--By Kirsten Weiss
I struggle with my weight.
The issue is largely psychological. But over the last year I've been able to wean myself off junk food in favor of quality, "real" food. I didn't realize how much better that made me feel--how much more fulfilled--until I went on a road trip and went a little crazy with gas-station junk food.
It left me feeling awful, both mentally and physically.
I haven't been as fulfilled the last few years with my reading either. There's a lot of junk out on the virtual shelves. It's not bad writing. I've rarely encountered that, thankfully.
But I realize that like the music industry, where everything now seems to sound the same, the writing industry has also fallen prey to a certain bland sameness. So many books I read are indistinguishable from other books I've read.
I blame the corporatism of the publishing industry.
That's even true in the Indie sphere, which seems counterintuitive. After all, we're indies, not corporations. We're independent.
But when I attend writing conferences, the reigning discussion is how to "write to market," which is unsettlingly close to how to write like everyone else to succeed. So when I say something's been "corporatized," I'm referring to the bean-counter mentality of riding a trend into the ground instead of creating something original.
Following the money-making trend seems safer than risking an original work... Until the trend ends, and you're losing millions on super hero movies people are sick of.
And now with more and more authors using AI to write their books, I fear things are going to converge in even less creative directions.
But there is something to writing to market, to following the trends. I know many financially successful authors--good writers--who use this strategy. But it's not fulfilling. Not to me as a reader of those works and certainly not as a writer.
I think the reason this is bothering me so much is because I'm guilty of this corporatization to some extent. My cozy mystery novels hit the classic cozy tropes and themes. Small town amateur detective? Check. Quirky characters? Check. Whimisical pets? Check, check.
I try to make my stories original, and I try to say something real about human emotions and challenges, about hope vs nihilism, about love vs. selfishness. But for the most part, I've colored inside the traditional cozy mystery lines.
But recently, a writer I follow online said something that resonated with me. Since I can't find his exact quote, I'll paraphrase:
If you're a midlist author, chances are you'll always be a midlist author. So you may as well write what you want instead of following the herd.
As a midlist author myself (someone who isn't hitting the NYT bestseller lists but who's making a living at writing) this hit hard. And I think this writer is right. Why not take more writing risks?
I want to worry less about the "rules" of what sells and more about the craft of writing. My Mystery School series, which is going to be structured in a more experimental fashion, is an attempt at taking things in a more creative direction. (It even has its own UnTarot deck and app, the beta version which remains frustratingly buggy).
I'll keep writing my Tea and Tarot series and other more traditional cozy mysteries because they're fun, and because I enjoy writing comedy. But from now on, when I go to writing conferences, I plan to avoid the mystery-writing break-out groups and hear what the sci-fi and horror authors have to say. Not because I want to write sci-fi or horror, but because I think creativity and fulfillment comes from behaving in a more artistic and less "corporate" mentality. And that means generating creative sparks, rather than just glomming onto existing ones. It means coloring outside the lines.
I'm not sure if I'm going to hit "publish" on this post. I don't want it to sound like a manifesto, and I'm not sure what I'm aiming to accomplish. I guess I'm just saying, if you want something that's still genre fiction but is a little different, I might be your gal.
I'm at a writer's conference right now and hope to learn some good stuff (like how to sell my books directly off my website and improve my prose). But instead of trying to implement everything I've learned and be like everyone else, I've decided next year is the year I play things my way.
I'm going off track. I may still end up in a proverbial lake, but at least I'll be on a writing path that's creatively fulfilling--hopefully for me and for readers.