No one needs another Titanic book.
That’s what kept going through my head as I started work on what would become ON A COLD DARK SEA. Everyone’s seen the movie; the tragedy has long since been over-exploited. But I had this idea I couldn’t let go of, one of those all-too-rare inspirational moments when I saw exactly how the story should go. So I went with my gut and wrote the book I wanted to write.
And luckily, it turns out there are still people who want to read about a ship that sunk more than a century ago.
Remember that hackneyed advice to write what you know? What you’ll hear from actual working writers is to write what you love. After all, you’ll be living with that topic/setting/character for years–you’d better start off super-excited about it, or there’s no way you’ll be motivated to keep going.
Sounds great, right? But let’s get real. Just because you want to write about something, doesn’t mean anyone else will be interested.
Writers face this dilemma all the time. Follow our hearts and hope an audience follows? Or try to adapt our passion projects into the kinds of books that actually sell? A few literary A-listers can write whatever they want and get awards; other prolific authors churn out series that are target-marketed to very specific readers. Most novelists I know fall somewhere in between, but you definitely have to start with a strong reason for telling that particular story.
The problem is what comes next.
For years, I’ve been fascinated by a certain Big Historical Event. (Sorry, I’m not telling which one.) “Write what you love!” friends urged, so last year, I finally took the plunge and started brainstorming ideas for a book. But this time, no perfect storyline magically presented itself. I struggled and restarted and struggled some more. After many false starts and lots of stomach-churning, I finally figured out that it wasn’t enough to just write about The Event and assume everyone else would be as interested as I was.
So here’s the advice I’ll now be giving to aspiring writers:
Write what you love in a way that makes readers fall in love, too.
Think of your book as a new boyfriend you’re bringing home to meet the family: He’s so great! So smart! You’re going to love spending time with him! A good writer can make any topic interesting–through distinctive characters and dialogue, elements of suspense, and other literary tricks. I’m now reworking the storyline so that readers will hopefully understand why I’m so interested in The Event. (And no, I’m still not ready to share which event is it. Trust me, you’ve heard of it.) Who knows if I’ll pull it off? Stay tuned….