Why Writing the Next Bestseller Should Be Your Lowest Priority

Let It GoI’ve run into a particular type of writer’s block with many of my clients that I call “reader anticipation.” It means that the writer is so focused on anticipating what the reader wants, or how they will react, that they freeze up during the creative process and can’t move forward.

One of the strongest triggers for writers seems to be reading a book that we fall in love with. After reading something phenomenal by William Faulkner, Stephen King, or Elizabeth Gilbert we’re consumed with admiration and wish we could write something just that perfect, and just that successful.

Usually, this book we fall in love with has mass appeal for some reason. It’s been a classic through the ages. Or it’s been on the bestseller list for the past 24 months. Whatever it’s done, that book has gotten a huge number of people to read it, and that’s exactly the thing we want for our own book.

With a wildly successful book though, it’s helpful to remember that the media (and the author’s PR team) only give us one side of the story. We get the rave reviews and hear from all the people who loved it. Much less attention is drawn to those who didn’t.

This is all completely normal. The writing and selling of books is a business after all, and the games and rules of the business world apply. But the truth is that there is no book out there that everyone loves, or even that most people feel the same way about.

Every book is a creative manifestation of the writer’s essence and personality. And just like with everything else, when people are confronted with who you are, they are bound to bring their own baggage to whatever perspective they form on you.

We are all containers for other people to pour their stuff into, and we are all mirrors in which other people will search for their own reflection.

It is the same with the books we write. When people read your book they will pour all of their own ideas about what the world is, and how it should be, into the story. Even the most open-minded reader will accept and/or reject your words based on their own opinions.

This is one of the reasons why writing is so scary. Because, ultimately, you cannot control the reaction of every reader. Some people will love your stuff and want more, and some people will hate it and feel they wasted their time. That’s just the way it is and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.

What we can control is our own reaction. We can choose to focus our energy on trying to please everyone, and trying to write the next Hunger Games, and end up mentally scattered and disconnected from our own true voice. Or, we can choose to write purely as ourselves and connect more deeply to our creative essence.

The choice is up to you. What’s it going to be?

If you liked this post you might want to check out:

7 Best Writing Guides Ever

Why You Deserve a Better Audience

How to Hunt Your Writing Voice

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  • Reply Catherine North 30 July, 2014 at 10:09 am

    This is brilliant, Lauren, and just what I need to hear.

    I regularly go through this dilemma.

    Most of my writing (as you know) is about people who are sensitive, vulnerable, anxious and have trouble accepting themselves. Sometimes I read articles about ‘how to write strong characters’ or ‘what agents look for’ and a little voice whispers that my writing might have more commercial appeal if I made my main characters tough and independent and feisty instead.

    But what your post reminds me is that by stopping writing about my characters the way they are, I’m denying them a voice. I’m telling them, you’re not acceptable, people like you don’t deserve to be in a story. And then I’m cheating not only myself but the potential readers who’d identify with them and feel compassion. Which won’t be everyone, of course, but as you say, that’s impossible because we all bring our own perspective to everything we read.

    Thank you for reminding me again. 🙂

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 30 July, 2014 at 11:16 am

      You are so very welcome Catherine. As someone who has had the privilege of reading your work, I wouldn’t change one thing about your characters. In fact, I connected so strongly with your main character because so much of his experience in the world is similar to mine.

      • Reply Catherine North 31 July, 2014 at 12:51 am

        Thank you, and that connection helped me believe in my work.

        I think all of this applies to life in general as well as writing!

        • Reply Justin Meckes 4 August, 2014 at 7:35 am

          Your characters sound interesting to me, Catherine. But I think there should be a balance in the business of writing. I just sat on a forum with a publisher who said query letters need to include a target demographic and this was a small house!

          Art and the ability to sell art don’t have to go hand-in-hand, but why not change up your writing and see what happens? On the other hand, sticking with your personal style could pay off in the long run.

          Good luck and thanks for the article, Lauren.

  • Reply Melissa McPhail 1 August, 2014 at 6:32 am

    You make a great point on this, Lauren. When when you’re true to yourself in your writing, you don’t just connect to your own essence, but also you connect more deeply to your readers. They’re reading your work to hear your written voice, not Hemingway’s.

    Writing with integrity is ultimately the most rewarding path, even if it doesn’t reap immediate financial return. Thanks for a great post.

  • Reply hilarycustancegreen 1 August, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    Such good advice. I ask too many people to comment on a text and then get cross-eyed trying to please them all or correct what one person didn’t like, only to find that for another it was the best passage.

  • Reply MJ Bush 2 August, 2014 at 10:51 am

    There’s actually a term for how others will project their worldviews onto a work. It’s called “the death of the author.” And it’s true… we have to give up the idea that the work is intimately tied to our own worldview. We are not a part of the work once it goes out into the world. It might be a part of us, but we are not a part of it.

    I love how you tie that into the need to just write rather than letting the desire to “get it right” dam up your words. 🙂

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