I read a lot of author interviews. I think that as a fledgling writer (at least that’s what I am if I’m considered from a published fiction standpoint), I like to read the “how I did it” stories offered by authors these days. There are as many routes to publication and potential success as there are genres in which to write. And that is heartening.
Yesterday I wasn’t wildly busy at my day job and found myself reading an interview with R.L. Stine, the ridiculously successful author of the Goosebumps series, among other things. The writer of the article estimates that Stine has written “between 300-400 books” — can you imagine having written so many books that the estimate spans one hundred?
Beyond Stine’s prolific backlog, which he attributes mostly to his work ethic, I was most impressed by this statement:
“Well, I hate it when authors come into a school and they say to kids, ‘Write from your heart, write from your heart, only write what you know, and write from your heart.’ I hate that because it’s useless. I’ve written over 300 books—not one was written from my heart. Not one. They were all written for an audience, they were all written to entertain a certain audience.”
The problem with such advice, Stine says, is that if you tell people to write from their hearts and to write only something they know, they get blocked totally. Instead, he says, it’s all about the imagination. (Hey, it worked for him.)
This makes so much sense to me. I’ve told my husband — since the day that I decided to “write for real” — that I thought I would write in two ways. My initial goal would be to write something that had a shot of being commercially successful. I’ve worked in marketing my whole life; I know how to segment an audience. I’ve conducted informal focus groups, studied the competitors, evaluated demographics. I have a decent shot of finding a responsive audience based on the research I’ve done into my target demographic. But approaching writing like I approach business saps some of the wind from my over-romantic sails, I’ll admit. So the second objective is to write something else. The thing. The big book. The one I’ve been thinking about for years.
And it’s nice to hear someone as successful as Stine admit that it’s not pure luck. He uses a formula (as, I would argue, do all authors who turn out book after book, all aimed at the same audience). Though I’m well short of finding any success (as measured by, um, money), I’d guess that my greatest potential failing is lack of dedication to one genre. I’m dabbling right now. There is a smart part of me that is pushing me to focus. Find success in one area, it argues, before you try to spread to others. Wise advice, inner self. But I think I’m coming to realize that I’m not quite there yet. I’m still forming my opinions about where I’m going to find that focus, and so I’m writing lots of different kinds of things right now. And I can feel the end of that process approaching.
I think, despite my belief that R.L. Stine is correct and that writing for commercial success is a business proposition more than an artistic one, the artist in me is pushing to have some say in the decision. And maybe that push and pull is what makes writing such a complex effort. I’m willing to let both sides have a say.