An artist chases the market by painting whatever subject is ‘hot’ in whatever style is ‘hot’, aiming for the next big sale or top seller.
A fashion maven spends hours shopping, buying the latest fashion fad in clothing, accessories or jewelry.
A writer researches market trends and writes accordingly, planning for the day when trend and finished manuscript collide and the royalties roll in.
What do these situations have in common?
There is within each of us the tendency to see something popular and want to get on the band wagon. It certainly lies within me.
It didn’t take more than a couple years chasing trends in the art market to discover I was chasing my tail. For one thing, I simply couldn’t paint fast enough to keep up with the trends. For another, the paintings I painted that way weren’t ‘me’. They didn’t fit the style that was developing naturally. What’s worse, I didn’t like them and they weren’t the best I could do. I learned the hard way to stop following the trends and paint the types of paintings I enjoyed in the style that suited my personality and working methods.
The natural next step was to learn as much as possible about my favorite subjects (horses) and styles (classical), then do the best work possible with each. As skills improved and paintings accumulated, word got out and people who liked what I was doing came to me.
The same holds true for writing. It hasn’t taken quite as long to learn the same lesson with writing that I learned with painting, but it was a lesson I had to learn. I simply cannot write the same kind of stories in the same style as my favorite authors.
For one thing, my tastes are too diverse. I’d never finish anything if I tried to be all the authors I enjoy reading.
For another thing, I’d never develop my own author voice or style. I’d never become recognizable as an author in my own right if I always mimicked others.
Nor could I ever keep up with changing reader trends, even if I wanted to. I simply cannot write fast enough and do a good enough job to meet personal standards. Forget publishing standards.
I suppose you could say I’m a classicist. I like the way the Old Masters painted. Particularly artists like Johannes Vermeer, who sometimes took months to complete a single painting.
I’m a classicist with writing, too. I enjoy storytelling the way it used to be done. Pictures painted with words. I suppose that should be no surprise, given my ‘day job’ as a painter of horses.
What that means is that I’m no more capable of churning out complete manuscripts for every wave of popularity than I am churning out paintings. While the trends set by current bestsellers may be interesting, they have no influence on my writing. They shouldn’t influence your writing, either.
Whatever genre you write in, your primary goal should be writing the best story you can and developing your own, unique author voice. Learn everything you can about writing, about what makes a good story great, and about the elements that go into those bestsellers, but don’t copy them. Don’t even mimic them. If they happen to be similar to your style and author voice, it shouldn’t be because you are trying to sound like them.
And if your preferred style is different – if you prefer classical compositions and methods in an abstract world – don’t worry about it. Don’t let the market determine what you write or how you write it. Down that road waits mediocre writing, disappointed readers, and a disillusioned and perhaps burned out writer.
The best advice I can offer from personal experience is this. Write the stories that move you in the method that satisfies you and don’t worry about markets, hot trends, or bestsellers. You may find, as I did with painting, that there are more people interested in your stories and your voice than the markets may indicate.
Even if you never write a bestseller, you will find satisfaction in having written the best you could do in honor of the one-of-a-kind blend of skills, voice and experience that only you possess.
After all, writing – like painting – requires a lot of time spent alone, working on your craft. You’d better enjoy what you’re doing and the way you’re doing it of that time will be torment. Spend that time doing what you enjoy in the manner in which it’s most enjoyable and see what happens.
You might just be surprised.
Here’s a post I read after starting to put this one together. It’s The Numbing Nature of Numbers, written by Allen Arnold. Mr. Arnold is Senior Vice-President and Fiction Publisher at Thomas Nelson and his blog post appeared on the ACFW blog on May 8, 2012. He puts a very good publisher’s spin on this subject.
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