When I teach Writers Write, I often talk about writing the book you want to read. Students seem to agree with me, but when I look at a list of the last 20 books they have actually read, it is obvious that they are not doing this.
I mostly find that they are writing a book idea they fell in love with 10, 20, even 30 years ago. This has been percolating for far too many years and when it is finally poured out, it is stale, way past its use by date, and often leaves a bitter taste.
You may be writing what you know instead of what you like. This is a mistake.
Make a list
Do yourself a favour and make a list of the last 20-30 books (published in the past five years) that you have bought, or borrowed, to read. Then ask these questions:
- How long are these books?
- Are they plot-driven or character-driven?
- What genre are they?
- What are the plots?
- How many main characters are there?
- What viewpoint is used most often?
- What are the themes of the books?
If the book you are writing does not look anything like these books, you may not be writing the book you want to read.
How many of the books in your list are by first time authors?
If you do not have any on your list, make a point to read 10 books by 10 different first-time authors in a genre you enjoy. You will see that the lengths of these books are shorter and the plot lines simpler than the well-established authors you may be trying to emulate. (Read Word Counts – How long should your novel be?)
Why don’t we write books we actually read?
Sometimes it is easier to look at what other people are doing wrong instead of looking at ourselves. It is difficult to let go of a dream or something that has, at times, become an obsession. We need to listen to the advice of great writers and let go. Most of them wrote many books before they wrote the books that made them famous.
Instead of writing and rewriting the same book, we should finish a draft of it, put it aside and look at the books we love reading and try to write one of those instead.
Make another list
List all the elements you love in a good book. You should consider word counts, plots, genres, themes, and characters. Then write another. By the third book, you should be feeling more confident. This is the book you should rewrite until it is good enough to send to a publisher.
So next time somebody asks you if you are writing the book you want to read, take a moment and think about it before you answer yes.
© Amanda Patterson
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