A few months ago I was participating in an online novel writing workshop, working on the outline for what would become my novel-in-progress, Choosing Her Chains. One of my well-meaning classmates (a cisgender, white, affluent male) asked, as we were discussing the implications of my outline, why I had selected what he considered a possibly controversial theme for the work. He was concerned for me, that though I might complete an excellent novel, my readership would remain low, that it would continually fight to stay afloat in what he considered a relatively niche market. "Why would you risk failure before you've even begun?"
He had the best of intentions in his comments, but he didn't understand. I couldn't have selected another theme even if I wanted to find one. The story had been bubbling for months, developing in the darkest recesses of my mind. The protagonist refused to let me ignore her for even a day. Even now, as I type away on this post, she's poking me in the back of my head and asking why I haven't worked on her story more today. And the sun is just now cresting the horizon!
At the end of the day, though, even her persistence is not always enough to keep me working. Tapping into that mysterious subconscious realm where our characters exist is exhausting. Sometimes the fear of getting a detail wrong (and your characters will definitely alert you when that happens) prevents me from wanting to write at all. What keeps me writing from from day-to-day is the desire to write the story I wish I could read.
As a member of the LGBTQ community, I often find that the selection of stories that portray "characters like us" are limited, if not in scope (thank you independent publishing!) then in quality. My deepest desire drives me to produce work that meets my own standards in both quality and readership while maintaining the integrity of exactly the kind of characters and scenarios and I would want to read in my own spare time.
I am far from alone. Writers of all genres of LGBTQ fiction are even now actively striving to create high-quality fiction in greater numbers than ever before. Mainstream literary agents and publishers are gradually picking us up, giving us writing contracts, and publishing our books. But publishers can never accurately predict their readership. Unfortunately, for right now, the fan base of such books is more or less confined to the same readers who have been following independent writers in the community for years.
How often are we discouraged from writing what it is we really want to write ("controversial" or not) because of fear of how others might respond? And how do we overcome that fear?
A few days ago I picked up Bryan Hutchinson's book Writer's Doubt through Amazon's new Kindle Unlimited program. I'm only a couple of chapters into the book, but already I've found excerpts with which I can commiserate.
The moment will come when you realize exactly what you want to write about because you absolutely love writing about it and you can't stop. You'll find yourself driving down the highway when an idea suddenly comes to you and you'll desperately search for a place to pull over just so you can jot down a quick note so you won't forget. That's when you'll know you've found your niche.1When I write something that's intensely personal to me, whether it be fiction, poetry, or blog post, I cannot set the keyboard aside. I'm driven to complete it. But completing the work is only half the battle. Sometimes I write purely for myself, and I have no desire to share it elsewhere. But sometimes I feel the need to share it with others. Whether that desire to share comes from some drive to enlighten someone, from the hopes of conversing with other like-minded individuals, from an instinct to provide entertainment to others like myself, or even just to stroke my own narcissistic ego, the reason eventually proves wholly irrelevant. So long as I enjoy reading what I write, I've accomplished my goal.
But then the doubt creeps in. What if potential mainstream readers are driven away by expressly LGBTQ themes and scenarios? What if they refuse to even consider the book if they suggest it supports a lifestyle with which they are still uncomfortable? Or even worse! What if my family in the LGBTQ community somehow feels I have done them a grave injustice? Have I portrayed them in the light I hope to promote? Have I become just another hackneyed independent author trying to get my $5 out of those people desperate to read genre-specific titles?
Then I remember: there's really no way to know how an audience will receive your work. Your 500 beta readers and editors might love a piece of work (or hate it). Once you've released that work of soul into the world, the reception of your readers will be determined by a tangled web of perseverance, marketing, and luck.
So to myself, and to any writers out there in the LGBTQ community, ride the fear. Embrace it for the exhilarating experience it can be. And when you've got that story written, send it to me. You might be writing just for you now. But perhaps you're also writing for me.
P.S. -- Everyone should be sure to check-out Bryan's website at http://positivewriter.com/. If you need a pick-me-up on the dark days, you'll be sure to find some inspiration.
1Hutchinson, Bryan (2014). Writer's Doubt: How You Can Overcome Doubt and Create Work That Matters [Kindle version]. Available from http://www.amazon.com/Writers-Doubt-Overcome-Create-Matters-ebook/dp/B00J9959GI/