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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Writng yourself into a corner

   
Author Topic: Writng yourself into a corner
Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Dean Koontz wanted to write and sell one kind of novel. He ended up making a living at an entirely different kind of novel.

Anne Perry's fantasy novels have not done anywhere near as well as her mysteries, and it's the fantasy that she'd really rather write.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tried to kill off the character people wanted to read about, and he found that no one wanted to read what he wanted to write.

If you write something to "break in" that is too different from what you really love, you run the risk of never being able to see your darlings in print. Can you live with making a living that way?


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MaryRobinette
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I think this is where the power of pseudonym's comes in. Danielle Steel, Stephen King to name to top sellers both have pseudonym's for things that didn't fit their mold.

If selling something that is outside "what I want to write," means that I would never get to see my darling in print, then I wouldn't. But I don't think it really would. It might mean that I wouldn't make as much money on my darling, or that I'd have to publish it under a pseudonym, or that I'd have to wait till I was old, but I think I would find a way to get it into print. I don't know that i'ts that different from creating my darling with any other day job, it's just that in this scenario, my day job would be writing.


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Elan
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I understand that writing under a pseudonym would allow you to publish outside your recognized field, but I personally can't hardly hack my way through text that isn't coming from that wellspring inside me full of excitement and bouncy ideas for my current project. I think for me it would be a non-issue. If I didn't enjoy it I wouldn't write it. Of course, this is said from the standpoint of someone who isn't trying to make a living at writing.
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Lord Darkstorm
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I have realized that I can't do one paticular thing over and over again. After three and a half years contracted to one place, doing the same software, almost drove me nuts. I still love to write programs, but I have to have some form of challenge. Once something is done, I need to move on.

I love reading and writing many things. Sci fi, fantasy, even some off the wall fiction. So if I were to paint myself in a corner with writing, I wouldn't last long. I don't think I could stick with one character for novel after novel, it would get old and the desire to do it would die.

I have to write what I enjoy, or no one would enjoy it.


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Survivor
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I'm not really genre oriented. If my near future book about vampires ended up making me a household name...well, I'm planning to write at least three if the opportunity arises. I figure that I could keep writing them till I ran out of vampires.

Same thing for my heroic fantasy setting. Or my contemporary dark fantasy. Heck, I wouldn't mind if I somehow managed to get stuck writing X-Com stories (just how that could possibly happen is utterly beyond me). If my alternate history Civil War novel pegged me as a Civil War novelist, I'd be okay with that. My solution to the possiblity of getting stuck writing a kind of story I don't like to write is simple, I don't write them in the first place.

But then, I don't have a "darling" which must see print, either. I don't feel overly attached to concepts that can only be expressed in one genre. And I don't feel like I'd be locked into writing as a way to make my living. After all, I'm not making any money off it now, but I'm alive

So perhaps it's a matter of circumstances.


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Josh Leone
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While perhaps Anne Perry’s Fantasy novels have not done as well as her mysteries, in the end she was able to have her fantasy novels released, right? And while Dean Koontz may not make another million bucks if he switched to a different genre, he doesn’t really have to consider that aspect of things anymore, does he? Writing yourself into a niche does not mean you CAN’T write anything else. It just means that the new stuff may not sell as many copies. But if the niche work is already making you a living, is the number of copies you sell of the new stuff important? Maybe it’s just that I’ve actually done the starving artist thing. I’ve been a freelance writer full-time for years with no other means of income. Contrary to the impression I may have previously given, for me it’s not about the money I’d make, it’s about the freedom to write what I’d like regardless of the money I’d make. Because of that, the “corner’ those writers painted themselves into looks pretty sweet to me. I hope that’s all reasonably cohesive. It’s late. I refer you to my Insomnia posts.

Josh Leone


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Doc Brown
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Kathleen asked:

quote:
If you write something to "break in" that is too different from what you really love, you run the risk of never being able to see your darlings in print. Can you live with making a living that way?

My answer is a firm "no." My desire to be a writer is married to the things I want to say. If I could make a living saying them then I will consider it. But I've still got a college faculty career which I love. I would not give up that career just to be able to call myself a writer.


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JBSkaggs
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One problem with writing for pre pub'ed vs the post pub'ed is this.

Writing is business. Once the newness of being recognized as a writer wears off it is just like any other job or business. Long hours, tedious work, drudgery, and dealing with irritable demanding people. As artists and craftsmen we desire to express ourselves how we wish- but like every other business in existence you have to find something you can sell and sell consistantly.

Cooking comes to mind. A chef may wish to focus only on Armenian cuisine- but it is very unlikely unless he locates in LA or New York that his resuraunt would be a success. Even then it would be tough.

But if he focused on what sells and serves that in a original consistent manner say an Italian bar and grill, then he will have the ability to sell his Armenian food along side, because he will be subsidizing his art by his craft.

Going back to Koontz. He still is able to write his romantic and comedy stories- he just slips them inside his paranormal thrillers. And it's those elements that makes his work stand out. Call it what you like- but he is writing what he wants it's just packaged a little darkly.

JB Skaggs


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mikemunsil
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quote:
Can you live with making a living that way?

That's an easy answer. My family depends upon me, so I will make a living however I can (within limits that I define, of course).


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djvdakota
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Actually, I think OSC has done a pretty good job of it. Everything from sci-fi, to urban fantasy, to historical fiction. And his fans read it ALL, because they know they won't be disappointed, that they'll find a fascinating story with characters we can truly, deeply feel for.

What is it about him that makes his publisher say, "Sure, Orson. Do whatever you want!"


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Jaina
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I don't know, but whatever it is, I want it.

Actually, I think it's exactly what you said: his fans will read it because they know they won't be disappointed, regardless of the genre. That's the mark of a good storyteller, I think. And I hope to get there someday.

To answer the question: I don't know. I would like to say that as long as I'm writing for a living, I don't care what I write. But that's not entirely true. I don't think I would write something to "break in" very different from what I like to write, because why bother writing something that I don't want to? Especially knowing that it will be, as a break-in, the story that all my others will be judged by.


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Isaiah13
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If I find an author I like, I'll follow him/her to whatever genre (well, maybe not romance) that he/she chooses to write in. As djvdakota said, OSC is a perfect example. I don't know too many people who would abandon an author they liked just because they chose to try something different.
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Phanto
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Survivor:

I have an opening for you. 100k a year to write X-Com stories. Produce 1 short story a month and it's yours.


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Pyre Dynasty
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If I no longer love it then there is no way I can make a living with it anyways.
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Stormlight Shadows
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Odd comment Pyre but I am wondering if writing is the way you put food, pay rent (mortgage), etc?

Wouldn't start to hate it. I have been in a class talking about this subject that we want the ideal job, and some have probably found it (I guess) but we will not always enjoy are career 100% of the time.

In these stories mentioned by Kathleen that is seems that something they really wanted to write was not what the reader wanted to read. I would hate that, something I had a passion for and the readers hated my work. That would be a hard thing to cope with. But again a lot of those people who have a top name you hear them say that even if it didn't do well at all in the sales I did it for myself. that could be what they are saying but I know from myself a couple of my stories that I have written I just want to see in a book format to show my kids and Grand-kids and so forth that I did something I loved to do for fun and enjoyment and not for the money. (Writing will be the hobbie of mine but since I want to be a playwriter or in the entainment industry mostly film I want to tell the world my imagination!) Even in a Religion since!


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Minister
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The funny thing about the previous comments about OSC and genres is that, if I remember correctly, he has long wanted to write a novel based on his short story "Feed the Baby of Love" (a terrific story, by the way). Although he feels that it is one of the strongest things he has written (and I agree), he has not been able to get it published, because it is literary fiction -- outside of his recognized genres.
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Pyre Dynasty
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There is a difference between love and enjoyment. You can love a person without enjoying their company all the time. If you had a cat and it used your shoe for a bathroom you would still love it but you wouldn't enjoy it.
No at the moment I don't make a living writing but that is my goal.

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MaryRobinette
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I think something that's even more interesting about OSC is that apparently he wanted to be a playwright, but he realized he couldn't make a living at it.
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TaShaJaRo
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I wouldn't be able to spend my time writing something other than what I truly loved. The whole reason I write is because I love the characters and stories in my head. I would like to be published simply for the validation. I would love to write full-time because it is preferable to commuting and running the rat-race. But neither of those reasons are strong enough to induce me to spend my days writing something I didn't like. It would probably turn out terrible anyway.

I understand that readers like nice, neat genres and that once they latch onto a character or world, that they want more and more of it. I'm ok with that. I'm like that myself. So, I just make sure that whatever I use to "break into" the writing market, is the same type of thing I won't mind writing for the rest of my career.


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Survivor
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Phanto, if I produce ten a month could you bump it up to a million? What could I get for novels? Or are you just yanking my chain?

By the way, doesn't count if you mean that I'd get that much money in my game, I already hacked the save files so I can add a couple of billion dollars whenever I'm tight for cash. If you want real stories, you need to pay me real money.

About OSC, he realized he couldn't make a living at it much later than one would think he should have realized that. Wasn't he, like, so in debt that half the prophets of the Church were rolling over in their graves about it?

All the same, wasn't he planning to create his own publishing company? Or did he suddenly realize that his proven lack of fiscal ability would make that a very hazardous endeavor for someone who is already making a living as a writer?


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hoptoad
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I think frustration comes from expecting something and not getting it.

Maybe the expectation is wrong.

I would write stories that people want to buy, without a blink, if I knew how. I would also write my own stuff. I do similar as an illustrator. I draw what pays for my client and what I want on my walls for myself.

What is at the heart of this discussion is whether a writer is an artist or a craftsman. Sure, the boundaries are blurred but we are craftsman first in my opinion.

What would be the point of an architect designing buidings impossible to build? Artistic perhaps, commendable perhaps, worthwhile perhaps, enjoyable probably. But the design is intended primarily for beauty rather than utility.

What's the difference?

The expectation that frustrates is, that simply because you prefer one of your stories over another, your readers should too.

This thinking can be considered the wrong way round.

Kathleen's question is: would it bother me to be painted into a corner. Short answer: Yes especially if it was not the corner I wanted to be in. Which leads me to my second point, no matter what you write, you will almost undoubtedly stay in that corner. What is yet to be determined is what corner you will find yourself in. In other words, don't write stuff you dont want to be stuck with. Think of Jojo Moyes, she tried to get her gritty urban stuff published for ages, she changed, and now she is published. She is in a corner but also claims she has found things in that corner that she really likes. It is not the corner she expected, but one in which she is happy. I guess being published can change your perspective.

[This message has been edited by hoptoad (edited April 19, 2005).]


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Pyre Dynasty
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So in other words when you've painted yourself into a corner, just go ahead and paint the corner? sounds good.
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Jaina
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Of course, by the time I've finished agonizing about whether or not I should paint the corner, the other paint will have dried, and then I can go wherever I want!
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