Conventionality vs. originality

719082Creative people tend to be free thinkers. Writers especially, generally speaking, are very unorthodox people, in the way they think, live and work. This can often not only be in our daily lives, but also extend to our work. Which brings us to today’s question: if you are writing genre fiction or anything for a specific audience, should you stick entirely to the conventions? Or can you reach your target audience/fit your genre whilst still putting your own spin on it?

Well, this puts you in a pickle that is familiar to most professional writers. Do you write exactly what your target audience wants, following the conventions of your genre to the letter, even if it’s not interesting or pleasurable to you? Or do you do follow your own rules, write what you want to write and enjoy a small (but very loyal) fanbase?

This entirely depends on where your interests lie in the bigger scheme of things. Do you want to write something purely because it will sell? Or does this sound more like selling out?

If you are aiming to one day make a living off of the books you write, then you will have to write something that is likely to sell well, no matter your feelings towards the genre or audience. If you don’t want it to be connected to your usual brand of writing, then use a pseudonym to disguise you. The only potential problem with this is having to market two different writers, which can be time-consuming. However, it may also turn out to be a blessing in disguise. If your ‘money-maker’ book gets popular and you find a lot of people following you (under your pseudonym) on social media sites, you can use this to your advantage to promote the writing you do for love, not money. It will just look like one writer recommending another writer to their fans – see? Sneaky, but effective. This way, you can draw in people who may not have discovered your writing otherwise and maybe even end up with a whole new group of fans!

So to conclude: conventionality usually (but not always) sells well, originality usually (but not always) doesn’t sell as well. A ‘Billionaire’ erotica e-book, for example, will sell better than a romance set in a space station. If the latter is what you like to write, then go for it. Always write what you love and believe in it. But writing the more conventional, popular stuff, even if you don’t like it, can aid your writing career in many ways if you are prepared to do it.

The importance of proper editing

Finishing the first draft of a piece of writing is a great feeling. Although you should be very proud at this stage, you are far from finished yet.

As a writer, editing your work is imperative. It is not enough just to read back over it for spelling mistakes or grammatical errors. Proper editing requires you to look at your writing with a critical eye; you need to be completely honest with yourself about how successful your piece is in its current state. In fact, you need to be utterly brutal.

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Good editing is the key

The following are some tips for editing your work as thoroughly as it needs.

    1. Let go of any romantic notion about ‘capturing the moment.’ You look at a particular scene in your story and see flaws and imperfections, but you don’t want to change anything because you feel as though you perfectly captured the mood at the time of writing. You may well have done, but if you want a story that is polished, professional and stands out, you will need to iron out those flaws. Nobody’s writing is perfect and that’s not what you should be aiming for – you’ll drive yourself crazy. But if you see something that strikes you as needing improvement, then it probably really does need it.
    2. Don’t be afraid to ‘kill your darlings.’ You have a sentence, a paragraph, or a minor character that you really like; but do you need them? Really? What are they adding to the story? Do they really fit, or are they actually spoiling the quality? If you can’t answer positively to any of these questions, then that part of your story is going to have to go. If you take out that sentence or scene, don’t throw it away completely; you might find you can use it again in another piece of work in the future.
    3. Get a proof-reader. It is virtually impossible to edit your work without feedback from an objective party. Ask a writer friend, or even find a ‘writing buddy’ to swap work with. Writers are almost always willing to help each other out, and as long as your proof-reader is not afraid to be honest and has a good critical eye then you will find the editing process much easier. You don’t have to follow every suggestion; if you’ve been advised to change something, but strongly feel this is a bad idea, then don’t do it! Different people will notice and like or dislike different things. Do listen to and think about all the feedback you receive, but sometimes you will need to trust your own opinion too.
    4. Don’t be precious about your work. If you’re the kind of person who has trouble not taking constructive criticism personally, this is something you need to work on if you really want to be a writer. If you ask somebody to be brutally honest about your work, they will be. You don’t only need to be prepared for this; you need to welcome it. Certain things can be disheartening to hear at times, but good or bad, everything will help you along the way.
    5. Don’t be afraid to be drastic. If you think an entire chapter needs to be reworked or a fairly important character is serving no purpose and needs to be cut, then do it. Don’t be wary of your own work. Experiment and make those changes. You might find your entire piece is twenty times better for it.
    6. There is a possibility you will never be happy with your work. Creativity and perfectionism often go hand in hand. It can be difficult to manage, but rather than achieving your notion of perfection, it is sometimes best just to step back and accept that your work is the absolute best it can be. It’s a cliché, but it’s true; we are our own worst critics.
    7. You will know when you are done editing. Once you’re debating whether or not that comma really belongs in the middle of that sentence in line 9 of page 34 you’ll realise that there’s probably little else you can do. You created this piece of work and you know it inside out. You will instinctively know when it is there.

The importance of editing is never to be underestimated. It might not be an easy process, but it’s a very satisfying one; you’ll be amazed at the difference a bit of thorough and honest polishing can make.