Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Creativity and Pragmatism

I spent part of this evening working on revising a silly story I wrote a year and a half ago, which involves a lavender-colored alien and a former South American military leader's body parts. Now from a practical viewpoint, I should be spending what little writing time I have on new material, since I know for a fact that my writing has gotten significantly better in the last year and a half. On the other hand, I've been circulating this story out to one or two markets lately, just so I can feel that I've got something out and making the submission rounds... and I've gotten back a couple of interesting comments on it, which have made me want to revisit it.

Here's the real question though:

Why do I want to work on it, even if I ultimately know that it may not sell anywhere? Part of the reason is that I love the human main character, since he's such an endearing idiot. But there's other reasons too, and figuring them out has been perplexing me for the rest of the evening. Why do writers continue to work on pieces, if there isn't any marketability to it? I know that part of writing is art, and hell, it's a lot of fun to do too, but the agent side of me forces me to look at my own writing more pragmatically nowadays. Yeah, I'm "making art" and "writing the next great masterpiece", blah blah blah... but at the same time, I'm trying to create a marketable piece of entertainment that will sell and help me pay my bills. But does viewing writing solely from a pragmatic point-of-view hamper your creative efforts?

What are people's thoughts on this? Would you rather write directly in view of selling something, or do you follow your own muse? Or do you take my route of tonight, which was to put the story on hold, after revising it for a bit, and go off to indulge myself with THE ANDROID'S DREAM? The pure avoidance method, at least for me. Where do you strike the balance between creativity and pragmatism?


katiesandwich said...

I have no idea, because I'm going through some totally wacky things with writing myself, some of it resembling your own problem. So sorry I can't help you, but hey, at least you know you're not alone!

BuffySquirrel said...

The story I just sold to GUD magazine was several years old. I certainly hope my writing's improved since then! But it was a favourite of mine, so every so often I'd take it out again and tinker with it and get opinions and send it around, and suddenly the GUD Issue 0 editor actually wanted it. So you never know.

Angela said...

I don't think any writer should limit herself only to that which, practically speaking, can be sold. That strikes me as a dandy way to garrote your muse.

Sometimes, you just have to write the story that's desperately trying to claw its way out of your head, no matter whether it'll sell, no matter whether anybody else will ever read the darned thing. (Or at least, if you happen to be a fanfic writer, read the darned thing attached to your real name. ;) )

That said, one also does have to maintain a level of pragmatism. I try to focus my writing efforts first on the stuff I'm actually trying to sell. Then, if I have writing energy to burn on any given day, I may reward myself by going to play with one of the pet side projects.

(Hrmm. The verification graphic doesn't show up in Firefox. Foo.)

cm allison said...

I HAD to write the historical I'm sending queries out on right now because the main character just would NOT leave me lone until I got her story written. I swear, what a NAG! Those I've had the guts to give it to for reading and criticism have loved it so far and offered little by way of changes, but is it good enough to "make the cut"? I'll find out. But at least I'm not writing "under the gun" anymore. Well, not for a little while, have another character starting to yell at me now for her time..... Nags, I'm nagged to death by dead people.

Sling Words aka Joan Reeves said...

As a writer, I may still work on manuscripts that haven't sold, and may not ever sell, because I really like the characters and their respective stories. Going back and tinkering with the story is like visiting friends you really like but seldom see.

Simon Haynes said...

If it's silly and SF you really should submit it to Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. Pulpy humour is what ASIM is all about, although our rates won't feed anyone for long.
(Disclaimer: I'm one of the founding members of the mag.)

Anonymous said...

I've been reading your blog, but never commented until now because I've been thinking of a similar topic lately. It really depends on the writer, I think. For me, I find getting through the first draft without thinking of the pragmatic, "I want this to be published" aspect, is really important. That may have a bearing in later edits (maybe the last few), but for me, thinking about that too soon affects the story and how I tell it. I think if someone took a story idea and wrote it from the artistic/storyteller part of being a writer, then wrote it with the goal of selling it, that person would end up with two different stories. Both aspects are important, but there needs to be a balance, which is different for every writer.

I've probably rambled too much, and it may not help you at all, but that's what came to mind when I read you post. (I really am enjoying your blog.)


Zany Mom said...

Funny, this just happened to me this week. I have my first novel, which I queried 6 agencies about 2 years ago. Life turned on me then, I stuck it in a drawer (no time for rewriting if by chance an agent/editor were interested).

Recently had some ideas how to revise it and make it more publishable, but as I sat down to make those changes, I realized that it would best be served by a major rewrite (as in start over). The story line would be the same; the writing would be better (I assume because I'm a better writer now). Trying to fix what I have now seems like a futile attempt.

I, too, love these characters and their story; I had one in my crit group tell me she loved the novel as it is. I like it too; it just has a few moments where I feel the writing tries too hard. I don't know.

Anyway, I can rewrite and still have 2 versions. And if it never sees the light of day, at least I'll be happy with the way it turned out. Right?

Anonymous said...

This is a great question. There are thousands of people who make art that no one will see or play music that no one will hear, just for the pure joy of it. Yet it seems somehow strange to us for someone to write something purely for the joy od exploration through words, without any intention to publish it.

The Home Office said...

It all comes back to why you write in the first place. Anyone who writes with the sole objective of being published is setting herself for a lot of frustration and disappointment.

On the other hand, if you have projects that have shown potential and may just need a tweak here and there to get over the hump, they probably ought to come first.

I think what's most important is keeping to your personal regular writing schedule. Nothing you write is ever wasted. Every word is at least a learning exercise.

Jenny Rappaport said...

Anonymous #2, with your comments, I think you've hit upon the real heart of the question. I write because I love to tell stories, yet at the same time, I want to be able to share these stories with others. And in today's day and age<, getting them published, in no matter how small a venue, is a way to do that. If more than one set of eyes (other than beta readers or critique partners) sees your story, and possibly enjoys it... then I think that I might have a done what I set out to do well, and given pleasure to someone else's day.

Which is one of the reasons I love taking on new clients, since there's so much great writing out there that's going unread, and if I can get just one new book on the shelves for an author, it just makes my day. No matter how little money I may make on certain sales, I am always thrilled when a client's book finds a home. =)

Anonymous said...

Reworking a story that may never get published is comfort food for a writer, 'cept it's non-fattening. It's really not that much different from re-reading a favorite novel. So what if it's not 100% productive? It feels good.

BernardL said...

Whenever my ideas slow down on another novel I’ll end up self-publishing, I write poetry which will not sell either. :) Soon, the small break in form gets me back on track with my novel plotline. As others have said, we write because we love the characters or story. A miniscule amount of writing gets accepted and published. It would cool the passion of writing immeasurably if writers all lowered their heads, and rammed into the wall of rejections in place to filter submissions until something broke. In the sad majority of cases, it would be the writer’s head. :)

December Quinn said...

I guess I'm the most pragmatic here, in that I usually don't write what I don't think will sell.

Which doesn't mean at all that I ignore my ideas or what my characters want, or that I don't take chances. I wrote a historical a couple of years ago, a medieval, when nobody was buying medievals.

But now, for example, I still love vampires. And I love writing vampires. But the vamp market is so, so oversaturated that I just don't think vamps have much of a shot anymore (I do have an erovamp story out on sub, but it's almost a year old).

So I think about the characters and the story. If I make the hero a different sort of paranormal creature, will the story work just as well? If I take those characters and put them in a different story, how would that be? Etc. I don't think the story has to change and I don't ignore my inspirations, but I see what about the basic story I can change to make it more appealing.

Bernita said...

I agree with December.
The two are not mutually and automatically exclusive.

Ryan Field said...

Where do you strike the balance between creativity and pragmatism?

That's simple: when you have a mortgage.

Tattieheid said...

I think you need to take your agent's hat off when looking at this.

You have a story you love , revise it, rewrite it until it's absolutely singing to you. At this point forget the commercial side. Take it as far as you can as a writer.

Then, assess where you go from there. It's a lottery anyway so if you know it's as good as you can make it, put it into circulation see what response you get.

I don't think an author should abandon any work that speaks to them just because it doesn't meet current tastes in the publishing industry. It may not fit now but 5 years down the line it might.

Writing with a market in mind just produces run of the mill production line standards that fail to push the boundaries far enough. (There are exceptions, but not enough). Taking an existing storyline and trying to adapt it to better suit the market can be just as bad. You stand at risk of losing the "magic element".

Just write, make it good and save market realism for your day job. You could surprise yourself. :)

Jordan Summers said...

I think you have to create with no attachment to outcome. (At least that's what my dh keeps telling me. *ggg*) It's only when I decided to write whatever I felt like and not worry about selling it that things started to happen. Worry about where to market the story AFTER you've finished the final edits. :)

Eleora said...

I have similar problems, and I do try to write something I believe in and hopefully something I think will sell. But if it goes in an unsaleable direction, you have to follow your muse.

Writing the less marketable tales can still improve your writing skills which benefits the marketable ones.

(of course I haven't sold anything yet... My question is, how high should I set my standards. I have submitted mostly to top-tier mags and am not sure how little I want to let my good stories go for.)

M. Takhallus. said...

I write for money. I write what I enjoy writing, but I never take my beady little eye off the marketplace. People don't wait tables for free, they don't middle manage for free, they don't build houses for free. I don't see why it makes sense to write for free. Shakespeare got paid, Dickens got paid, Updike gets paid. Why shouldn't I get paid?

I think there's a lot of writing program nonsense about high art and almost an aversion to the relentless logic of the marketplace. But the marketplace is the expression of reader's desires. If you want people to read what you write, the marketplace is the mechanism that makes that happen. I'm not happy with it a lot of the time, but then again I'm not happy with gravity all the time, either, and yet, I submit to it.

Conduit said...

I think we are the worst judges of our own material. What we think is our best work, others find mediocre, what we think is our poorest effort, others think is great. At least, that's my experience, anyway.

I come from a music, rather than literary, background. I have a tune I wrote almost as a joke, a real throwaway, about fifteen years ago. At the time I thought it was just fluff. Anyway, to cut a long story short, it wound up in a movie soundtrack (nothing majore) and people still mention it to me to this day.

Similarly, I work with a singer-songwriter and there's a constant battle between us as many of her songs that she doesn't like I think are great (and generally, so do audiences), while she loves the songs that audiences find harder work.

When you create something you're often just too close to it to be able to judge its appeal to others.

Ryan Field said...

Conduit said...
I think we are the worst judges of our own material. What we think is our best work, others find mediocre, what we think is our poorest effort, others think is great. At least, that's my experience, anyway.

I'm so glad to see this comment in writing. All the garbage I've had published they loved...always to my surprise. The good stuff, what I think is important, they've ignored. It's a real ass-kicker.

Steve said...

I'm both a writer and artist, and make my living doing both, but I come at it from a *very* different place from M. Takhallus. I let my muse lead me where she will, even if it doesn't make sense at the time, even if I really don't like the process.

I don't worry about markets or sales until after, well after, the creatin's done. After that, sure, sell for all you can get, but not until.

I take crazy chances, do crazy things with my work. Sometimes I end up wrecking it. Because those chances are my only hope of creating the sublime, the surprising, the touching and the true. Without them, I'm terribly prone to the risk of becoming little more than a mercenary craftsman.

There's more I'd like to say about the process, but I don't want to take up too much space here. Check my blog in a few, and I'll pickup the theme there...

kiwi said...

It seems to me that most perceive any answer to this question in terms that center a juxtaposition. You either strangle your muse or forget about the market. I think you can have both; marketability and creativity. So the balance for me? The market I write in has a strong influence on my story design; plot, characters, thematics … etc. I tend to be very technical in this arena anyway. I’m a big fan of Robert Mckee, and for those of you still struggling to master your craft, I recommend his books highly.

Creativity for me is in the writing itself (most of the time). Every writer, I think, knows that dream like state that comes over you when the story takes over. Characters literarily develop minds of their own, and very quickly chapter notes and all those hours of planning are forgot, or at least unexpected liberties are taken, and usually for the better. It’s this magic that keeps me writing, and I suspect I’m not alone in that regard.

Having said that, there’s always a compromise here. On completion of a manuscript I always approach my agent and editor with an open might and the surety that changes will be needed. With marketability in mind we work through the manuscript. When we’re happy it’s as good as it can be, out it goes. So far, with good results. Fingers crossed that will continue for sometime yet.

Scott Marlowe said...

There's a fine line between practical and enjoyable when it comes to writing--sometimes the line blurs; sometimes the difference is painfully obvious. I think it's hard to quantify either. On one hand, you have to write something that will sell. On the other, this has to be enjoyable, right? Finding the middle ground is the most ideal situation.