Writing to Market Kills Creativity

I almost didn’t post this because this goes against the current marketing advice floating around out there right now, but this topic keeps bugging me so I’m just going to bite the bullet and make this post.

Here’s my thesis: writing to market kills creativity.

writing to market kills creativity pic
ID 113116328 © Alberto Andrei Rosu | Dreamstime.com

Now for my argument to back up the thesis.

After writing to market for two years, I reached a point where I actually hated to write. What I had once loved became something I resented.

“The reason that happened is because you weren’t doing it right,” someone might say.

I don’t think so. Yes, writing to market is lucrative. It brings in more money. I’ve seen too much evidence to argue this point. The point I’m arguing is that a writer who engages in the writing to market mindset has their critical voice screaming at them the entire time they’re writing. This critical voice hampers the creative one.

When people say “write to market”, they are talking about writing in a genre you already love. I understand that. It’s what I did for two years. Then they tell you to put your own unique spin on it. I did that, too. Or at least, I did it for what was unique in my opinion. The truth is, there are only so many ideas out there, and just when you think you’re the first person to ever come up with something, you realize someone in the past has already done it in one form or another. So really, what the people are saying is that you need to tell this story in a way that seems fresh and new to the reader.

And I think it’s possible to do that for a time. But then, the months pass by. The months add up to years. And before you know it, it starts to wear on you. You lose your enthusiasm. The reason this happens is because after a while, you realize you’re pretty much boxed in. Writing to market has boundaries. Those boundaries are reinforced by the critical voice in our minds telling us what the reader wants. How do we know what readers want? By studying books that are more successful than ours in our chosen genre and sub-genre, of course.

Writing to market means you put the reader first. Then you work out a story to write for the reader. You’re looking for a way to appeal to the most readers in your chosen genre. Because, when it all comes down to it, writing to market is about writing for money. Now, I have no problems with earning money from our work. It’s great when we can get paid for what we do. However, I think the idea behind writing to market is, at its core, an attempt to make the most money possible. This is why tailoring a book for the majority of readers in a certain genre is key in this philosophy.

If you want to write that way, it’s fine with me. I’m not telling you to write for passion. If you want to make a gazillion dollars a month, go for it. I hope you have more success than I did because by the time year #2 was up, I had crashed and burned so hard that I was looking at working outside the home just to avoid writing another word again. I’m not saying that will happen to you. You might be able to write to market for the rest of your life. I’m not saying it’s impossible. I know it is. But will you enjoy it?

Writing to market killed my creativity. I stopped enjoying the process of storytelling. I’m convinced that writing to market kills creative voice. When writers listen to creative voice, they write books they’re most passionate about first and then try to find a market for it. Their voice is fresh and new, and they’re storytelling is strong. These are often the best stories they’ll ever write.

“You could be wrong,” someone is probably saying. “Writing to market hasn’t killed my creativity at all.”

I hope it never does.

But it did for me. I got some feedback from a couple of my readers who used to read everything I wrote, and what they said alarmed me. They said that they could tell the quality of my work had gone down. They said I had lost the passion in my voice that once captivated them. This quality went down  at the time I started writing to market. This wasn’t a coincidence. I think it was a correlation. I lost those readers, and I don’t know if they’ll ever come back.

What I do know is that the moment I made the decision to stop writing to market, I felt like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. I got my enthusiasm back. I wanted to write again. My energy finally returned. It’s no longer a chore to sit at the computer and try to figure out what on earth I can write that won’t end up being carbon copies of books I’d written to market already. As I said, writing to market has boundaries, and eventually, you find yourself stuck in a box. Creative voice allows you to go outside the box, so there’s no limits to what you can do.

That’s my spin on it. For what it’s worth, I don’t make $30-50K a month like these writers who write to market. Yes, there is money in writing to market. It’s good money. But it’s possible to make money writing what you love. It’s not going to be as much. That’s where you have to decide what your goals for writing are. Writing to market might work for you. I still think it’ll kill your creativity in the long run, but I’m not going to argue that it’s a good short-term strategy. You have to weigh the pros and cons and do your own thing.

All I know is that I can never go back to writing to market. It’ll be the death of my writing career if I do. My ultimate goal is still be writing and publishing books for the rest of my life. Given that I’m 43 right now, I plan to be doing this for a long time. In order to do that, creativity needs to always be brimming at the top of my cup.

Bottom line: if we want this to be a long-term and sustainable way of life, then we are better off nurturing our creativity. Doing anything to hinder it will shorten the lifespan of our writing.

9 thoughts on “Writing to Market Kills Creativity

  1. M T McGuire August 3, 2018 / 11:50 am

    There’s a quote from someone, can’t remember who but it was a famous writer, which goes along the lines of, ‘if you want to read a book and you discover it hasn’t been written yet, you must write it.’

    Personally, I couldn’t write to market. I write what I want to read and what I want to read doesn’t exist, or at least not until I write books for myself. I want to read books that are different and new, and more to the point, funny. However, I’m increasingly beginning to think that what most people want to read in my genre is just Twilight and the Hunger Games with the names changed. I toyed with the idea of trying to turn out something more mainstream. I started reading best sellers and quickly remembered why I seldom trouble the bestseller lists. Reading books that were written to market merely confirmed my fears that I’d die of boredom if I tried to write one.

    It’s not even that the books were poor; a lot of them were good but … I don’t want to be able to predict the plot. Many of the folks writing sff whose work I like are actually making their cash on the serious stuff (with one very notable exception) but the stuff in their canon that I love is the comedy they love writing that makes them peanuts.

    So yeh. You have company!

    Cheers

    MTM

    • Ruth Ann Nordin August 3, 2018 / 4:33 pm

      I think it’s a shame the funny stuff doesn’t sell. The same is true in romance. My comedies don’t do as well as my more serious stuff. I love the comedies. They end up being my favorite.

      The reason I got into writing to begin with was because I couldn’t find the book I wanted to read, so I understand exactly why you’re writing what you do. Personally, I’m tired of reading books that sound the same. This was a big problem I had back in 2007 when I kept looking for something “different”. I later found out romance publishers, esp. Harlequin, have a set of rules that authors are expected to follow. That’s why so many romances ended up reading like copycats of what I’d already read before.

      I’m also tired of Twilight and Hunger Games. It was fun when it first came out, but enough is enough. Too many times we’re told to follow these trends and deliver more of this stuff, but as a reader, I prefer something different. I should have known writing to market was never going to work for me. I’ve never been an “in the box” kind of reader. Why would I be that way as a writer?

      I, for one, thing it’s a shame that books that are outside the box don’t make much much. They are highly unappreciated.

  2. Meg Weyerbacher August 3, 2018 / 3:43 pm

    Really appreciate this. I write a bit outside the box so it means a lot.

    • Ruth Ann Nordin August 3, 2018 / 5:05 pm

      I think when the marketing experts give out their advice, they are lumping everyone into the same category. We don’t all belong in the same mold. Some of us don’t fit in the box any more than our writing does.

  3. Ron Fritsch August 3, 2018 / 10:27 pm

    I’ve never written to market and never will. I write the novels I want to read, savor and fall in love with over and over.

  4. Barb August 5, 2018 / 8:01 pm

    I’m not going to address “writing to market”. I think that’s a decision a writer has to make each time they start a new project, And sometimes that decision is affected by frustration with few sales and the bottom line of one’s bank account. No judgement for that; it’s sort of like working for a newspaper–you may not be writing what you want, but it feeds the kids.

    I want to touch on your sensitive connection to creativity. Some folks think we’re each given a defined amount of creativity and it has to be guarded. I think we’re given oodles and oodles, and we must consciously keep it flowing or we’ll block it off.

    Either way… our creativity has to be shepherded.I think that’s the number one priority for a writer. You’ve obviously pondered this by asking, “Will this project hurt me or help me? How?”

    I too, have had that dread-to-knock-out-another chapter feeling. And, of course, it shows in the work. I don’t think we can fool readers.

    Sometimes I write wild, can-you-believe-this stories, then put them away. They feed my imaginative side. Maybe after a year, I look at them and find something true, worth gleaning. Maybe not. Maybe it was simply writing to budge open the doors to what was building up behind it.

    If a person doesn’t have the funds to write what they enjoy but is economically cornered to write what’s trending, then it’s a hard choice. Hopefully, the trends will change, and one day, their niche will become popular (at least for a while).

    Many of us have always written. Diaries, journals, essays, thoughts. Lists. We are writers. Most of it hasn’t been published. (Thank heavens!) I wrote during my dark, nobody-cares-about these-works period. (Dark, bitter, stuff. Uglaaak!!!)

    We jot, note, scribble because we CAN NOT help but write whether anyone sees it or not. It’s the way we process. It’s the way we heal ourselves.

    For me, the life-lesson is: to aggressively care for my creativity like a shepherd protects a flock from anything that would haul away one of the sheep.

    That may mean not hanging around negative people. Or declining an invitation somewhere because I want to tote my laptop to the middle of a field and write. Or learning the ukulele. Or penning a story that has a snowball’s chance of ever being seen—but was satisfying to me.

    It’s a process,isn’t it? May we always keep refilling and refreshing the well.

    • Ruth Ann Nordin August 6, 2018 / 11:01 am

      I agree about guarding one’s creativity. Each writer is different in how they can best do that. I find it best to work on more than one book at a time. I know writers who can’t do that. They can only work on one book at a time. Otherwise, they get confused in going from one book to another. I think the main thing is for each writer to figure out the method that works best for them. And figuring this stuff out is definitely a process!

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