Please note that this series is written in fun. If you don’t like hints of sarcasm and hyperbole don’t read this series. If you find the title offensive, don’t read this series. However, if you understand that this is a great time to be a writer of fiction and feel like a lone happy person in a tsunami of fear, read on.
Two words I despise, especially in publishing, are ‘Everybody’ and ‘Nobody’.
Everybody is on Facebook.
Everybody has an iPhone (ipod, iPad etc…)
Everybody drives a car.
Nobody knows about eating a banana wrapped in rice.
Nobody knows what a dumpling is.
Nobody listens to (watches, reads, enjoys) that anymore.
Crazy Lesson #6
Artists believe in breaking rules, Writers believe in keeping rules.
Most artists don’t paint by numbers or worry about staying in the lines. They don’t mind focusing on a niche audience, if a larger group doesn’t understand what they’re doing that’s not their problem. They don’t explain themselves; they create to their own standards. Writers on the other hand are constantly looking for validation from the largest audience possible and they will twist their creative muse into a pretzel (kill it if necessary) to get to that supposed elevated place. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that authors who reach a large audience have ‘sold out’ far from it. There are master storytellers who can enchant millions. Good for them. Just like there are artists who do the same. That’s great. However, I think of the quote by Henry Van Dyke:
“Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.”
As a writer you may not reach millions, or hundreds of thousands, but that doesn’t mean your art has no value. And who knows, as your craft grows, your productivity grows your audience may grow too. But even if it doesn’t, the joy you bring to the few is just as important as to the many. Artists understand this. Many writers don’t.
Personally, I really hate writing for Everybody—this bastard always gets in the way of telling a good story. I decided to indie publish before the present boom because I wanted to write for Somebody. Somebody may not be as well known as Everybody, but she’s always been interesting to me.
Sometimes she shops at a discount or thrift store. Sometimes she speaks a different language or dialect. I certainly prefer her to Nobody. To me, Nobody is boring, stupid and fearful.
It’s not all the writer’s fault that they believe in catering to Everybody and try to avoid Nobody. We’ve been brainwashed into believing that creating blockbusters is all that matters and serving the masses is paramount. We have been told that the masses (i.e. Everybody) like things simple, watered down and easily digestible. Because publishing is an industry about the bottom line all that matters is creating products (not art) that reaches as many people as fast as possible.
Which is fine if you’re a factory worker, not an artist. Especially, not if you’re a content creator. It’s dangerous for a writer to sweep a group of individuals with one brush and put them into stereotypical cages. It kills their individuality. Not all gays are liberals. Not everyone in the South is one step away from being a redneck or likes country music. Not all Asians are brilliant mathematicians (a friend of mine failed trigonometry with spectacular results). Not every Black person has great rhythm (trust me!).
While growing up, I didn’t realize how useful it was going to be to be an ‘outsider’ (i.e. the child of immigrants: In school instead of “The Star Spangled Banner” I knew the lyrics to “God Save the Queen.”) until I stepped out as a storyteller. New York and Los Angeles kept telling me that my stories weren’t real. Nobody talks like that. Nobody acts like that. Everybody does this (fill in the blank). But I knew they were wrong because Nobody and Everybody kept ignoring Somebody—me!
How to Regain Your Sanity
“Listen carefully to first criticisms of your work. Note just what it is about your work that critics don’t like—then cultivate it. That’s the part of your work that’s individual and worth keeping.” Jean Cocteau
Protect your stories. Forget about trying to reach Everybody and avoiding Nobody. Unless you’re a teenager (Everybody’s going to be at the dance! Nobody would wear something like that!) that kind of thinking is nonsense and juvenile. As humans we’re a varied and unique group. Remember that lousy clothing label ‘one size fits all’? Thankfully most manufactures got a clue and replaced it with ‘one size fits most’.
Get your freak on. Your audience is waiting for your stories. They can’t find you until you reveal yourself. It doesn’t help them if you sound like Everybody else.
Beware ‘good intentions’. Someone (who thinks they’re doing you a favor) is going to suggest you try to follow the latest trend. They will suggest you dummy down a plot line so you don’t alienate readers or they will suggest you rewrite yourself until your voice is ‘more marketable’ (i.e. an easy sell). Unless you adamantly agree (and I mean you don’t have an ounce of hesitation) then fine. But if you want your character to have a wife, a mistress and a girlfriend then go for it. If your main character likes to shave her head and secretly loves a monk who owns a pet lizard, go for it. Everybody is not going to like it, but your audience will. Remember, you’re not writing for Everybody. Author Kristine Kathryn Rusch addresses the audience issue in her post The Business Rusch: Audience
Understand why. Why do you want to tell stories? Why do you want to write? Only you know the answer. If it’s just for fame and fortune, then what I’m saying won’t mean anything to you. But if you want to add your unique voice to a fascinating conversation, or start one of your own then do so.
Why do I write? Aside from the fact that I can’t help myself I want Somebody to know that they’re not alone. I want my stories to show that we’re all connected even if we live different lives. Sometimes vastly different lives and I’m here to say that’s okay. Unique is beautiful. I know that Everybody doesn’t agree, but I’m not writing for him.
In a wonderful post Writer vs. The World author Tracy Hickman states “It’s a big world out there–but you don’t need the whole world to succeed as a writer.”
Remember your job as a writer isn’t to write about or for Everybody or worry about Nobody. You’re to write about Somebody. Because Somebody matters. Everybody may not like what you’ve written, but Somebody will.
Just to give you a real life example I recently published a book some people told me Nobody would read. Well Somebody is buying the book and paying me quite well…
© 2012 Dara Girard