Oh, the online advice. It's ever-abundant, and much of it is good. Then, occasionally, I read something that makes me want to bite my coffee mug.
It's not that this particular advice was wrong, per se. It just hit me wrong.
It was the Don't Choose a Genre Just Because It's a Huge Seller advice. And mostly, it's spot on. If there are already twenty million YA paranormal romances in the collective slush pile, you don't need to add another one. If you discover how big the best-of-the-bestselling authors' paychecks are, and you decide to write exactly what they are writing, for exactly that reason, then you're an absolute twit.
For me, it was different. For me, it was the appearance of having attempted to ride a wave, when that wasn't it at all.
Yes, I'm talking about dystopian--my favorite go-to genre for both reading and writing. Here's the thing: I conceived the idea for City Limits two years before I wrote a single word. Mark that: two years. I did not know what the word "dystopian" meant. I hadn't read any dystopian novels. I just HAD A STORY GROWING INSIDE ME THAT CAME FROM SOMEWHERE DEEP INSIDE MY BRAIN.
When I finally found the courage to write it (yes, courage--because I think part of the reason I sat on it so long is because it felt so "big"), I was just learning what "dystopian" meant. It was one of those, "Huh. So that's what I'm writing!" things.
I was blissfully unaware of the wave that was sweeping through the YA bookshelves. No idea that Hunger Games had crashed onto the scene, opening the gates for countless (countless!) other dystopian tales.
By the time Josh and I took City Limits on submission, editors had all come down with Dystopian Fatigue (for which, apparently, there is no known cure, aside from complete avoidance of the genre). Lists were full two years out and more. The market--as well as editors' brains--was saturated.
My manuscript must have had that oh-here's-another-one-trying-to-be-Suzanne-Collins appearance. In truth, I hadn't heard her name when I started drafting. It was my story, from my brain. In the beginning, I didn't even know what to call it. And when I learned what I was actually writing, I wasn't even sure if the correct word was "dystopic" or "dystopian".
So, yeah. For me, it was simply VERY BAD TIMING. I might wring my hands over the if-only-I-had-written-it-right-away-and-not-waited-two-years thing. But the story would not have been what it ultimately became. Two years earlier, I wasn't ready to write the story.
Then, when I was finally ready, the market had already outrun me.
C'est la vie.
So, dear hearts. WRITE THE STORY THAT IS BURNING INSIDE YOU. If you have examined your motives, and you know in your heart that you are not attempting to ride a wave that's already cresting, and you believe that your story has a life of its own, and does not exist as a reflection of someone else's story--then KEEP WRITING IT.
There is no telling what the market will look like when you finally land an agent/go on submission. Just write THE BEST STORY YOU POSSIBLY CAN. Get it critiqued, revise it, get it critiqued some more, rewrite the whole dang thing from scratch if you need to. But if the story lives and breathes inside you, then LET IT OUT.
I don't regret having written City Limits. It landed me my fabulous, can't-do-this-thing-without-him agent, and it maintains its place in my heart (and, I think, in Josh's) as a Good Egg. As in, it's not shelved for eternity. Not really. Some day, somehow, it will find a home. A place in the world. Because I really want to share this story. It has something to say.
There is a place, of course, where one needs to stop and assess one's direction. For me, it has meant moving away from dystopian. BUT AUTHORESS, you say. YOU JUST SAID TO WRITE THE STORY THAT IS BURNING INSIDE ME.
Yes. And I did that--last year. I struggled greatly, because the story-inside-me was another dystopian. Josh gently warned me; my own common sense tried to nudge me in another direction. But in the end, I had to write the story. And again, I'm glad I did. I love it, and I believe in it the way I believe in City Limits. But unlike City Limits, this one is going to sit quietly on a virtual shelf. Because it would be a waste of time to attempt to travel the same path twice.
Dystopian and I, for now, are not meant to be.
It's okay, though! I'm up to my elbows in MG Fantasy, and it brings me a giddy sort of joy. Fantasy is my first love, after all--I've been gnawing on fantasy novels since early middle school. (We're talking adult fantasy--Katherine Kurtz and Patricia McKillip and Terry Brooks. Hard core, UBER-geeky fantasy!)
What's most interesting about my current project is that I actually wrote it before I wrote City Limits. Of course, that was before my writing had seasoned and matured. The novel's been through two major rewrites since then, in addition to moderate revisions in between. All that to say: YOU NEVER KNOW WHERE YOUR STORY WILL GO.
So keep writing it.
You know best what's inside you. You know best what you're capable of, and where your passions lie. That's the pool from which you must fish your stories. Not the current trends, not Goodreads, not your favorite authors, not your mom's opinion. The stories must come FROM DEEP INSIDE YOU.
Read all the advice you can; cull through it, keep the good stuff. Be savvy; know the market, be aware of what's trending. Don't write in a dark hole, dripping bits of your lifeblood into novels like some dark, tortured thing. But DON'T LOSE SIGHT OF YOUR INNER SELF, either.
Write what's inside you. Work hard and WRITE WELL. Some day, at the right time, things will fall into place for whichever story has come into its own.
Believe that. And keep writing.
That's what I'm doing. And that's what I will be doing, for as long as there are stories in my brain. (Which, I expect, will be the rest of my life.)
Now go write something.