I got some great food for thought from a writer friend this week.
This friend, a very successful author, has written in a couple of genres under two different names. The second of these genres, which at the time had just been a sort of side project, was the one that his publisher jumped on and said “Yes, yes! Write this, lots of this. This will sell books. Lovely.”
Imagine if you wrote, for example, science fiction, and suddenly you were handed a three book contract for historical fiction. On the one hand it’s all very well, but on the other hand, if it’s not really where your literary heart lies, can you spend the next three years writing historical without getting some sort of personality disorder?
Do you write what you love and accept it may never get published or read? Or do you snatch off the hand of the publisher for your three book contract and write what they want instead? Both, as it happens.
Yes, my friend obviously wanted to be published, make a living and so on. But like most of us, he writes because he loves it. So he found a way to write the books the publisher was asking for, but in a way that he was still honest to himself as a writer.
What he told me was that even if the genre is set for you, it is the author, ultimately, who creates the characters. It is the author who throws conflicts at them and tests them time and time again until the resolution of the story. The characters and the themes are still yours. You can have your wicked way with them. You can, effectively, have your cake and eat it.
It doesn’t mean that the itch is gone for writing what your heart wants to write. On the side my friend continued writing novels in his preferred genre, in which he enjoyed past success but with no current publisher interest. He has a nice stack of unpublished novels. What now for those? That is another story.