What’s the single most likely factor that will determine whether or not you successfully complete that novel you’re working on? It is simply this: whether or not you truly love the story you’re telling. If you care about your story enough, you will feel compelled to put in the time required, day after day after day, to write it.
However, as writers, we can’t help but be influenced by the conventions, attitudes and opinions around us, and it can be very hard not to be swayed by them. How do you avoid falling into the trap of writing what the world thinks you’re “supposed” to write, rather than something you genuinely want to (and love to!) write? There are three things you should intentionally choose to ignore when selecting your story idea.
First, ignore conventional wisdom about what’s ‘good literature’. Literary critics may turn their noses up at certain genres, storylines or styles, but that shouldn’t dictate what you write. There are enough readers in this world for books about glittering vampires, boy wizards, lady detectives in Botswana, reluctant space-travelling men in dressing gowns, and everything in between – and no one should be telling you that any one of those stories is “better” than another.
Second, ignore conventional wisdom about which genres or topics are the most financially lucrative. Writing in a particular genre or about a specific topic is no guarantee of publication. And when it comes to self-publishing, more will actually depend on your marketing skills (and on luck!) than on the specific content of your novel. With literature, as with everything else, trends will come and go – if you choose to write about unicorns on the basis that they’re popular today, by the time you’ve completed your novel, everyone will likely have moved on to reading about zombie koalas.
Third – and this can be incredibly difficult – ignore any contrary opinions that other people may have about your book idea (and that includes your best friend and your mum). The story that you want to write is yours, not theirs. They don’t have to like your idea – if they don’t, they are simply not the right reader for your book. But guess what? Someone else will be!
What’s the story idea that genuinely excites you? The one that keeps you awake at night, inventing characters and weaving together a plotline? That’s the one you should be writing. Obviously, if it’s one that the critics, the bestselling authors, your best friend and your mum are also excited about, that’s great. But if not, that’s great, too – because this is your story, and that’s what really matters.
Your eventual readers – whoever they are – will spend many happy hours reading your book. You, however, will first spend many, many more hours writing it. To make that writing process enjoyable and successful, make sure you’re well and truly in love with your story, right from the start.