Uncle Jesse Says: “Don’t Sell Out!”

I grew up watching Full House so I try to find lessons or morals in everything I do. Nothing was better than when Uncle Jesse sat Michelle down on his knee and the cheesy “She’s learning a lesson” music would kick in and you’d know that Michelle Tanner (and, of course, the audience) was about to have the mysteries of life unlocked by a guy with a mullet. I especially try to find lessons in my writing life as often as possible even if I don’t get to sit on anyone’s knee (unless it’s a really, really good day..wink, wink…yes, creepy).

Last month I started writing a new novel because I thought it was a really, really marketable idea. I thought if I wrote the book there would be a pretty good chance I could land an agent or sell it to a publisher. The book is a realistic YA novel (so hot right now…) about a group of teenagers who go on hunger strike at their high school to protest the school’s new strict nutritional guidelines. The book has a couple things going for it right away. It’s a genre that’s selling right now. It deals with a hot button issue that teenagers are dealing with all over the country. There was a strong, female protagonist (girl-centered books make up something ridiculous like 80% of the YA market). Considering most of my other works are strange hybrid novels that are both humorous and heart-shatteringly depressing that don’t fit neatly into any genre, this was something different for me. This was something I could sell and publish.

So good deal, right?

I started writing it (adhering to the “The first draft is gonna be shit” rule, of course) and I made it through Part I…and I hated it. It took me forever to get through the first third of the book because I had to force myself to write it…and often I lost the battle. The characters were fine. I came up with an interesting way to structure the novel with every chapter starting with a online journal entry by a different character. The plot was coming together. EVERYTHING was coming together…and none of that mattered because I had absolutely no passion for the project. Everything was so damn ORDINARY. It was painful. The characters were realistic, whiny teenagers with ordinary problems to whine about and that’s fine for some writers, but that’s not really me. I kept wanting to have a mutant pixie/chinchilla hybrid burst through the wall and start farting fireballs out of its left armpit. That’s more me. Then I realized the only reason I was writing the novel was because I thought I could sell it.

So I scrapped it and started writing another novel I’ve been outlining in my head for ten years now. It’s a post-apocalyptic/dystopian novel about the teenage survivors of World War III who are so sick of guns and technology that they go back to living in primitive tribes and raging warfare against one another using sharpened sticks and rocks for the right to rebuild society. I am LOVING it. I’m having a blast writing it and I look forward to sitting in front of my computer everyday. Will I sell it? Absolutely fucking not. The post-apocalyptic/dystopian market is completely over-saturated and it’s a YA boy book filled with violence and harsh language…all unmarketable traits for books in today’s marketplace.

And I don’t care. And that’s the lesson. I’d rather write something I’m passionate about than write something because I think I can sell it.  I don’t make my living from writing so why sell out for the sake of getting published? I’m not James Patterson. When I do finally publish a book, I want it to be something I can be proud of, something I’m as passionate about as the readers I hope to attract. Will I return someday to my hunger strike novel? Probably. But right now I’m just having fun writing and isn’t that the point?

You’ve taught me well, Uncle Jesse.



~ by themoderntranscendentalist on September 30, 2014.

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