Career

Writing Rocks and Hard Places

Many writers find themselves caught between fulfilling their creative writing desires and activities that pay living expenses. More often than not, they are different things.

Throughout history, highly successful authors had other vocations while they developed their skills for writing books. If you go online and search for “day jobs of famous writers,” you’ll discover the only thing they have in common is the need to make a living.

Doctors, lawyers. salespersons, exterminators, butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers.

Maybe there are a few cases of promising writers underwritten by a benefactor, so they can concentrate on their craft; but most humans need to relegate writing to the spaces between real-life responsibilities.

If real life is the metaphorical rock, on the other side is the hard place, which is the creative restrictions placed on professional writers.

The challenge for any aspiring author is to write something original, but at the same time similar to books already available. New and fresh, but recognizable by the publisher as the sort of thing they successfully publish or by the reader as the kind of book they enjoy.

We can see how this plays out with comparable titles. One reason agents and publishers ask for comparable titles in a book proposal is to test you. If there is “nothing like this currently available,” it means there is no track record for your book type, which is not good. Similarly, if you determine the only comparable titles are iconic bestsellers, you won’t be taken seriously.

Real comps live between extreme examples.

The challenge for authors is to find things to write that are not so far “out of the box” they become too risky to publish.

Just don’t assert your book is unlike anything ever published. These words are translated by those in the book industry as “don’t publish this.”

An even worse-case scenario for an author is their desired book is in a category that has proven not to sell well.

So what’s left for an author who is caught between this rock and a hard place? 

Focus your effort on developing your own writing style.

Consider professional musicians. They are technically proficient and, when in a group, contribute to the overall performance by hitting the right notes at the right time in the right way. They follow the conductor’s instructions.

Now consider solo musicians. They have a style all their own, a recognizable brand, standing out from the choir or orchestra. They still hit the right notes in the right way, but their style sets them apart. Often, the group follows them.

Authors are more like soloists.

If you find yourself between two hard places, focus on nurturing your own creative style. It is far beyond proper spelling, grammar, sentence structure, or story formula. You won’t discover it in a style guide, but in your heart and head.

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