Friday, 14 January 2011

The New Black

Fashion is probably the place for trends. For things that go in and out of style. One summer, I remember seeing everyone in flowered flip flops, and this winter, camel seems to be the new black. If you ever glance through a magazine like More! or Glamour, you'll see how some things are staples, classics. Others come and go in wild frenzies.

Books are also a world of trends. Vampires, for example. Word is, editors and agents are sick of vampires, after the recent upsurge in vampire fiction and manuscript submissions. Everyone wants in on what's making money. I mean, why not? We're writers desperately trying to make it. We'll take any edge we can get. If vampires are selling, why not write a vampire book? When you're poor and struggling and disheartened after a million rejections, the most tempting thing in the world is to write what's Big Now.

But does it work?

And more importantly, is it worth putting aside what you're passionate about just to write something that's huge right now?

I don't know, to be honest. I just know that for me, both those answers are no.

About five years ago, I remember chick lit - and yes, you still called it chick lit then - was huge. I mean, colossal. I used to read stories about seven-figure advances and multi-book deals for chick lit in all kinds of subgenres: adult, young adult, paranormal, erotic, urban, etc etc. And I remember, vividly, a conversation I had with my father round about then.

DAD: So what are you writing about these days?

ME: It's a story about a teenage girl. It's chick lit.

DAD: Oh, really? 

ME: Yep. It's huge right now, so I thought I'd jump in.

And surprise, surprise, it didn't work out. I can't write chick lit. I have enormous admiration for authors who can, but I suck at it. I never even finished the novel, but I had already sent out query letters because that was back before I knew better. And no one wanted to see it. I think it was obvious my heart wasn't in it, that I was trying too hard to copy the fashion of the time. I was seventeen, broke and wanted to prove to everyone that I could Make It. And I went about it the wrong way.

I've written several half-finished and completely finished stories since then. And while most of them have been stories I've loved, some have been half-hearted. One was a vampire story - no prizes for guessing why I wrote that. Another was something I forced out because I felt like I'd gone too long without writing anything new.

I'm sure it will come as no shock to anyone that the stories people liked the most were the ones I loved too.

I have a book deal now. WOVEN will be published. And the thing about WOVEN is that it's completely and absolutely mine. What I mean by that is simply that I didn't think about a market, a trend, a goal when I wrote it. I wrote it because it had to be written, because I loved the story and the characters, because I was so utterly passionate about it that it was unthinkable that I left it unfinished. Sure, I might be devastated now if WOVEN had never gotten anywhere, after all I put into it. But I would have always had that glow, that amazing sense of satisfaction, of knowing I finished something I loved.

I'm not going to say you should write what you know. Or that you should do your research properly. Or that you shouldn't mess with grammar. I think you can break all these rules and still make something magical. (In fact, sometimes grammar's just a pain in the you-know-what.)

But write what you're passionate about. It's not a rule, it's not a do-or-die kind of thing. It's just something that makes writing a million times more fun. And I think it's too easy for me - and maybe for a lot of us - to forget that.


  1. And if it doesn't help the beauty of your writing, it will at least help make the experience, to some extent, fun and enjoyable...
    : j

  2. I think it's really obvious when authors have just churned out a book that they have no real passion or interest in. Frankly I'd rather they didn't bother.

    As for vampire books, ugh, don't get me started.

  3. That is so true! When writing CassaStar, everything I read said science fiction was dying as a genre. Then when it was complete and ready to send out, high-tech science fiction surged into popularity. (Mine is very low tech.) I went for it anyway and eventually landed a publisher. If I'd changed the story to fit the current trend, it would've sucked.

  4. "I think you can break all these rules and still make something magical" - a lesson in life, work and dressing, Sangu. My favourite blogging quote this week. xxx
    PS GP visit? Maxi dress and a long leather coat. It's probably the black hair and lashings of jewellery that confuse people.

  5. I don't pay much attention to trends, unless what's "hot" is already the genre I'm writing in and then it's more like "Aha. The rest have caught up, have they?"

    Kidding. I just carry on and keep writing.

  6. I think your passion shows through when you write and really it's all about the writing....