Write to Please or Write with Ease (i.e., What I Really Want to Write)?

Hope you had a splendid Easter. I had an Easter meal at the home of some friends and came away with a ton of leftovers, including the Peeps in the photo below that my friend Carrie decorated. I’m useless at this type of thing by the way.

Before church, I watched a behind-the-scenes video by a music artist I love, which was about the making of a video for one of the songs on her latest album. During this video, she talked about how she was finally at a point where she was no longer desperate to please people. She didn’t say that as if to imply that she no longer cared if anyone bought her music. The songs she’d written for the album came from a place of confidence and joy, because she was finally free to be who she was.

Kirstea feels free to be who she is. But she hopes she won’t become a free meal for the giant owl standing near her.

I love that sense of coming to a place where you create the way you want to create. Yes, there are risks involved. You put your stuff out there and people might hate it. Or they might love your vision.

That video came at an interesting time. I’d recently had a conversation with a grad school classmate who asked me if I felt pressured to write a certain kind of story (i.e., contemporary realistic issue-based or something based on the mythology of my culture). Please do not misunderstand me. I love both kinds of stories. I’ve actually had a contemporary realistic novella published under a different name. But honestly, I gravitate to fantasy stories based on the mythology to which I am most familiar. I told my classmate that I don’t like to be pigeonholed. I write the stories based on characters who deeply interest me, regardless of whether they look like me or not.

I seldom lean in the direction that well-meaning people steer me. In college when people told me I needed to major in something “useful” (like biology, poli sci, or physics) rather than continue in the writing program (part of the English department), I continued in the writing program. Though they didn’t see the “use” of such a program, I found it very useful when I had to write books.

To be fair, under contract I’ve written books that other people had suggested I write based on a need (like a picture book for an ESL program). Some were ghostwritten, others as work for hire under my name. (L. Marie is a pen name, as many of you know.) Pleasing the client (usually a publisher or a famous person contracted by the publisher) was paramount.

But creating a world like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, J. K. Rowling’s Wizarding World, or Charles Yallowitz’s Windemere has been my desire since I was eight years old. That was back when cuneiform was all the rage. I’m very influenced by writers like J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Sheila Turnage, Juliet Marillier, Robin McKinley, N. K. Jemison, Neil Gaiman, Gail Carson Levine, Shannon Hale, Holly Black, and many others.

Sir Terry Pratchett, N. K. Jemisin

Still, I know several people who would never willingly read a story I’ve written because they don’t like fantasy stories. It would please them greatly if I returned to contemporary realistic fiction. I won’t say never, if a character comes my way whose story is compelling to me. But I won’t say yes just to please someone.

How about you? Is the freedom to create what you want to create something you desire? What do you think about pleasing others? Is that good, bad, or something you’re indifferent to? Feel free to share. (If you are curious about the video I mentioned earlier, you can find it here.)

Having escaped from the owl, Kirstea has resumed being free to be who she is. But now she wishes she was tall enough to carry off one of the Peeps.

Terry Pratchett photo from Wikipedia. N. K. Jemisin photo from Wired.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Kirstea Shoppie is a product by Moose Toys.

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49 thoughts on “Write to Please or Write with Ease (i.e., What I Really Want to Write)?

  1. Tough one. I do write what I want and I seem to pay for it in a way. People are very open about telling me the don’t read fantasy why giving me a verbal pat on the head. I’ve had other authors tell me about trends that I ‘need to get in on’. With that one, I think there’s a belief that you can write whatever is popular to get your career going and develop a reputation as an author. Then, you do what you want. Kind of like how you do crap jobs to work your way up to the better ones. Yet, there’s a big difference with writing. You create a brand with your reputation and that sticks with you. For example, if I went with the ‘Game of Thrones’ carbon copy story like so many told me to do early on, I’d be seen as that kind of fantasy author. Besides being called unoriginal and a copycat, I could find myself having trouble pushing the more upbeat action adventures that I really want to publish. This is just a mild example too. Imagine an author writing erotica to create a reputation off the popular stuff and then trying to shift to something like sci-do or children’s books. The established fanbase might not go along with it.

    • A lot of truth there, Charles. It’s a tightrope. And thus the pen name was born. I’m known for writing a certain type of book or story. My current fantasy stories are nothing like what I’ve written in the past. So I have to go the pen name route.

      Many people point to trends. But trends shift so quickly (like the dystopian trend). Writing a story that is timeless is difficult.

      It saddens me that people are quick to criticize an author or accuse someone of being unoriginal, when they wouldn’t write anything to save their lives. Coming up with a coherent story is hard enough!

      • Pen names have become a lot more difficult to maintain these days. At least for new authors who are trying to create a platform. Forging one for every genre can be exhausting and you find that the audience of one can’t carry over since they don’t know it’s the same person.

        I think a reason trends shift so quickly these days is because you get a very fast saturation. Something becomes hot, everyone rushes to throw their hat into the ring, and then it becomes overexposed. There isn’t a slow build up to these things any more.

        With you on that last one. Amazes me how often people scream unoriginal these days.

      • I’d like all of my fiction to come under one pen name if possible. I have to use a pen name because the platform for my other work is so widespread. But yeah, I get the confusing nature. Some authors write under multiple pen names, depending on whether they write mysteries or fantasy.

        Yes, everything moves so quickly. I look at movie trailers also and find that I don’t recognize some of the actors. New faces come and go so quickly.

        I wonder if people really realize how difficult it is to create something truly unique. Originality is quite the gamble. And sometimes what we might think is original, we later discover that three other people had the same “original” idea.

      • I know a few that do the pen name for every genre and it’s really impressive that they can pull it off. Doesn’t make sense for me though since most of my stories are attached by the same world.

        From my own experience with people, I don’t think many realize the difficulty in coming up with a story. Also, that so much has been done before that you can always find some connection to a previous work even if it’s a flimsy one.

      • Yes. I can’t help thinking of the old saying about the scarcity of truly original ideas. But I appreciate when people put a new spin on things. If others want to complain about that being “unoriginal,” well that is their opinion. It’s easier to criticize than to put forth the effort to do something.

      • Yes! There’s something to be said about a fresh take on a genre that people love. Like vampires and other horror genre staples. And romance.

  2. Good luck creating a world, Marie . . .

    * The difference between being able to understand something and inventing it in the first place . . . is called genius. ~ Craig Bruce

  3. I wouldn’t even know how to write to please others. In life in general, I could never be something I’m not. I’ve known people who could be chameleons and change who they are in different situations. I have no idea how to do that. I think it’s a super power or something, but I only know how to be (and write) who I am. Having said that, I can’t pick one genre. I write what comes to mind (and heart).

      • Oh, I meant that being a chameleon was a super power. I’ve always wondered how people do that. Just being me is not really “super.” I didn’t even write what I mean correctly. Heh. 😛

      • I think being yourself really is a super power. Some people change so much we don’t really know who they are. Much easier to be yourself.

  4. Great thoughts/post. I am just old enough to have learned to create what I want, especially when it involves such things as floral arranging or what I wear. I don’t write for a living, so, that doesn’t come into my thoughts – at least I don’t think it does. My audience is so small in that respect, but, L. Marie, you have given me something to ponder. I think it is fine to try to please others, especially those you love, but, not to the extent that it doesn’t please oneself.

    • It is a fine line, Penny. It’s not that we don’t care if others like or dislike something we create. But the thought of having a committee mindset as the driving force behind everything I do (“What will everyone think?”) saps my desire to create anything. There will always be critics, even if someone tries to please the crowd. Might as well enjoy what we do!

  5. I used to write nothing but contemporary realistic, but about 10 years ago I switched to historical as my main genre. I know it would be easier to sell my work as time travel or historical fantasy, rather than straight historical set in countries many people can’t find on a map. However, I keep hoping that YA historical will come into fashion and people will become more interested in international settings. And editors won’t have my manuscripts sit on their hard drives unread until the trend passes me by. In the meantime, though, I’m still working on contemporary stories for younger readers as a fun change of pace.

    • I love that you’re working on historical fiction and contemporary stories for young readers. I know your audience will find you.

      You’ll have to come on the blog and talk about your books!

  6. I guess it depends on whether one is trying to make a living from what one creates. If it’s a hobby, then writing what you want would seem to be the way to go, but if it has to sell, then it must fit the “market”. Which applies to any other job – it’s all very well me wanting to be an astronaut, but not if the only jobs available are for clerks…

    • Ha, yes! But sometimes serendipity happens. and what you want to write turns out to be marketable even if the editor who acquired it took a risk. 😄

  7. Some people won’t read your book because it’s fantasy? I’m the opposite-if someone I meet or know has written a book I want to read it because I’m curious, regardless of it is a genre I normally go for or not.
    As for the pen name, that’s interesting as I write poetry (as you know) but also have ideas for other work, all different styles to each other. That novel I’m writing is part humour part tragedy, I’m thinking of putting together a a collection of supernatural/folkloric fiction, a collection of humorous stories plus I have the kernel of a book based on family stories handed down to me of their (home) experiences during wartime. Quite an eclectic group of ideas!

    • I think that collection sounds great. Would you include some old family photos too? Glad you’re still also working on your novel.

      Yes, some people would not read the book. They might think the writing is bad. Some people have the notion that just because they know someone that doesn’t automatically make that person a good writer. 😁 And disliking a book someone you know wrote makes future interchanges awkward. So they nip things in the bud by telling me that they don’t like fantasy. In case I get the urge to ask them to read my manuscript. 😁

  8. Like you, I’ve learned I have to write what I love, which in my case is generally contemporary realism. But I also love certain types of fantasy (Terry Pratchett! Neil Gaiman! Tolkien & CS Lewis, too) and have started one fantasy I mean to come back to at some point.

    I tried for years to do the “practical” thing, but it turned out that doing what I loved was the only practical thing in the long run. It’s something I tell any of my students who are trying to do something they don’t enjoy because it will make them employable. Life’s too short not to do something you are at least interested in.

    • Sooooooooo true!!! For years, I tried to write adult fiction and failed miserably. I didn’t have the conviction that comes from a true love of adult fiction. Until I discovered VCFA, I had not been around people who enjoy writing MG and YA. I felt like a freak for so long. So I’m grateful for the opportunity to write the types of books I love to write!

  9. The musician you referenced said she’s no longer “desperate to please people.” Now she writes from a place of confidence. In writing fiction, I think there has to be interest in and a commitment to the characters and the story. I’d never want to write a story someone else told me to write. But when you think of it, writing is a form of communication, which means we always have to take the reader into consideration. Not every reader will choose our story, but those who do should be entertained every step of the way. So in that sense, we’re always trying to please our readers.

    • We are. But since we are the first reader, we have to first please ourselves. And that comes, as you mentioned, from a place of commitment to the story we’ve crafted. I never complete books I only half like.

      I can understand now why agents turns down books they don’t love. As hard as it’s been to hear “no,” being with someone who dislikes my book would be worse.

  10. My mother was big on telling me “don’t be a pleaser.” I absorbed some of that idea and tend to create for myself first [other people second] BUT I’m aware of the fact that it’s necessary to present my thoughts in a way that allows other people to understand me and feel comfortable with what I’m saying. So I please, but I don’t please. How’s that for an answer?

    • Ally, I know what you mean. We can strive to please by writing a pleasing piece while at the same time writing from a place where we’re trying to please the whims of others.

  11. “Still, I know several people who would never willingly read a story I’ve written because they don’t like fantasy stories. It would please them greatly if I returned to contemporary realistic fiction.”

    I ALWAYS read/listen to/look at/etc a friend’s/collegue’s work, especially if given to me – but also especially, if given a choice, I’ll buy it to show support as an (he)artist/friend.
    Genre/style/content doesn’t matter unless it is so vulgar I can’t even close my eyes/ears or skip over that section to get to the rest of the content!!!
    I may or may not like it, but I am always interested in what friends/collegues are creating, regardless.

    Also, something to consider, if your friends are your ‘audience’ then yes, ‘please’ them…but if your intended audience is comprised of X,Y and Z don’t water it down to try to include A,B or C persons…it will only frustrate your writing as well as those who honestly enjoy the genre.

    Case in point: my music is not rock and roll…it is contemporary, classical, original and might appeal to some of those who are hard core rock and rollers who are interested in exploring other types of music, but for me to perform/record anything other than an acoustic or classical guitar arrangement of classic rock (which I do) would result in a sub-quality production and be pleasing to no-one especially myself.

    BYW: The shorter version of my comment could be summed up in the one made by “Behind the Story”…
    😀

    • I know what you mean, Laura. People who truly love music, regardless of the form, will always be drawn to a well-written, well played piece of music. But not everyone may take the time to give it a chance. So yes, I understand that not everyone will be drawn to what I write. Some people might assume that my writing is bad, because they’ve been handed manuscripts by others that they considered bad. I mean, many of us know someone who is writing a book. And maybe we’ve read some books that weren’t top shelf. So we don’t always expect that someone we know might write a book or a song worthy of an award or the attention of a publisher or agent.

  12. Marie, this stood out in your post this week: “I love that sense of coming to a place where you create the way you want to create. Yes, there are risks involved. You put your stuff out there and people might hate it. Or they might love your vision.”

    Writing memoir, my story’s characters and plot line are prescribed. But I strive for accuracy in detail and history. However, I think I will have to change some names to avoid backlash.

    I have reached out to other authors for feedback and found it valuable. I will probably use 90% of my developmental editor’s suggestions. Also, my sister helped clarify some scenes. But untimately, the story has to be my own. Great post!

    • Thank you, Marie! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Writing anything is tough. So many nonfiction authors have been called out for inaccuracies, so kudos to you for really trying to be accurate.

      I also am grateful to beta readers who point out things to change!

  13. Even for a contract of a command we can use our creativity to make something new and interesting to read .Personally in my job in the past I always have been innovating . This gives us a kind of pleasure , the joy to create like whan you write a book . BTW could you show them if it is possibe , Linda?
    Love ❤
    Michel.

  14. Pingback: Check This Out: The Mo & Dale Mysteries by Sheila Turnage | El Space–The Blog of L. Marie

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