Write My Passion or Write What Sells?

Cynthia Ruchti

Blogger: Cynthia Ruchti

Should I write what sells or should I–can I, please–write my passion?

 

It’s a question many writers ask. They may have been told that their creative passion–what they’re most excited about writing–is something readers aren’t excited to read. Or publishers aren’t interested in contracting.writing passion

 

Writers are told their seventeen-book series is unsellable, despite the success of the Left Behind series.

They’re cautioned that their favorite genre is waning, gasping, spiraling down.

They’re warned that their passion–short novels–can’t be meaty or that epic novels have no space on bookstore shelves.

They’re told characters like the one they’ve created are unlovable, that the plot they love is overdone, that no author gets away with setting a book in that location or can write about that topic without losing their career, friends, mind, or passport.passion passport

 

The eighty-year-old author is told he’ll never sell his Marriage Magic for Millenials…because of the word magic. The twenty-year-old prodigy is told she should focus on writing speculative fiction, not parsing the works of medieval mystics.

 

 

The passionate poet is told outlets for published poetry are scarcer than rhyming words for orangepoetry passion

 

Writers struggle to know the difference between caving and compromise. Can compromise serve a writer’s goals, as it serves the health of a marriage?

What’s a writer to do?

Write your passion.

Study the market.

See where they intersect.

passion intersection

The intersection of what you love to write and what readers love to read is your sweet spot.

 

Studying the market, listening to the wise counsel of trusted industry experts (your agent, for instance), and tuning in to the frequency through which God speaks will help you discover that intersection, a writer’s True North.

What writing disciplines have helped you discover the intersection of what you long to write and what’s selling? Have you considered how you can compromise without caving on your personal creativity?

33 Responses

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  1. My passion: to live, and teach others to live, in conversation with God. I can compromise on word counts, format, quotes, subheadings, phrasing–as long as it all serves the conversation with God (mine and the reader’s}. Ask me to write God out of the conversation, and I’m out.

  2. Awhile back a dude said something like this: “He who loseth his life for My sake shall find it.”
    * If He didn’t endure His Passion for you, who would? And if you don’t write your passion for Him, who will?

  3. I have a bouquet of epic YA novels that I’m quite passionate about. Two of them (yes, they used to be one and then I made them two and now I’m trying to make them one again … ahhhhhh!) I’ve been working on since 2003, before my 14 year old son was born. I work on them every year and I pitch them when I go to conferences. They have not sold. But my rejections are becoming very complimentary and yeah, they’ve improved by leaps and bounds. But I have found a home with a small publisher for some funny Christian romances. Never thought I’d write romances, but I found out something important. You can put mystery into a romance. You can add punching and falling off of high things and slapstick humor and large dogs dragging people through fountains in foreign locals. You can have escaped pet wolves and unfortunate taxidermy and bomb-wielding villains who appreciate fine art but will also stoop to hiding an exploding device inside a stuffed cat. Just because my heroine is falling in love, does not mean that she can’t also be battling escaped wolves and a TV producer who insists that she shave her head during a Siberian winter, for historical accuracy of course. So, yeah. I like to think that I found things that I love to write about that can also be romantic … ish.

  4. If I do not write about that which impassions me, my writing is flat. Even I do not enjoy reading it, and I WROTE it. I am compelled to follow my passion. To thine own self be true?? If that passion intersects with a reading audience, great! If not, well, that’s a bummer, but I will write anyway. For me, the issue is not subject matter or style. It is the challenge of getting the material before the eyes of a reader so it even has a chance at acceptance or rejection.

  5. Carol Ashby says:

    I’m writing my passion, and it’s working much better than I expected. I’m not exactly in a hot subgenre. I write novels of spiritual transformation set at the height of the Roman Empire, where a romantic subplot is interwoven with assassination attempts by the hero’s own brother, a son’s betrayal that puts his father in the arena with the lions, and the total up-ending of the life of a fast-tracking Roman who thought he would help rule the Empire until he almost gets killed and a Christian, whom he’s supposed to be purging from the province, saves him. And those are only the ones that are out or will be by the end of this month.
    *Not exactly what you’d expect on the shelves at Walmart (my original writing goal), but they sell overseas and reviews tell me at last some readers love their message of forgiveness and salvation. Sharing the Gospel is my passion, so as long as the story lines keep coming (3 more are already in the works), I’ll keep writing them.

  6. Well, this is food for thought. Your point is well-taken. Most of my writing is in the spiritual venue. I can’t help but be passionate about the subject. However, my overall objective is to teach and to open up a dialogue in the reader’s head, like a two-way discussion with me as they consider my thesis and the outworking of an ever-deepening, in-tune, spiritual relationship with God. The objective supports the passion or maybe it’s the other way around! The intersection of passion with what’s trending affects my presentation but not its purpose. I find myself re-writing to accommodate some of the subtleties of the field but without sabotaging their message. Thanks for addressing the reality. I can struggle with this.

  7. Cynthia, this question always makes me pause. With the help of a mentor, I am learning to write my passion, but also to see how to incorporate what I’m passionate about into what I hope will one day sell. If that makes sense.
    *At ACFW, I talked with my mentor about resurrecting a story idea based on what I’d heard editors say they were looking for. My mentor suggested a twist on the story idea that would probably fit better with the what’s selling.
    *It’s really helpful to be able to talk through story ideas with those who are ahead of me on the journey. Because they can help me see how to incorporate my passion with what’s selling, if that makes sense.

  8. David Todd says:

    I describe my choices for what to write next as like the flow of water: always seeking the path of least resistance. I think that’s somewhat akin to inspiration. Whatever flows best from brain to pixels is what I write. I don’t particularly feel called to write for Christians, but rather for the non-Christian world. So I write secular books underpinned by a subtle Christian worldview. At least that’s the goal. I have a couple of overtly Christian novels out, and one more in progress. That just happens to be the path of least resistance at the moment. A workplace humor novella will likely follow that. Then, who knows?
    .
    So I guess the answer to your question on whether I write my passion or to the market is: Neither. Rather, I write where inspiration at the moment takes me.

  9. Cynthia Ruchti says:

    An interesting twist to consider: If I DON’T write what sells, will I be what’s standing in the way of the story/book/essay reaching its intended audience? A challenge I like to address is how to write what sells while maintaining my passion for excellence and hope. How about you?

    • Ada Brownell says:

      I’ve been noticing recently that fewer American’s aren’t much interested in reality. They aren’t that excited about the natural beauty of creation, so instead pay huge amounts of money to go to Disney to float on man-made rivers, streams, and look at Disney-made volcanos, even animals. They’ll go to a movie or read a book about fantasy, and characters that don’t exist in real life or come from hell like witches, wizards, etc.., instead of going to church or reading the Bible about a biblical hero or a book about historical Christian heroes that really lived. To me even the famous religious fantasies have a message that I have to look for to understand the spiritual impact. But many people would rather have the counterfeit, so they sell. Fantasy is what sells today, not to mention obscenity.

      • Cynthia Ruchti says:

        And you may be talking about two different markets, too, Ada. Fantasy sells in the CBA (Christian market), but not nearly as well as other genres, including the genres that promote family, faith, home… In the general market (ABA), it’s true that obscenity and fantasy are a draw for many, and that virtual experiences are preferred to the feel of new grass underfoot or the mist of a real waterfall against one’s skin. It is a convoluted world. Our hats are off to those who find a way to reach the heart with truth, no matter the genre.

  10. I guess my passion is helping people with Special Needs. Even though I don’t plan it, characters with Special Needs keep showing up in my fiction for kids even though I hadn’t planned that to happen.

  11. Jaxon M King says:

    Great analogy to marriage. And I would go as far to say “The intersection of who you want to be and who your spouse wants you to be is your sweet spot.” I have found that to be true for me anyway.

    And your question reminds me of what I am currently going through. When writing my novel, it was my first, and I thought “I’m not going to do any research on writing techniques because I don’t want anything or anyone to cloud who I am as a writer.” I wanted to remain pure to who I am. While I do want to remain true to who I am, I have recently discovered that I had sold myself short in my ignorance. Once I began researching writing techniques and current industry standards, I found I had had a lot of misconceptions of what is considered “good writing.” I was able to find so many good ideas, and I realized I was able to incorporate them into my writing, without compromising who I am as a writer. Just had to make some adjustments to what I had already been doing. And I can truly feel the work getting better, as I have been inspired to do a rewrite.

  12. I am not experienced enough with this to give an answer, but I do know I have what is referred to as emotional intelligence and it allows me to connect with people in very meaningful ways. I truly love people, and that passion helps me to write in ways to reach them. It also happens in my speaking. My Father knows that and I trust Him both in practical matters, direction and to help me reach the readers He’s called me to in whatever form. I can write what is called for to provide for the needs of my family and others, buy I will always take the time to write with passion the things God has placed in my heart, mind and life. It is like pouring myself out on the pages for those who long to experience freedom and healing from the hard things of life. I will always have this passion for humanity, and those who died with passion in His heart for me.

    • Correction. I will always have passion for humanity, especially those broken, crushed and rejected because of the One who died, and sacrificed Himself with a heart and life filled with passion for me His ready writer.

  13. I have found that when someone is passionate about something – a cause, a concept, or even a particular verse of Scripture that grabs hold of them – they see it everywhere so there will be many intersections.

    In some cases too many intersections, so it is wise to seek where it truly connects and where you might see it but to others it feels ‘forced.’ This isn’t that hard, however, since when it does fit you share it and others get excited as well.

    Very excited about 2018 as some life changes are coming which, while sad, will free up time for ministry, including writing and speaking. My son leaves for college in the fall, and after seeing God open doors about 6 years ago to more speaking, He provided 2 full weekend retreats in a 4 or 5 week span then asked if I really wanted to miss that many weekends from my family at that stage of life.

    • There is wisdom in this, we must also be careful that if God is directly us, God still directs and we are listening, that we not be cowards if He asks us to write about something that others feel is “forced” upon them. I’m sure, in fact Acts makes it apparent, that Paul encountered other sections and groups, as well as individuals that did not like what he was speaking much less what he was writing in letters to the church, and there were those who hated Luther’s thesis he tacked up on the cathedral door, as well as many who probably hated, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” People feel forced when they listen to opposing political parties. What we must determine is is what we are passionate about something that God is passionate about, or that it would better the lives around us or is it just a personal agenda we are trying to “force” others to see and surrender to. Or is it that we are passionate about the people we are reaching, and the subject matter, and in that passionate we “invite” them to listen, “invite” them to embrace a matter or what have you. They have a choice to put the book down, turn off the radio, or go elsewhere. Jesus was the prime example of passion and everywhere he looked he saw the need for humanity to have a Savior. He said his cross would save some and offend others. Yes, we must be wise, but we must also courageous, willing for others to decide for themselves no matter if they write “forced” or “freedom” over us.

  14. This is such good advice. I wrote the three points down on an index card. Thank you!