Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Write What You Love...Or Love What You Write

Image by Helfin Owen via Flickr
We hear it all the time, and I mean ALL the time: write what you love. Just about every writing advice guide out there tells us to learn the craft, pay attention to the industry, but in the end, write what we love. Because if you try to chase trends or if you write solely for the Benjamins, your heart will not show through in your work and it will fall flat.

And I believe this. Really, I do. But I also write historical western romance. Have you ever tried to pitch historical western romance to a traditional publisher? Let me just tell you, it’s not pretty. The thing I hear over and over in the romance world—seriously, like a broken record—is that the hot genres in romance right now are contemporary and erotica (and that vampires are dead, historicals are on their way out, and westerns were DOA years ago). To a certain extent, sales reflect this, although not nearly to the extent that the industry would have us believe.

The problem remains, what I love isn’t hot. And chances are that if you’ve been in any part of this industry for the last decade or more, what you write has been not hot at some point too. The thing is, I would very much like to be able to pay my bills without having to succumb to the beige cube hive of Corporate America. So how can I follow the advice to write what I love when what I love isn’t getting any love?

Raise your hand if you’ve been there. Uh-huh. I thought so.

Recently, I’ve come to think of this whole write what you love thing in a different light. As I see it, there are degrees of love. Historical romance will always be my first and dearest love. Right there, that’s my baby. But I have a very warm spot in my heart for science fiction, and I’ve also been known to ruminate on a few contemporary ideas (although my actual efforts to write them have fallen as flat as a peanut under an elephant’s foot). Those genres are like my nieces and nephews. I’d jump under a bus for them, but I’m okay with sending them home at the end of the day.

I’m fairly certain that most writers are able to multitask to some extent. Imaginations as big as ours tend to stretch through several genres. This may be our greatest asset. And believe it or not, the world may actually be ready for us to write outside of our first love comfort zone. I’m continually surprised at how many of my indie author friends write multiple genres under multiple pen names. In fact, I suspect indie publishing may be the perfect set-up for authors to write all of the things that they love.

But I digress. The biggest change in my thinking on loving writing has to do not so much with sticking religiously to the genres that you love, but opening yourself to love the story that you’re working on as you write it. I may or may not be brave enough to try out some of my contemporary romance ideas on the world (while that’s still the hottest romance genre), but if I do, the key to that success will be in loving every word of the story I’m writing. It’s the same thing as the “write what you know” advice. I don’t technically know what it’s like to be a pioneer heading west on the Oregon Trail, but I know what it’s like to leave home and to try something new and dangerous. I do that every time I type the first words of a new book.

So if you’re bold enough, if you’re daring, and if you’re up to the challenge of tapping into today’s hottest genres in spite of the fact that they’re not what you usually write, I say go for it. Build a world that you love, even if it’s not in the time period you usually love. Find characters that you would spend an afternoon with (or not, if they’re the villain), even if they aren’t part of the crowd you would usually hang out with. If you’re up for experimentation, I believe you can still succeed in a genre that you aren’t in love with as long as you find the love for that particular story that needs to be told through you.

Merry Farmer is a history nerd, a hopeless romantic, and an award-winning author of thirteen novels. She is passionate about blogging and knitting, and lives in suburban Philadelphia with her two cats, Butterfly and Torpedo. Connect with Merry at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.


  1. Ahh, yes, Merry ... in the words of Steven Stills, love the one you're with. (I'm baaaack ... just when you were beginning to think it was it safe to read BRP).

    1. Welcome "home," Christopher! You've been missed. :-)

  2. Very helpful post as we have all struggled with this in one way or another. I do like the fact that you stressed that we have to love the book we are working on, whether it is THE ONE or not. There has to be some passion for the story or it flat-lines.

  3. I agree with Maryann--who agrees with you--love the book you're working on whether or not it's your genre of choice. Passion for our work is palpable and reaches out to our readers; that's what creates fans who eagerly await our next book. :-)


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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