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By Carolyn Howard Johnson    Follow Us on FaceBook

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Your Mama Told You To Write Thank Yous
Never Ignore Your Dream

 

Never Ignore Your Dream

I once read an article/editorial from Jeff Rivers, an expert in writing query letters in the late, great Dan Poynter’s newsletter. It was titled “What I Learned from Janet Evanovich: Write for your Audience.” It is hard to argue with experts like Jeff and Janet. But I do disagree-or at least mostly disagree, especially when it comes to creative writing.

Certainly authors like Evanovich and James Patterson have done very well for themselves and for their readers by “Writing for Your Audience.” And maybe they followed their hearts and gathered their audience along the way. When that’s the case, it is a risk to take a path going in a different direction from the one an audience expects. John Grisham did that with A Painted House and his courtroom drama readers weren’t much taken with it.

I was, though. Very taken.

I became a stronger fan of his work. And it’s my theory that Painted House was the novel that had been lying inside his little writers’ soul all the time. That it brought him pleasure to write it. Maybe that it kept his writing passion alive. Maybe that brought more readers into his circle of avid fans.

So, maybe sticking to your audience’s tastes too long is also a risk. Or maybe starting out with a project designed only to please others and not your creative self would doom you to be a short-lived author. Maybe an author needs to occasionally open new door and let the beam of passion light the work they are doing.

I do a bit of acting and learned that new actors should learn to give to the director not what they think he or she wants, but to give of themselves—to give what they feel is best to give. But life has thrown me mixed messages. When I was a retailer, I certainly learned that one couldn’t “buy for oneself” when it came to selecting merchandise for my store. When I did, I very often brought whatever I bought home because my customers wouldn’t buy it.

But back to writing!

That same balanced note is a good one for writers to follow, too. They must keep their audience in mind. As an example, they must trust their audience to be readers. They, after all, have been reading their whole lives. So we authors don’t want to insult them. And certainly authors should do the research necessary to avoid writing the same book someone else has written.

Still, there is another side of the coin and here it is:

When you write for yourself, your audience will follow. Do not mistake this for advice that writers go off willy-nilly with no training in craft, no awareness of rules (which we may then choose to break). But we must love what we do to be successful. Find your voice and your passion. Keep at it. Keep learning more about both writing and the publishing industry as a whole. Market your work. Do all that and an audience will find you. Your audience will find you.

You can do that once and you can do it all over again if you don’t mind risk. Risk of getting less income than you’re used to getting with whatever you wrote when you garnered that first audience. Risk of teeing off some of your original authors who came to you with preconceived expectations.

I’m an eternal optimist. I believe we can balance the two philosophies. But I also see some real danger for the author (or beginning writer who still feels uncomfortable calling herself an “author”) who denies his or her dream and considers only what she figures someone else wants of him.


Tips and Tidbits

(Each month in this box, Carolyn lists a Tidbit that will help authors write or promote better. She will also include a Tip to help readers find a treasure among long-neglected books or a sapphire among the newly-published.)

Writers' Tidbit: Everyone is a writer these days. They write on social networks. They blog. They may even write books. My multi award-winning The Frugal Editor will help them with all the grammar and formatting that their English teacher never taught them. Or all the things that have changed since their English teacher gave them an A. The Frugal Editor is now in its second edition in paper or as an e-book. It’s been reformatted, updated, and expanded.

Tidbit for Readers:My newest book is a full book of poetry. Jim Cox, Editor-in-Chief of Wisconsin Bookwatch says, “[Carolyn Howard-Johnson is] an exceptionally skilled wordsmith, her poetry will linger in the mind and memory long after the book itself has been finished and set back upon the shelf. Very highly recommended for community and academic library Contemporary American Poetry collections . . .” Find Imperfect Echoes at amazon.com

2011 Noble list Please nominate a book that fits within the parameters listed in this year's Noble Back to Literature column. Explain in 25 word or less why your nomination is a work of literary merit and sent directly to me. Nominations must be signed with your real name, e-mail address and a URL if you have one. Email

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Carolyn Howard Johnson

Carolyn Howard-Johnson is a multi award-winning novelist, poet and author of the HowToDoItFrugally series of how-to books. She occasionally teaches classes for the renowned UCLA Extension Writers' Program.

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