Don’t Listen To Anybody – For David and Susan

Photo on 2013-09-20 at 15.28

 

Writers make millions of decisions. Some are easy…should I use double quotation marks or single?… but some are tough. One of the toughest is about listening to advice.

Advice on the single or double quotation mark question might be very useful, especially if your publisher has a house style. Advice on whether or not anyone is picking up on a subtle plot hint is useful, too.  And if everyone who sees your book hates the main character or the narrative voice or the way you’ve used third person, it’s time to rethink.

But when someone tells you what to write or what not to write, you really shouldn’t listen.

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone say, ‘Oh, don’t write X. Nobody wants to read X anymore,’ to an emerging writer. Sometimes it’s an agent or a publisher, who really believes that the X form is dead. Sometimes it’s a next door neighbour, who heard someone say it on Radio Four. Sometimes it’s someone who couldn’t sell their own X project.

It doesn’t matter. What’s nearly guaranteed is that sometime in the next five years, someone will have a big hit with X. And if that poor writer actually listened, they’ll be gnashing their teeth in the wilderness, looking at their abandoned manuscript and moaning that it could have been them.

We have to write what’s in our hearts and write it the best we can. The next big thing might be X or Y or even Z. Nobody really knows.

But we do know it will be really good. It will have meant everything to the person who wrote it. He or she will have been unable to stop themselves from telling that particular story. And it’s absolutely certain that someone, sometime, somewhere, will have told the next big writer not to bother, that nobody wanted that kind of book, that they should write something else.

But they won’t have listened.

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