Wednesday, October 16, 2019

How do you know what you are meant to write?

How do you know what you are meant to write? Seems like a pretty stupid question, but play along with me for a minute.

I write science fiction with horror aspects (see also "Alien" or "Predator"). I enjoy what I write. I write well, good even. I have a few awards on shelves and a few paychecks crossing the bank account every now and then. In all respects, I am doing better than some.

And then...

A few days ago, I was contacted by an agent who had somehow got her hot little hands on a few pieces of my writing (Actually, I know how she got them and I will deal with that friend/client of hers later).
The writing was from back in the days when I blogged. The purpose of that now defunct blog was to allow my family and friends to see how I was doing since I had moved clear across the country from all of them. Word of mouth got out after a particular post and the blog went viral, garnering thousands of new readers and thousands of views every day. Everyone was claiming how funny I was, how hilarious my antics were, how I could get away with doing/saying that, etc., etc.

I freaked out (see also IMPOSTER SYNDROME) and shut the blog down. How dare they! I was NOT FUNNY. I was a SERIOUS WRITER! I write SCIENCE FICTION and HORROR. I don't mean to be funny, let alone want to be funny. 

But then this agent - she thinks otherwise. And perhaps all those other readers did as well...

So - a good writer could write anything if they wanted to, yes? But does a good writer always KNOW what they are MEANT to write? What if the awards and cash prizes for my sci-fi/horror writing are just a testament to my ABILITY to write well, and not for my true calling for WHAT to write? I LIKE to write sci-fi/horror, but is it possible for another genre, such as humor, to be a better fit - a better fit that if I were to explore it could finally be the break I need (getting an agent, getting a pub deal, etc.) ?? Maybe LIKING a genre isn't enough to justify writing in it. Maybe one has to NEED the genre in order for the stars to line up.


Some advice would be great. Somebody else experiencing, or who has experienced the same, would be even better. Before I decide to maybe jump (space)ship, I would love to hear what others think.

Thank you very much for your time.

I have always believed that the way to know you are fulfilling your purpose here is to measure your joy. If writing in one particular category or genre brings you joy, that's a good thing.

If you try out something else, and give it a chance, not the one minute "I told you I don't like lima beans" test, and it too brings you joy, even better.

When I suggested non-fiction to Jeff Somers  he thought I'd lost what few marbles I had left.
Turned out he enjoyed writing Writing Without Rules, and it's been helpful to a lot of his readers.

When I suggested non-fiction to Deb Vlock, the book of my heart was the result.  It brought her great joy too.

Those are the success stories.

Several of my clients have received the dreaded "I have this great idea" email and I have the wet noodle scars to prove.  Not all of my great ideas resonated with people.
What's the risk to trying something new?
Lost time, which has a very real cost.
Creative energy, which also has a cost.

But the upside is you might find something you love.

I'm a risk taker by nature (no surprise to all ya'll I'm sure.)
I always vote for trying something new as long as the downside isn't death, dismemberment, or life time membership in the WCTU.

Readers, you've got experience here.
How did you know you'd found the right arena?

Speaking of arenas, it's time to have some perfection in our lives.


nightsmusic said...

My question to you, OP, is this; how did you feel when you wrote the blog post that went viral. You know, the one where you were funny and people flocked to read what you were writing. If it was a joy to write, if you had fun, if you were just comfortable and it came very easy to you, I think you have a responsibility to yourself to pursue it. Even if you write a short story to test the waters. If on the other hand, you didn't have any feelings about what you'd written, or you hated having to write it, then it's probably not for you.

The thing is, Janet's right, it will cost you time you won't get back. But on the other hand, it's a small price to pay to find what truly works for you.

Kitty said...

I read primarily murder mystery series. I always wanted to write a mystery, even if it is just one and not a series. And then I read Nora Ephron's "Heartburn" and knew that was the type of fiction I was meant to write. That was back in the early 80s. Since then, when I'd try to write a mystery nothing much happens because my characters -- Frannie, Harry, Margaret, Hazel, Two Bits, Benny, Doris and Frank, to name a few -- remind me they're waiting for me to conclude their stories. I can barely get a paragraph of a mystery written before I'm bogged down with details I don't know how to solve. My characters tell me what to write.

Kitty said...

nightsmusic makes a great point. I'd also add that pursuing humor is good experience. Obviously, OP, you have some talent writing humorous pieces. Don't get caught in that whirlpool of shoulda.

Theresa said...

OP, you have a great voice and fine style and I could totally see you writing humor. If you really, really hate the idea, you shouldn't, of course. And if you are pressed for time with your sci fi/horror writing, you probably shouldn't try to branch out. But if it's only a bit of nerves, maybe it's worth exploring, especially with this agent who believes in your talent.

Mister Furkles said...

WCTU: Women's Christian Temperance Union--two out of three aint so bad. WCTU meeting, then hit the pubs for few.

Most of us have the opposite problem. I tried golf until one day--having the worst game in months, which I thoroughly enjoyed--discovered hiking the woods was a better pastime. Had to give up golf but I'm still hiking in the woods.

Try it; if you don't like it, try something else. If thousands of people think you are humorous, that's great. Wish I had that problem. Besides the best humor goes well with horror. Go the the library and get a copy of the film "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein." It's a great combination: Horror & Comedy.

Jill Warner said...

I wrote fantasy. Then I got stuck and decided to do a mental refresh by trying out a completely different genre. And woooow... What a difference that made! I still love writing fantasy and hope to publish in that some day, but I'm finding that historical romance is actually something I'm really good at and enjoy. The stories come easier since I already have a world built. And as a bonus, my husband thinks my fantasy writing has got even stronger since I'm writing more and not stressing about getting everything right any more.

Also, check out Dan Wells's A Night of Blacker Darkness. It's half-farce, half-horror.

Colin Smith said...

How did you know you'd found the right arena?
I don't know that I have. Which about sums up where I am with writing these days. Looking for a genre or idea that grabs me and won't let go. I have a number of ideas, but none of them compel me to write.

Not very helpful, I know OP. I can understand the temptation to write humor just to get an agent. Do you think you would write humor as well when it's on demand, so to speak? I'm sure in your blog articles you were just being you, not really thinking of yourself as a humorist. I think it's okay to be both, you know--a serious sci fi writer who writes witty blog articles. People are attracted to humor, so it might be a good way to draw people to your fiction.

Just a thought. :)

Melissa said...

My friend and were having a discussion about what we would tell our 18-year-old selves. One of things was to ignore everyone who went on and on about the expectation to find passion and love for your work. That it's okay and very normal to find a job you like, you are good at, and pays the bills.

We get way too wrapped up in our destiny or calling or stars lining up.

YOU are not meant to write anything. YOU will never know 100 percent that you are on the right path because there is NO one right path. We CHOOSE our way forward. Sometimes we make the wrong choice and that's okay because that choice led us a place and time to choose a better way.

YOU can choose this new opportunity or not.

Craig F said...

Writing and life are almost the same, except in life you put one foot ahead of the other. In writing you put one word in front of the other. In both you continually move on.

Writing is a progression and different things come to the fore like landscape features on a walk. In all of it, though, there is a core of your values that color your world.

Keep true to those values and see where they fit the best, then exploit the schnitzel out of it.

I though thrillers would be my thing, I could load in lots of both sides of humanity, blah, blah, blah. My true reading interest was hard sci-fi, though, and I saw the horizon more clearly there. There is so much world to deal with with my view of sci-fi.

Then of course there is this:
Dear J.K. Rowling

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

When an idea, concept or life event compels you to write, inspires you, and you're eager to set pen to paper - I sorta think you know you've found your bailiwick.

My three books are nonfiction. They center around the horses and other animals who have found their way to our sanctuary. Many of the stories depict the abuse and/or neglect the animals suffered before coming to us. Now, my followers are asking for a fourth book. But guess what? I'm weary to the bone of writing about the depravity I see doing rescue work. I did halfheartedly begin a fourth book. I just can't make myself buckle down and get it done.

I was, however, inspired to write fiction. Middle grade. My manuscript features horses (and a donkey!) and a protagonist who discovers that not everyone takes care of their animals the way they should and vows to something about it. So, it's interesting to note: although the story mirrors my life in animal welfare, it was a joy to write.

All the best OP. I'll offer the "listen to your heart" cliche.

LynnRodz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LynnRodz said...

OP, your last word was time. Time is precious and it grows more precious each day. I don't know how old you are, but the outlook for time is not the same for someone in their twenties as someone in their fifties, or eighties, etc.

The question is do you want/have the time to try and make it as a published author in humor? Is being a published author more important than being a published sci-fi author? How long have you tried to find an agent writing under your genre? These are questions only you can answer, but if you're asking, then it seems you very well may want to try your hand at humor. Are there funny characters in your mind trying to get their stories told? From what you told us, you seem to have a knack for it, so why not?

Personally, I was writing an MG with a great concept (I thought so, of course!) and for whatever reason this other story kept popping into my mind. The characters would not leave me alone, so I put aside my MG (2nd draft) and began writing about a wealthy man and how he ended up homeless on the streets of Paris. This has taken years, but it was what I was meant to write. I hope to query my MS sometime "soon" but I haven't forgotten that MG story either. We all know that the road to publication is long, so again the question is, do you want to spend precious time writing humor or horror?

Thanks, Janet, it was always a joy to watch Torvill & Dean and their Bolero performance was perfection on ice.

Brenda said...

If you’re a short story kind person, how about trying on a few humour shorts? So far my humourous creative bent has been satisfied in that length.

As to your question about genre calling, for me it’s a knee jerk reaction. I’m a stationary engineer by trade (the kind of engineer who carries tools in their pockets) and I recently ran into a coveralls-clad individual in a hospital elevator. Of course I immediately asked for a tour of the hospital power plant. Long story longer, he took me down into the tunnels that run underneath every hospital and my very first thought was what a great place to hide a body! Or hide from a psychopath! I almost said it out loud.

I suspect that a travel writer wouldn’t have the same reaction.

Barbara Etlin said...

If you think you may like writing humour, try something short. Did you have fun? Did you find it a pain?

You might consider taking a humour-writing course. There are techniques you can learn to make writing funnier.

I don't think one is meant to write anything. And you certainly don't have to stick to one genre just because it's the first one in which you had success.

In the 80s I had my fortune told at a charity event. Before I told the woman anything about myself, she told me that I would one day have success at writing both poetry and children's books. I told her that I was a writer (copywriter and freelance journalist at that point), but I never thought of doing either thing in my wildest dreams. I now do both. And write humour sometimes, too. :-)

Amy Johnson said...

Wow, the timing of this post! I spent some hours this morning doing what I do almost every morning: working on my first MG novel. But this morning, I found myself thinking, Writing this novel is so much fun! Then I fell into a brief daydream about the acknowledgements page of my future published novel (we all do that, right?), and I considered what I'll write to the amazing person who put the idea into my head to write MG. I enjoyed writing my (still unpublished) Women's Fiction novels, but no way was it this much fun. (See how I capitalized the W and the F there, so nobody would think I wrote "fiction novels?") This might come across as corny, but the whole world seems more magical now that I'm writing MG. So, for me, having fun and feeling like I'm putting something good and useful into the world (it's a #ownvoices story) seem to be good indicators that I'm writing the right thing.

OP: I hope all goes well for you.
Brenda: You cracked me up.

Lennon Faris said...

Am I missing something? Why the heck does humor have to be its own category?

With few exceptions, the only reason I will re-read or re-watch something more than once is because it made me laugh.

OP, I hate to tell you this but you are pretty funny. I know it's a serious topic here, finding your niche in life, but why not do what you love AND use your strengths to do it? Anyway, best of luck!

Sandra J. said...

I believe you've found the right arena when you enjoy the process even when writer's block hits or a character resists being put onto the page.

Humour lends itself well to many genres and can also stand alone.

If you have the time, why no give humour a shot? You know people already like the style of your now defunct blog post, so what is there (besides time and effort) to lose?

Sarah said...

Do people who write for adults talk about Voice? That sense of storytelling/narration that distinguishes you as an author? (We talk about it lots in children's literature.) Voice is art, it's the part that comes from letting go. It's what kids have and adults have to recapture. It still needs to be revised, but a technically perfect story without Voice is soulless.

It sounds like you found your voice in those blog posts, at least for a time. That doesn't mean that you have to write humor. Perhaps you can fold that sense of Voice into the genres you already write. Or at least incorporate the source of that Voice. Humor comes from a sense of freedom or play. I write fairy tale retellings, and the strongest parts of my stories were written from that same willingness to just go for it, even though my stories aren't funny overall.

I'm not sure I buy into callings the way you describe them. I think I'm called to be a teacher, but I never expected to be where I am now. I trained to be a special education reading specialist. Then I was offered a job being the special education co-teacher in a HS math class. Now I teach HS math 2/3 time and love it. (I write in the afternoons.) My point is, I may be called to teach, but my life would be poorer if I'd assumed I was called to be a reading specialist.

Good luck, OP! You've got this!

Rio said...

I, for one, would love to read a novel with a narrator who's funny as hell, and only slowly do I realize he or she is actually telling a very horrifying tale. Just sayin'. The juxtaposition would be deeply and wonderfully unsettling. So I'd say go ahead and take humor for a spin. If it doesn't work out, you'll still be a stronger writer for the experience.

In my case, I wrote realistic fiction for years and years. Non-real elements would sneak into my stories, and I'd dutifully force them out. My stories weren't trying to go sci-fi, exactly. They weren't turning fantasy, either. They were just, not cooperating. Then I heard of a type of storytelling called magical realism, and I thought, Yes! That's what my stories are doing! And it was okay. It was okay to write like that. So now I wreak havoc on my characters MY way, and reality has to sit in the corner and watch.

I hope you find your fit, OP, because when you do, it's awesome. Don't settle. Don't let success hold you back from better things.

Sherryl said...

I was trying to write literary fiction for years (and failing) and realised what I loved was crime and mystery. But my writing wasn't good enough for publication. Then a writer friend encouraged me to try writing for children, which I thought I was hopeless at.
It turned out I just hadn't known what I was doing, and I ended up with 20 years of writing and publishing children's books successfully! And I am still doing it.
But ... along the way I've also kept at my crime writing, and this year my first adult crime novel was published.
So, have a go. You must have enjoyed the humor writing on the blog to do it so well, I think. Try a few stories or chapters or whatever she is suggesting and see what happens!

tsquared said...

I was known as the Princess of Snark in my writing group. I scoffed at romance, sneered at fantasy, and said, “The literary life for moi.” Then I wrote a book, two books, three books, and found that write love stories. The love stories bring me joy. They allow me to be funny and self-depreciating. It is my Voice — but in love stories. Glorious love stories. Pointed out by my colleagues in the writing group.

The process took time and much patience on the part of my writing group. For me, it was worth every moment of it. Their jury may still be out... I needed the time to look inside and found a very deep well of belief that love is really all there is, in a tragicomedy kind of way.

Take your time. Experiment. Notice what stories the universe sends you. Find people who challenge and support you. Keep a journal about your process. Live your life and not the prescribed one.

Laurie said...

This is a fabulous post. A friend and I were having a similar conversation over the weekend. The comments from the writer of the letter are spot on in so many ways and I really relate to them and others who have experienced this. My friend loves to write serious thinking pieces... yet her dry wit and sarcastic black comedy pieces are freaking hilarious! And I am always telling her to do more of it. I write sci-fi and fantasy and want to write adult pieces yet... apparently my humor is not half bad and my YA voice is a natural... Right? Freaking hilarious. I personally ponder why we ignore (or hide from) our natural writing voice or explore the unknown with experimentation. Impostor syndrome or something else? Great post today. Laurie

Fearless Reider said...

One of my heroes, Frederick Buechner, writes about vocation as “the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” I know a few people who occupy exactly that place, and they are some of the most alive people I know. The rest of us muddle through and try to find that intersection when we can. Meanwhile: we plan, God laughs — and weeps.

A couple of years ago, my husband and I figured out how to work things out financially (i.e., be extra poor) so I could take a lengthy sabbatical from youth ministry to write full-time. My plan: launch a fun women’s fiction series and use the little bit of income from churning out an annual novel to keep writing “serious” projects (the upside to replacing an income from youth ministry is that there’s not much income to replace). I mapped out nine (9!) novels, bought my domain name, and got to work. On Day One, I wrote one paragraph of the first novel of the series. Then I noodled around for five months with three different YA and MG novels until I finally got to my current MG project. I used to think it was a bit precious when writers talked about how their characters take over and reveal the story to them. I believe it now.

Good luck with your quest, OP! I hope you can be open to experimentation. I love it when genres intersect. My favorite example of horror blending with humor is the short story “Orientation” by Daniel Orozco. We’ll see if I can successfully linkify it: .

KDJames said...

I agree, you are funny. I can hear it in your voice. It's a dry, wry humour not unlike mine. I distinctly remember the first time, years ago, someone said a comment of mine made them ROTFL. And the second time, and the third. I was taken aback, because I did not consider myself to be funny. At all. So I get that.

I mentioned it to my daughter, in high school at the time. "People online seem to think I'm funny and it's weird because I'm not funny." She said, "Of course you're funny. Sometimes I let my friends read the emails you send me and they think you're hilarious." All these years later, I'm still not quite sure what to think about that.

It was a time in my life when I couldn't even remember the last time I'd laughed, let alone provoked it. But it kept happening (not here, because Janet's blog is a Serious Place where we exercise self-restraint and Stay On Topic, ahem), and I gradually came to accept and incorporate humour and it became a more conscious part of my voice.

There are occasional funny bits in my writing -- at least, I hope so -- but I don't write humour/comedy. I suspect it's one of the hardest genres to write, given that so many people fail rather spectacularly in the attempt. Don't EVER tell me those who excel at it are not SERIOUS writers. I sometimes manage a funny blog post, but an entire novel's worth of comedy? That is an exceedingly rare accomplishment.

I always fall a little bit in love (no, not in a romantic way) with people who make me laugh, even more so if they also manage to make me think. That one-two punch of intelligence and humour is irresistible.

If you can manage that in novel form, maybe you should.

As far as being "meant" to write any certain thing, as if we've been touched by the hand of fate or destiny or sheer dumb luck, I don't think that's a thing. Most writers I know feel compelled to write, to give voice to and tell the stories of the people in their head. What form/genre that takes has much to do with who we are, the life we've lived, the experiences and education we've had. Neither do I believe we're limited to just one stagnant genre that can never change.

No writing is wasted. Is it scary, trying something different? You'd better hope so. You learn from everything you attempt or finish, perhaps more so from failure than success. But you're the only one who can decide which efforts are worthwhile in the larger plan of your career.

Oh, and that friend of yours, the one who believed in you and your voice strongly enough to go behind your back and risk their own reputation with their agent by singing your praises and pushing you to grow beyond your comfort zone . . . we should all be so lucky to have friends like that. Maybe buy them a drink next time you see them.

Best of luck to you, whatever you choose to write next.

nightsmusic said...

One other thing I need to offer here...I recently found an author, JD Kirk, who writes crime thrillers. He's not The World's Best Crime Writer, but he's got a great voice and in the middle of something you are totally engrossed in, that's tense and edge of your seat, he flows right along with a line that makes you laugh out loud but never loses his momentum in the story. I read the first three books in less than two days. Four took another. I'm waiting for number five.

Find your voice. Use the 'funny' that you have. Just because you're writing a thriller or a fantasy or a murder mystery or what have you, there's not enough laughter in this world. If you can make someone laugh somewhere in the story you're writing, that's a wonderful thing.

Konnie Enos said...

The very first story I wrote was fantasy, and I read a lot of fantasy so it was a good fit. I really love that story.

BUT, I also read quite a bit of romance. For years every single story I tried was Romance, not fantasy.

Then one day a story came to me that was clearly sci-fi. Now I love sci-fi though have read considerably fewer books in this genre. I am, however, a fan of sci-fi, particularly Star Wars and Star Trek. (Yes, I don't have a problem being in both camps. They are different stories.) Anyway, a few years ago I started writing this sci-fi and I absolutely love it.

My point is, why do you have to write in only genre? Why can't you write in two, three or four vastly different ones. If you enjoy it, write it, worry about the rest of it (publishing) later.

Konnie Enos
Smile. Make the day a brighter day.
Instragram @ konnieenos

Craig F said...

Fearless, here's your link

One other thing about my writing. I have been told that everyone of them has places where readers laugh, where they cry, and in each two folk fall in love. They are still either thrillers or sci-fi.

Fearless Reider said...

Thank you, Craig F! I flunked HTML tags.

Craig F said...

I am really not that much better with HTML tags. It took me six or seven years to make a link work and I still use a crib sheet.

JulieWeathers said...

OP, you have a knack for humor. Use it to your advantage. That's one of the great appeals of Firefly.

Try as I might to be serious, my warped sense of humor comes through in my writing. I've given up and accept it's part of being me.

Some days it doesn't matter how much I dress up and look pretty, I still can't be allowed in polite company.

Carolyn Haley said...

I do not suffer the problem OP has, mainly because I come to writing from the artsy-fartsy side. In other words, I write what I want to write, when I want to write it. I write about what interests me, what feels good, and then worry later about what I'm going to do with it. The absence of external pressure on what I do with my creative time has kept things loose. I only go wing nuts when I've decided to publish and try to conform whatever-the-heck-I've-written to somebody else's standards and -- god forbid -- try to make money from it. The whole equation changes when you step outside your head and face the complexities involved with pleasing others. But if you discount that, at least at the first draft stage, then it's not too hard to figure out what you're meant to write, because you'll just do it intuitively.

RachelErin said...

Do both! Sometimes the serious things are the things we need to laugh at the most. The best sci-fi (and apparently horror, which I don't/can't read) is funny. Sometimes funny in a whimsical, goofy way, sometimes in a serious way. My book club just read The Portrait of an Artist, which is very dark, and also hysterical (because, Oscar Wilde). The juxtaposition is part of the brilliance.

Your answer is obviously both/and.

Good luck!

Panda in Chief said...

I'm a few days late to this post, Opie, but I hope you get back to see this.

I went to art school because I wanted to be a serious painter, and do absolutely nothing else. Because, when you are a Serious Painter, everything else, creatively speaking, is beneath your notice.
For more than 30 years, I have been a Serious Painter, and indeed, I still am. But 10 years ago, the economy crashed and people quit buying serious paintings for a while.

Needless to say, I was distraught. Then, an article on the panda breeding centers in China crossed my path and I knew I had had a Pandapiphaney.

That's when I started drawing and writing panda cartoons, swerved into writing and illustrating for children. Writing funny stories about pandas brings me joy. Sure, some people who thought I was just a Serious Painter raised an eyebrow or two, but when I am writing my 'toons and drawing pandas doing silly and sometimes political things, I am a happy person and can put aside at least some of the cares of the day. Add to that, the reactions of people who read my panda satire, and I know that life is not one dimensional. We can do multiple things with out creativity and the world and our lives are better for it.

So, what Janet said, was of course, right on target.
Write what makes you happy. It may turn out to be more than one thing.

Tamara Marnell said...

This post is a week old, but someone posted it on Twitter today, so here I am. At the risk of sounding like I'm splitting hairs, there is no genre one is "MEANT to write" because all genres are artificial. They exist for the sake of sales only.

Plenty of SF and horror books have humor in them and do very well. Plenty of humorous books have dark elements and also do very well. You don't have to contort yourself into a rigid shape to fit into a man-made hole.

I know you feel like you have to contort yourself to get "the break you need" in the publishing industry, but imagine what will happen if you commit to writing in a genre that doesn't give you joy, only because one agent convinced you that genre your "true calling." Publishing a book isn't a quick and painless process. Imagine dedicating the next five years of your life to drafting, endlessly revising, and marketing marketing marketing a humor book. If your gut tells you you're okay with that, go for it. If your gut tells you, "Nooo, I can't give up my horror stories for that long!" then thank the agent for her input and move on.