • No matter how far into this game you are, there is never a guarantee that the next book you write will be published.

So why the heck wouldn’t you write the book that wants to be written? The one you care most about? The one that you want to tell more than anything in the word, regardless of trends or genre or audience or theme or style or length or similarity to your previous works?

Write the book that’s in your heart and write it exactly as you see it fit.

Do this and you will never regret telling that story, even if it doesn’t get picked up. Because if you’re proud of your novel—if it’s filled with characters you love and a world you created and a story you couldn’t not tell—it will always, always be worth it.

I promise.


19 Responses to Write what’s in your heart

  1. Marc Vun Kannon Mar 4 2014 at 7:33 am #

    Absolutely right. It’s easy to forget that even as authors, we are our own first readers. If we don’t write a story we can enjoy and rave about, why should we expect anyone else to do it? There are very likely to be readers like you. There probably aren’t readers that match a demographic, so don’t write for that.
    I started the third book in my series a long time ago, but it stopped talking to me in chapter 7, while my last novel (Ghostkiller), a couple of short stories, and over 250K of fanfiction haven’t shut up. If I’d forced myself to stay on the sequel I’d probably have written very little.

    • Erin Bowman Mar 4 2014 at 1:00 pm #

      “It’s easy to forget that even as authors, we are our own first readers. If we don’t write a story we can enjoy and rave about, why should we expect anyone else to do it?” <--THIS! Absolutely. Thanks for bringing that up 🙂

  2. Annie Mar 4 2014 at 8:27 am #

    This is such a great reminder and so well put.

    With all the effort and time that goes into writing – at the end of the day if all you have to show for it is a book that you love than it’s worth it.

    And I’m also a big believer in possibilities. If you write the book you love and it doesn’t get bought or sold or land you an agent – you still have a finished manuscript. And there is not time limit on that sort of thing. It doesn’t rot or wither or become passe (ok, it might do the last one). Trends change and just because one moment isn’t right for a novel doesn’t mean there won’t be another one that is. But if you have a finished book and not just an idea than you have a lot more to work with when the moment strikes.

    • Erin Bowman Mar 4 2014 at 1:01 pm #

      I completely agree with you Annie. If nothing else, completing a manuscript means you’ve grown as a writer. You have another novel under your belt, and have honed your craft as a result. There may not be a sale to show for it, but that strengthened skillset is invaluable!

  3. jodimeadows Mar 4 2014 at 10:35 am #

    Right on, Erin. Thank you.

  4. Julie Mar 4 2014 at 1:18 pm #

    I love this post, Erin!!! This cannot be said enough. The work itself has to be its own reward because nothing else is guaranteed. Thanks for this post. 🙂

  5. tracikenworth Mar 4 2014 at 6:45 pm #

    Absolutely agree!! The book you want to write should be one close to your heart so you can give it your all. Who wants to be stuck writing something that makes you miserable?

    • Erin Bowman Mar 5 2014 at 4:25 pm #

      “Who wants to be stuck writing something that makes you miserable?” <-- Exactly my thinking! Thanks for stopping by.

  6. Kendall Mar 5 2014 at 10:57 am #

    <3 this

  7. Okorie Matthew O. Mar 6 2014 at 2:59 am #

    I think the ignorance of this truth has stifled the birth of many ‘Lord of the Ring’, ‘Left Behind’, ‘Piercing the Darkness’, ‘Chronicles of the Narnia’, ‘Sword of Shanara’, etc. Many times focusing on the wrong work with the damp nudge weakens an emerging writer to the point he never gets published at all. I discovered I have this crave to travel to the world of my in-progress allegorical fantasy work. I shall let other works rest and make it first and and my constant quest till it’s born. Thanks.

  8. Okorie Matthew O. Mar 6 2014 at 3:30 am #

    True. Very true!

  9. Rowenna Mar 6 2014 at 10:05 am #

    Great points. I’m going to be the oddball and disagree slightly. I think that there are times when you look at the story that keeps resurfacing and say “no.” Or, often, “not yet.” For one, I think there is great value in *finishing* manuscripts, so when the Shiny Idea interupts you at 20K words of another project, I believe in telling it to wait (which you hit on when you say “which book to write next”, but I think it bears clarification 🙂 )! And even then, when it’s time to pick a fresh project–I think it is ok to say “I love you, but now is not our time.” Maybe as a writer you need to grow a little first (I know I have projects hidden away that are waiting for me to catch up). Maybe you look at the trends and, frankly, it does look bleak (I wrote a dystopian that carried too many similarities to others out there at exactly the wrong time. Had I decided on a new project even a couple months later–like *after* Hunger Games came out–I would have put it aside until I could have either made it different enough or decided I could never make it stand on its own). I guess I’m just putting it out there–considering limitations as well as following your heart doesn’t make you a sellout or limit you as a writer. But letting limitations dictate your choices will, because you’ll never take chances and never grow.

    • Marc Vun Kannon Mar 6 2014 at 10:16 am #

      I agree with that. I have a project that I knew when I started was going to take a very long time, simply because I knew I’d have to grow and develop personally before I’d be ready to write the later parts.

  10. Alexa S. Mar 16 2014 at 9:05 pm #

    I just love this post, Erin. I love it because it so simply states what ought to be the truth for any writer — writing about what YOU love.

  11. Mimi Mar 22 2014 at 9:25 pm #

    I am a preteen who is absolutely in love with the taken trilogy! Looking forward to the sequel! The thing about your books is that even I, put in Gray’s situation, cannot choose between Emma and Bree. At first, I was literally talking to my copy of the book, screaming “No! Don’t fall in love with Bree! It’s Emma, she’s the real one!” But, then she was found sleeping with Craw, and I was confused. I love and hate authors at the same time when they leave their books on a cliffhanger. On one hand, I think, why? Why can’t these people just tell us whom they choose? What’s gonna happen? Emma or Bree? But then on the other hand, I have so much to play with! I can fantasise his life with Emma, and with Bree. Thank you, Erin, For creating such a wonderful book.

    A devoted fan, who is also in love with the Harry Potter series

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