I recently read a quote somewhere, I don’t recall where exactly, but it went as so: “Write to tell, not to sell.”
The principle behind it is to write the story you want to tell, not the story you think your readers want to hear. It’s a noble idea, staying true to yourself as a writer, writing about the stuff that’s important to you, but is it practical?
Example: Hypothetically (or maybe not), let’s say a particular writer (who shall remain nameless) absolutely loves, adores, and knows everything there is to know about the flora and fauna of a certain region of Alberta, Canada. Interesting stuff, surely, but I doubt that any book--fiction, nonfiction, etc.--about the flora and fauna of Alberta, CA is going to sell as well as the next James Patterson book or John Grisham’s next release.
The dilemma here is two pronged: first, we are writers because we have something to say. Something that we believe is uniquely ours. Something that we can say better than anybody else who walks this earth. So, we want to write that and we want people to buy it once we (hopefully) publish it (despite the fact that, like the flora and fauna of Alberta, CA, some things that we find riveting can put somebody else to sleep). The second prong is: we need to make money. And we want to make money writing, doing what we love. If you do what you love for a living you’ll never work a day in your life, right? That’s how it goes? The dream. Write what we like and sell it so we never have to sit in a cubicle and shoot the shit with co-workers in the break room.
But what is the point of writing if nobody will ever read it? And what is the point of writing if we’re not writing something that we really, really want to write. The latter is just as bad as taking any other day job, isn’t it? Is this all just a matter of luck? I sure hope not. Do we have to crank out a couple palatable pieces that the masses can digest before we really get to work on our passion projects? You know, like Matthew McConaughey almost. Be the hunky rom-com guy, star in some flops, profit by popping off the shirt and being tanned/ripped--then bang! Drop thirty pounds and star in Dallas Buyers Club. Play Rust Cohle in True Detective--one of the greatest series of all time (in my humble and unqualified opinion).
Really, you’ve gotta work your way up the ladder. Or so that’s how it seems. Your first job isn’t gonna be your dream job, and it probably won’t be your last job either. I guess the same holds true for writing. You’re going to have to write some things that you don’t necessarily give a damn about. But eventually you’ll get to write your Matthew McConaughey Dallas Buyers Club equivalent. And that, folks, is the dream.