Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Thoughts on Branding, Voice, and Dedication

I'm not sure if this is something that comes with age or it's just a facet of the age we're living in, but I'm finding it more and more difficult to meet my many goals. For example, just to write a blog post each month has proven to be a major challenge. Of course, that's not nearly enough to maintain a consistent following (and I thank all of you who do come back post after post.)

Earlier this week, I pulled out a book about writing nonfiction book proposals. It's from 1995. To be sure, a lot has changed in the past fifteen years. But then again, many things remain the same. A writer still needs to have a saleable idea, a marketable product, and the dedication and enthusiasm to see those ideas and products brought to frution.

That's not exclusive to nonfiction. Fiction writers, too, need to have those elements in abundance. My fiction tends toward "literary fiction" and with that often comes slow, character-driven plots. There simply aren't as many people willing to spend their time reading the work of an unknown writer whose story is slow-paced.

But if a writer can sell his product 𔄤 fiction, nonfiction, memoir, poetry — and become virtually synonymous with his own style of writing, he can develop an audience who loves his work. That's not easy, but I think that's what separates the wannabe's from the superstars.

I used to hate Stephen King. I hadn't read his work, but back when I was in high school, it seemed that he could put all his disjointed nightmares on paper and sell a few million copies. What kind of writer would allow himself to descend to such levels, I wondered. After I saw the movie Stand By Me, which I later discoverd was based on his novella The Body, I softened on Mr. King. I softened further when I met the woman who is now my wife and who loves King's work. And I softened even more when I read his work On Writing.

What happened while I was getting all squishy is that I realized what I thought I knew about King was completely wrong. He wasn't a horror writer — not that I have anything at all against horror. He was a masterful story teller. He wa not always a great writer, but he could spin a yarn as well as spider could spin a web. First and foremost, he wrote about people. But he also wrote to, knew, and appreciated his audience. Read his forewards and afterwards. You can't help but get to know the guy. And like him.

I wouldn't call myself the biggest Stephen King fan in the world, but I've read enough of his work now to say that he's got a definite style. The marketing folks would talk about his brand of story. Others would reference his voice. To me, his work shows that he's put his time in and still does.

How about you? Are you able to put as much time in as you need to your writing? What would you need to sacrifice to meet your goals for yourself?


Brian James said...

Great post.

Stephen King's 'On Writing' is a great tool for teaching editing and drafting techniques. I think he's a decent writer that writes sacrifices some quality for quantity, but that's how one sustains a career. I also think he doesn't know how to end a book. He's notorious for abrupt, unsatisfying endings.

As for the sacrifice one must make, I think it's huge. The make a career out of being an author, you must sacrifice a huge chunk of time spent in reality. Which is why I admire those people who have the patience to stick by us.

Matt Sinclair said...

Thanks, Brian. I admire these writers too -- anyone who can make a living as a writer should be admired. But as you say, it entails sacrifice.

Caroline Hagood said...

I certainly feel that there are not enough hours in the day. I'm having to learn to cut some things out and it's rather heartbreaking.

Matt Sinclair said...

I totally understand, Caroline. If it would help me learn how to be young at heart again, I might start writing young adult stuff.

BobSinc said...

King is Red Sox fan, so even if his writing was sub-par, he would have something to his credit.

Personally, the best advice I've heard on the topic of achieving goals - actually two things - 1) Do something first thing in the morning, before focusing on other things (obviously, tending to babies takes priority over writing); 2) Whenever you can make a choice of what action to take during your day (e.g. when you find yourself with an unexpected 15 minutes), make a conscious effort to do something aligned with your goal. For example, an old teacher of ours, Fr. Manning, used to memorize formulas, etc. while he was shaving.