Friday, December 23, 2011

If You Do What You've Always Done

I spent much of my blissful snow day yesterday thinking about what I want to write next.

I have a dilemma.

On the one hand, I keep hearing in my head the disturbing thought: "If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten." I sort of like what I've always gotten - I've had a charmed and very happy writer's life - but of course I would like to have a LEETLE bit more fame and fortune. Actually, what I'd really like is literary immortality, to write a book that children would be reading for generations. Maybe that's too much to ask of the writing gods. But why not dream big on this day-before-the-day-before Christmas?

On the other hand, I keep hearing voices, both disturbing and not disturbing, that incline me in the opposite direction. The disturbing voices of this sort these days talk about "branding": readers want to know what they're getting when they pick up, say, a Claudia Mills book. These voices say: remember "the new Coke" and why it was such an epic flop? The less-disturbing voices here say that we all have our own creative DNA: Jane Austen just isn't going to write War and Peace; Vermeer just isn't going to paint huge canvases of Napoleon's coronation.

And then there's a third group of voices, probably the wisest of all. These voices say that writers aren't supposed to be even thinking about the reception of their work; they're supposed to be thinking of writing the most beautiful, true, and powerful sentences that they can, one after another, and let the world make of those sentences what they will.

But still. I can write (well, try to write) beautiful, true, and powerful sentences about lots of different kinds of things. Right now I'm trying to decide whether to write them about the kind of things I've always written about - realistic school/family stories about middle-class kids struggling with relatively small problems like having to master the times tables - or about something else - something dark and dangerous? or haunting and strange? or - ??

Or - ????


  1. I personally feel that there's enough dark, dangerous, haunted stuff for kids (especially upper MG and YA) and not enough *good* stuff about kids going through ordinary challenges (like your books, or the Penderwicks).

    I love the idea of stretching yourself as a writer by doing something new--but I'm not sure the "new" has to be dark!

  2. I always try to persuade Lisa to sell her soul and write something to appease the marketing ghouls. She scoffs.

  3. I personally like dark, dangerous, haunting and strange. Aren't writers supposed to just write, audience be damned? (Why do you think they call us 'starving artists?') Robert Persig was turned down and rejected before finding his audience. If you are afraid of offending your customer base, why not a pseudonym?

  4. Thanks, you three! I'm hearing what I feared, that there is no clear and magical solution here! Just groping - and hoping - without too much moping.

  5. I recall learning to read as a child because I really had no interest in doing so. Many many books were provided by my mother and school, but it wasn't until I read Matilda in the 4th grade that I became enthralled in reading. After that, I read everything my mother was willing to buy me, which included a lot of Goosebumps and other thriller, scaryish books. Something about the torturing of small children by the head Mistress in Matilda, and all other dark plot lines really inspired me to read as a kid. Death and torture were especially interesting to me as a kid, and so I sought out these subjects to read. Probably my mother should not have let me read Jackie Collins, or "The Happy Whore" at age 12, but the scary books, those were okay. As an adult, I don't read any thriller/scary type books and am not interested in thriller or horror movies or books or television shows.