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.

Writing for yourself First

I was reading on a forum today where an author asked how he could get the joy of writing back. He was worn out and bored with everything he started. The thought of writing another word was akin to pulling his own teeth with a pair of pliers.

As I read through the comments it became very clear to me, despite all the great suggestions given on how to help him, that his true problem wasn’t writer’s block or burn out. It was gearing his writing toward what he thought readers wanted from him. It was suppressing his own creative voice in an attempt to give his audience what they wanted. And it was boring him to death.

You see, he loved his daily writing pages. He enjoyed warm up stage before the critic’s voice came in to kill the fun. He still daydreamed new pitfalls for his characters.

It made me start to wonder, how many writers start with the joy of writing only to lost the passion? How many authors gear their writing toward what they think readers want? How many writers are writing books they hate or would never read themselves because it sells well? How many of you are doing this right now?

Stop it. Stop it right now.

The best part of writing is writing what you enjoy for the fun of it. It’s what makes work a little less work-y. It’s what makes the right readers love your books. Passion in your writing voice will carry the book far longer than formulaic writing.