Learning to Write for an Audience

When you go through a difficult time in your life, you start to shed pride in pieces, in flakes like dandruff from your hair. Everybody starts to crack at a different point: maybe you begin to leave the house with greasy hair or stop shaving as regularly as you used to. Maybe you stop opening your mail, or your apartment goes to pot. Maybe you start to drink a lot more than is good for you. Maybe you do all of those things.

And eventually, you start to admit how bad things are. And if you’re someone with a lot of pride, like me, this comes in pieces. You admit one thing, then another. You tick them off one flake a time, because you cannot bear the idea that people look at you and see a weak person, a failure, a loser. That was one of the hardest things for me when I started dealing with my burn out almost two years ago now. I lied to my therapists, and my doctors. I put on a bright smile and said it wasn’t so bad. I just need a pill or a tiny holiday and then everything would be fine. But everything wasn’t fine. And everything didn’t have a quick fix. And so pride started shedding, and that’s a good thing because I started healing.

Through all that time, the one thing I never allowed to fall was writing. It was what kept me going, sure, but it was also the last thing that made me feel like I was a real, full human being with talents and skills and something to contribute to the world. I needed it. I needed it really badly, and so I wrote like a maniac. I wrote every day and I never stopped.

Now, my life is starting to come together again. I can feel the stitches starting to take, can feel the wounds starting to close. I can see the future again, can see a path out of this, can imagine myself as I used to know me before all this again: as a capable, professional, desirable woman. And so it’s time to admit to something: I’m having a hard time with this writing thing.

I’m having a hard time writing for an audience, knowing that audience, fearing their reaction. And I’m still not entirely sure how to fix it. I’m not even sure it’s a bad thing. It might make me a better writer eventually, but for now, I am ready to admit: I’m struggling a little.

 

BTLOTM -- color600x900When I started out, my writing was about me. Not literally, most of the time, but still to a pretty high degree. At its essence By the Light of the Moon is a book about a girl who can’t deal with her life and then somebody saves her. I needed that story at the time. It’s not, however, at its core, a particularly original story. I’m not bashing my work, I stand behind the writing and the characters especially, and I really love the sequel that I’m currently editing. But I feel like first (and second and maybe third) novels are books that you write for yourself.

You think, for instance, “Hey, I really like werewolves, but why are they always depicted as these ruthless, overly domineering alpha males?” Or “Hey, I love medieval fantasy and forbidden love, but why do I never see a heroine with mental health issues?” And so you (lol read “I”) write a book that embraces a lot of the points you’ve been missing in the books you’ve read. But… in the end, there’s still a lot of those other stories in yours. It’s still a noblewoman who hates being a noblewoman falling in love with a hunky werewolf.

Detail of female hands tied up with ropeWith Driftwood Deeds, my thought was “I want to read about sex and bdsm, but every time I pick up a book, it doesn’t represent my feelings or my experience of it, I don’t find the characters believable and I hate the prose.” So I set out to create well-written, real, honest, raw erotica. And I think I did that well. But I never thought about the audience. I never thought about having to sell that idea in a blurb and how terribly boring it sounds then.

The blurb for Driftwood Deeds could be summarized like this: Two people have sex. Or maybe less facetiously: A young woman has her first D/s experience with an older man at his seaside home.

If I didn’t know the author beforehand, I probably wouldn’t pick that book up. It just sounds like… it sounds like nothing. And Driftwood Deeds is not nothing. It touched a lot of people who read it; it’s still my highest rated work on Goodreads and Amazon. But I can’t blame people for not buying it, for not getting really excited about it. Because I only thought about me when I wrote it.

ALL400-600In a way, something similar happened with After Life Lessons. L.C. and I wrote it because we wanted to work together, challenge ourselves. Because we had this idea, that putting our characters up against zombies would be fun. And it was. But we’re not horror people, or even thriller people. We are character study girls. We love to write about people and their personal struggles, their little relateable drama.

And so that’s what After Life Lessons became. And we wrote it for us, because we wanted a book to exist in which a zombie apocalypse was not all about the zombies and the action, but about the human impact. We didn’t consider that other people really do want the zombie splatter action when they are promised zombie post-apoc. That they don’t want something different.

 

Almost two years after I started writing By the Light of the Moon, I feel like someone who’s started learning a new language. I was an English teacher for a while, so I know the process. You start out and everything is crazy difficult. You have no idea what you’re doing, you’re just charging blindly ahead full of joy and the energy of the new, until you run into the first roadblock. If you’re lucky you either are very disciplined and get yourself out, or you have a teacher to push you over the hump. These humps happen a lot at the beginning. It’s why so many of us struggle for so so long to finish our first novel. It’s also why so many of us buy a language course on CD and never get past the first or second part.

At some point, though, you have a break-though. Suddenly, a few things just click and you get it. And everything is brilliant because you feel like you finally have a handle on this. This will be easy. Hell yeah! I was at that point at the beginning of the year. I wrote about it too. Here or here.

But it doesn’t stay. You learned a lot, but you keep learning and eventually you get to that point where you know just enough to realize, you still have no idea what you’re doing, just enough to realize how long the road ahead really is.

 

That’s me right now. I try to learn from these lessons, to think about how to make a book special and enticing from the get go, how to satisfy the needs of the genre without betraying what I love to write about. But I don’t know how to do that yet. I am still not sure how to write with an audience in mind.

Some people will tell you to just never read your reviews, but I don’t believe in that. I think that’s the height of arrogance actually. I do believe that I have something to learn from my readers, like we all have something to learn from almost everybody we meet and I want to be open to that. But it also hurts, and it’s scary. And when you realize you’ve started to censor yourself for fear of how readers might react to something that rings true and good to you, that’s when writing for an audience starts to suck.

So, that’s what I’m working on. Finding that balance. Writing to please myself and my readers.  Writing without fear of rejection without loosing sight of my readers completely. Writing something that I can be proud of and that really excites people, too. Because that what I want to do. I want to touch people, I want to write those books, the ones that helped me through the years – be that because they made me realized something, or because they made me feel good about myself, or because they made me sob uncontrollably and reminded me to feel, and to be vulnerable. I want all that! I want to be better!

I will be better. I get better every day.

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