Monday, February 26, 2018

Art or Money?

Terry Shames weighs in on this week’s topic: Is it better to be original or to give 'em what they want? And would you do it for free?
I’ll answer the last question first: I’m tempted to say that I practically do it for free anyway, but that would be an exaggeration. I do make money from my writing—just about enough to pay for my conference attendance and book tours. Which are fun and rewarding. But if I had to live on the money I make from writing, I’d have to be very creative with housing and transportation and be frugal with my spending. Come to think of it, that might be a real solution to my problem of losing weight.


But, I’ve already answered the question of whether I would do it for free. I wrote for years before I got published—to be precise, seven complete novels and ragged versions of others. Plus, short stories that were published in publications that paid in copies only. I always loved the writing, even though the “not finding a publisher” part was difficult.
As for the question of being original or giving “them” what they want, the answer is layered. Once you get a contract, you have an obligation to your publisher that is spelled out in the contract. It may stipulate a certain number of pages, perhaps a story based on a synopsis, or maybe a subject mutually agreed upon. Once you get a fan base, you have an obligation to the fans to produce the best story you can produce, something you know they will enjoy. That’s even more true when you are writing a series. Your fans know your characters and come to expect them to behave in certain ways.
That said, though, you aren’t obligated to feed either the publisher or your fans the same old, same old. You have the ability—even the obligation—to explore the limits of what you are writing. The most famous example I know is when Elizabeth George killed off one of her most popular characters. I asked her what her thinking was and she replied that the book was at a “happily ever after” dead end, and something major had to happen to shake up the story line and send it in a different direction.

In my latest book, A Reckoning in the Back Country, I realized that I wasn’t happy with my main character, Samuel Craddock’s, lady love. I thought Ellen was boring. My solution was to send in a new love interest. She practically forced herself into the book and I immediately adored her. Some of my readers loved the change, some of them were wistful for the old relationship—and one woman warned me not to marry Samuel off because she wanted him for herself! The fun part for me came when I discovered that Ellen, the “old” love interest, had a secret that she had been keeping from Samuel. That’s the kind of originality that can’t be stifled by an obligation to “give ‘em what they want.”
In the end, discovery is what makes writing worthwhile. Even if you have obligations outside your own creative impulses, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the process of discovery that happens within those boundaries. And of course, you can always take off and write something you don’t have a contract for, or even something you don’t plan to publish. We writers live in worlds of our own making—which is why I would do it for free!


Dietrich Kalteis said...

Well said, Terry.

Unknown said...

You've hit on some points that have been niggling at me lately. Nice to hear your perspective, Terry.

Terry said...

Good, Rachel, I'm glad to know it nudged you.

Cathy Ace said...

Excellent! Ditto :-)