Write What You Read: Making Your NaNo a Joy to Write (and Read)

Everything is cyclical. Trends come into favor for a time before fading into obscurity, oblivion, or (for the lucky few), dormancy until that magical time when they are not yet so far removed from our consciousness to be completely forgotten, but far enough removed to be romanticized and gazed at lovingly through the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia. But for the brief period when the fascination du jour is at its peak, everyone wants to cash in on it.

And that’s understandable. We work our asses off at what we do, and when we see other people getting publishing deals because they happen to be writing in a hot niche market or a trendy genre, we start to think, huh, I could do that. That’s where the market is. That’s where the money is.

I felt that way at the height of the Twilight obsession. I was a first year high school teacher, and in a fast grab to connect with my kids, I decided to read this book that all of them — even the most reluctant readers among them — were suddenly swooning over. My honest first thought was just, seriously? This is the biggest literary hit in the country right now? But despite my basically instant derision, my second thought was, I can write this. Hell, I can write better than this. I’ll show you, Stephanie Meyers!

That determination lasted all of about a week. I did the best I could to drag myself through a draft of even the first chapter, but after the first five or six days, I realized — I really could not possibly have cared less about 1.) vampire fiction, or 2.) romance. Neither of them were genres I read in, I wasn’t familiar or comfortable with the trope and the archetypes, and honestly, I just. Didn’t. Caaaaaare.

In the mad desire to one up the flavor-of-the-week, or to jump on the literary bandwagon, I completely lost sight of the fact that I would not sit down at my laptop one day and open Word to find a freshly polished manuscript waiting for my to submit it to a publisher of my choice. I still had to write the damn thing, and I just could not bring myself to care, because it wasn’t something I would even read in the first place.
And that’s the best piece of advice I was perhaps not given, but that I stumbled upon — everyone tells you, “write what you know,” but what you hear slightly less often (though which I would argue is infinitely more important) is: write what you would read.

What you know is an amorphous concept, and honestly, can be worked around. Research is essential to most good writing, and thank Jesus, we live in the age of Google — anyone with time, good research skills and the willingness to risk their loved one stumbling upon a frankly alarming search history can fake expertise in basically anything. Writing about a life experience you haven’t personally shared? Different kind of research, a good understanding on your own inner workings, and a functional capacity for empathy. If you are invested and interested, you can get through it and make it work.

But if you just don’t care? If you are writing about a theme/premise/genre/cast of characters that you don’t feel, that you don’t find interesting, that you don’t give two damns about, you aren’t going to write it well, and no one — not you, not your friends, not the audience you’ve been picturing in your head — is going to jump on board. If you are worth your salt as a writer, then you are a reader, as well. While you write, step back, and think as a reader — if you find what you are doing interesting and worthwhile, someone else out there is going to as well. If it rings true for you, it will resonate with others. And if you are writing something that you want to read, it will be a hell of a lot easier for you to get through it.

Let’s face it, none of us are in this for the money, amirite? It’s a beautiful pipe dream, but most of us know better than to bank on it. We are doing this for the joy it brings, and for the hopeful (if fleeting) connection we can make with our readers, and if we lose sight of one, we lose the other.

So, write what you’d want to read. After all, you’re going to have to edit and revise the damn thing a half dozen times, and that’s only after you’ve slogged through the writing. Make it joyful. Make it worth your while.