I have recently been watching booktube videos addressed to authors: readers expressing their opinions on what they do and do not like in fantasy, what they would like to see in new books, and what just won’t cut it anymore.
Of course these are just opinions, and if an author tried to satisfy every desire expressed, their book would most likely be slated for trying to be all things to all people, and not daring enough. Or not daring enough in the right places.
I don’t believe you can “win” with readers by trying to pander, by trying to follow a formula laid out by others. That discussion could be a whole other blog entry.
So what to do?
Write your story. Write it your way, as well as you can, in your voice, and hope it hits the artistic and perhaps popular mark. That is my terribly non-commercial take. My next book is years too late to be excitingly new in its grim-darkness, so all I can hope to do is execute remarkably well, and present a character, a setting, and a voice that people may find powerful and intriguing. I think I’ve done that, to be honest, but acknowledge I’m far too close to it to tell.
I may be having an existential crisis. I think, while endlessly trying to edit The Killer and The Dead, I’ve also been trying to answer (again) the question of why I do this, why I think it’s worth it, what I’m trying to achieve, and why do I think I can? Hearing about readers’ wish-lists, and then contemplating how what I’m completely committed to releasing both hits and misses their various professed opinions is, if not depressing exactly, then perhaps a little frustrating. But I’m not changing anything now. I know a lot of great writers, writers far more talented than myself, languish in obscurity. I know that is my likely fate, as I can’t even tell if I have produced something of the necessary calibre – the only way to find out is to release it, and discover how readers react, what they find in it, if they think it has qualities worth lauding. So why do I continue?
It’s not because I must, though I’ve said something similar in the past. It’s also not because I want to, as sometimes I’m ambivalent, but I still stick myself in this chair and plod on. I think it’s because I’m in the process, and I’ve come too far to quit now, I just have to see it through to the end. But that doesn’t answer my questions really. Perhaps nothing can. Is it simple ego? To put my dent in the universe? (Not fond of that phrase, but I used it anyway.) I know enough geology and cosmology to know we’re just dust in the wind, be it atmospheric or solar, and any impact I could make with my writing is likely to be fleeting. As I said: existential crisis. I think it is an occupational hazard for writers. Especially when the time draws near to release your latest creation into the world. I just want to put my best effort in, my ideas, emotion, what talent I possess, and hammer away at the coalface, blinded by dust, and hope that something glorious can emerge, even as I know that the likely result of hammering at a coalface is to find myself waist deep in chunks of coal, tired, and with more coalface waiting for me.
So why do I do it? Why do I plan on doing it again? Why do I want to write at least two more books in completely different styles? What am I trying to train myself to be able to produce? Do I have an end goal?
I have no idea. The future is uncertain, and I can only do what I can in the time I have. This is what I have in me now, so I shall do it, though more slowly, because I am truly tired. When I am done, perhaps I shall have an answer or two: that would be nice. If not – maybe I’ll find them in the next one. I go on.
But I’m almost done. I hit my editing wall, and can no more. I have exhausted myself, and must lay down tools soon.
Edit: I wrote most of that at the end of May. I was involved in a car crash in early June, and it granted me some clarity. I wasn’t badly hurt as far as I can tell – some whiplash – but could have been, and it made me realize (again) I’m wasting precious time. I have decided to be finished now, and am tidying up two things – the use of the word ‘shadow’ and making a decision on the colour of some masonry. And yes, those are ridiculous things to be worrying about at this late stage, but I’d noted them when I had more GAF present, and so I will complete those tasks I set myself when I had more energy and patience. After that I will proof, and doubtless notice more horrid errors, but my GAF is significantly depleted now, which I regard as a good thing, so unless it is plot or character breaking, I’m ready to let word choices and the odd sentence slide. Then formatting and the rest of the business of putting a book together will have to be done, but the artifact itself will be mercifully complete.
I have already started writing a new story, not the one I planned on writing next, something fresh I came up with one Sunday afternoon last month as a challenge to myself. I currently DGAF what people will think of it, I’m just going to write it and punch it out there with much less fussing than the first two books, and see how it goes. We’ll see how long I can maintain that attitude! Let’s call it another experiment, which it is, I’ve wanted to do something like this for quite a while. Working title? The Red Palace. There will be deaths.