Home » Dean Wesley Smith, Writing Advice » When Writers Face the Deadly Saying… “What’s the Point?”

When Writers Face the Deadly Saying… “What’s the Point?”

16 November 2015

From Dean Wesley Smith:

A couple people got angry at me in letters because I told them that following sales numbers (the number of books you are selling or what Amazon list you are on) is an addiction.

A deadly one to your writing and your career for the long term.

So what are the first signs you are into the deadly part of this addiction?

Easy. When you are sitting at your computer, your creative voice really, really wants to write a certain story or a new book in a certain series, and you hear yourself think, “What’s the point? It won’t sell.”

Oh, oh…

Tust me, folks, I am not immune from this in the slightest. When I realize that one of my books or series is selling better than others, and yet I am firing up a book that is in the poor-selling series, I hear myself ask that question.

How I get around it is tell that tiny part of my critical voice that is trying to stop me that maybe this book in this lower-selling series will be the one that explodes. That answers the question, “What’s the point.”

And makes the critical voice crawl away whimpering.

But realize, I’ve been doing this a very long time, I never read reviews of my work, and I do not follow any sales numbers or bestseller lists. Yet this still creeps in at times because one of the wonderful things we have about this new world is immediate information on sales.

. . . .

So how exactly does this kill your writing and career?

A thousand ways with a thousand cuts, actually.

If you listen and act on the question, you won’t learn, you won’t write anything except stuff that you think will sell and chances are it won’t, or at least not for long.

And the first time you write a couple things you don’t like just because you think they will sell and they don’t live up to some made-up expectation your critical voice has put on the project, the “What’s the Point?” question gets so loud, you can’t hear yourself think, let alone write.

Coming back from a life event is never easy, and you feel behind, so what’s the point of even starting? So you don’t do anything, because something might happen again to stop you.

You are too old (by some made-up yardstick in your head…I heard a 28 year old say this once) so it’s better to not start.

And so on and so on.

This question, when you hear it, is your critical voice trying to stop you. It is mostly triggered by watching your own numbers, reading your own reviews, or comparing yourself to someone else’s numbers or success.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith and thanks to Deb for the tip.

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13 Comments to “When Writers Face the Deadly Saying… “What’s the Point?””

  1. “Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for the love of it, then you do it for a few friends, and finally you do it for the money.” Moliere “`

    Seems to still be true …

    And when you’re only doing ‘it for the money’ it can show in your work — because that’s all it’s become, ‘work’ …

  2. Good points.

    I’d try to mix what’s selling with what you like. I wrote a Western-style book in April and saw that it was doing well. I put out two more in September and October. We’ll see if the sales continue when Books 4 and 5 come.

    I have another series of short novels that went nowhere, a few series of those in fact. One of them has two books and sometimes I wonder, ‘if I write that third book, maybe box-set ’em, will it finally cause them to sell?’

    I usually dismiss those notions in favor of writing on that Book 4 or 5 of the series that’s working.

    Then again, I think you’d have to be a little silly not to check your sales. I for one enjoy my 15th of the month tabulation. I’m really looking forward to seeing the totals for 2015 and comparing them for my previous two years.

    Instead of focusing on what’s selling or what’s not, or even what you like or not, maybe it’s better to focus on areas of interest.

    I personally feel that having multiple projects is a great way to boost writing speed, or even achieve those pulp-level speeds that Smith talked about last December.

    There’s nothing wrong with having multiple series or genres under your belt or still in progress, especially with pen names…if you don’t want to clutter your backlist.

    If you have things to pick up when it’s time to put something else down, your chances of continuing long-term go way up.

  3. It’s a matter of balance. Dean is likely trying to caution people from *obsessively* checking sales, and being entirely market-driven. Never letting sheer whimsy and the fun of writing guide you.

    Everyone ought to keep an eye on sales and income at some point, just to make sure you’re getting paid correctly (Dean is also big on Getting Paid.) It also depends on your true end goals. I want to write stories people enjoy. There is plenty of overlap between “stories I want to write” and “stories people want to read”. Sometimes the story I write isn’t quite in the form people want. How else will I get feedback? I’m not giving up control, but I do need valid information. Otherwise I run the danger of happily writing crap forever.

    By publishing I am implicitly saying I *do* care, at some level, about what the reader thinks. Sales and reviews are how they communicate. If I really didn’t care, I wouldn’t publish.

  4. I actually get more of those negative thoughts when I’m *not* looking at numbers and reviews. Even a sales flatline or a negative review is incentive for me to “Oh, I’d better write some more.”

    I suspect this is in part because I’m used to treading water in an ocean of negativity with certain persons actively clawing at my legs while claiming they’re helping keep my head up. I’m out of that ocean, now, but negativity is still my native environment. [shrug] There’s truth in the adage that there’s comfort in the familiar.

  5. And the first time you write a couple things you don’t like just because you think they will sell and they don’t live up to some made-up expectation your critical voice has put on the project, the “What’s the Point?” question gets so loud, you can’t hear yourself think, let alone write.

    The point is simple. Write stuff you like that you think will sell.

  6. Never agreed with DWS on this point.

    Nowadays it is very possible to write to market, write to trend, build a brand or brand(s) and make money now and in the future.

    It was only in the pre-digital, pre-indie days when books took too long to get to market, that writing to the market was potentially a bad idea. By the time the book came out, whatever was hot had invariably changed.

    That’s not the case anymore, but DWS seems caught in the old methods of writing and publishing. Writing to market is still the surest way to sell lots of books–though it’s certainly not everyone’s cup of tea.


    • I have to agree. Writing to market, if you can change and adapt to whatever the market is at the moment, can be a successful method of making money. There’s nothing wrong with it, just as there’s nothing wrong with writing what you love. The trick is to love whatever you write, to my mind.

      • That’s true; because no matter what I think of the product *cough*Danielle Steel*cough*, she has to believe in what she’s writing. I simply can’t believe that you can write 80,000 thinking it’s drivel and expecting it to sell.

  7. Dean is a wild man who is a proponent of ‘writing into the weeds.” I love that phrase of his, because it has to do with losing all your personality number 1 [which is mundane ego with all its gaming appetites, and moving into personality number 2, which is the often uncanny, and where creative bursts and amazing ‘being led’ and combos often occur that are far far outside the powers of ego-bound personality number 1.

    Personalities 1 and 2, as a concept, were put forth by c.g. jung about a hundred years ago, as the dual realities that everyone is born with access to. His thought was in part that the creative spirit had been abandoned by modern man, so that people’s loss of this deep animating force of personality #2, left them flattened, derivative, scheming– with the portal to deep imagination and creativity bricked over.

    Many writers I know develop as human beings, as they write. Think, feel and live deeper in many ways over long periods of time. But it seems often to come from the equiv of writing into the dark/ weeds, an entirely different form of consciousness than that of consensual reality– things are different, as we know, at ‘night.’

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