The question of the balance between writing what you want and reaching people has been rocketing around in my brain for ages. I’ve heard people say that writers have to listen to the authorities who tell them “write what people want, or you won’t be successful”. Others say “do what moves you but don’t expect success”. Others say “find the middle road”.
None of those options are particularly palatable. I believe people who are playing “dictator dictator” by insisting that you have to follow their rules tell you more about them and their narrow beliefs and concepts than about any ultimate truth about how to achieve success.
Success isn’t a mathematical equation, and no person’s achievements can be squeezed into a formula. It’s no use looking at somebody who’s been successful and saying “this is how they did it, so I’m going to do the same”. Because you can’t get inside their head, or the the heads of everybody who has responded to them. And when a person says “you can’t be successful unless you follow my rules” they’re playing God. It’s what bullies and control freaks do – to compensate for low self-esteem, usually!
Even films and plays have traditions that audiences recognize without realizing it – like beginning, middle and end and a hero or heroine who has to go on some kind of journey, and has to have some kind of flaw that needs to be overcome before they can succeed in their mission. But people break those traditions all the time.
I think we don’t realize often enough that we listen to anybody who speaks with authority, and we believe them, often without question. Why don’t we want to think for ourselves? Why let ourselves be psycho-bullied?
Let’s face it, it takes two to tango. Bullies are only half the equation. The other half is our reluctance to go with our heart and gut, to risk stepping out of line, let ourselves be the authority. Going on a journey without a road map can be scary.
You risk a lot when you decide I’m going to do it my way, you stand – and more often than not you fall – by your own choices. And no matter how pretty the idea is that dreams and desires (for success) are the foreshadowing of the reality, or that you only have to have passion and life paves the way for you, a lot of people don’t make it. Some of them are or were really brilliant, many we never hear of and never will.
Yes, it’s a risky road, doing it my way. Sometimes life doesn’t pave it for you, no matter how passionate you are; sometimes you have a lot of things within yourself or your environment to overcome. So is it all a waste of time? Hopefully not. Maybe the reward isn’t in the result, it’s in the journey.
So what’s the answer for a writer who wants to connect, but also do it my way? The question “how can I write what people want” looks to me like one that can only lead down a torturous road to heartache, misery and the realization that you sold yourself down the river, especially if you don’t get it right! What a waste.
Maybe the answer lies in respecting traditions that work for you, doing what you want to do and asking a different question – “how can I let people know I’m here?” You’re asserting your right to be who you are, conveying passion and energy, and not giving your power away. The last word on this is that being over-adaptive and over-pleasing doesn’t make you feel good about yourself and it sure isn’t any fun.