Why You Should Write What You Love

Some of you are probably like me.

No, not in that way. I’m told this condition is one of a kind and that surgery will correct it enough so that small children and pets no longer tumble into catatonic states upon seeing me.

No, I mean in the way that you sometimes struggle with what to write. Writing is a craft and storytelling is an art so the one part of you wants to just unbuckle all the straps affixing you to this mundane world so that you can leap into the chasm of madness that is creation. You and the Muse will art-fuck until the world explodes into pure narrative.

And yet, this thing we do is also a business. Which means you should proabably be writing Stories That Will Earn You Respect And Also, Sweet Cash Money.

Let’s talk about me.

(HA HA HA because that’s probably all I do here, isn’t it? Sorry about that.)


I am presently the author of a handful of published novels.

But, if you will gaze behind me, in my wake you will see a muddy rut filled with the sun-bloated corpses of many other books. Dozens of unfinished ones. At least five finished ones. Some interesting. Most not. All of them lacking in execution and any kind of writerly pizzazz.

I wrote a lot of books that sucked, a lot of books that just plain weren’t “me.” These were books I did not love, that didn’t come from any particular place inside this funky stump I call a heart, that failed to speak to me or speak about me in any meaningful way. They were books I wrote because I was chasing someone else’s ideas of what I should write. I tried writing fiction that seemed respectable and literary. I tried writing novels that would speak to the market, that would sell to some invented segment of the population who likes That Sort Of Thing. I wrote books that were desperate grabs at legitimacy (money, respect, fame, tweed suits with elbow patches, dignity). I knew I wanted to be a writer, but I apparently thought the way to do that was to stop writing the things I wanted to write (which somewhat sullied the idea of being a writer in the first place) and start writing the kinds of things that Other Writers Wrote.

You know: marketable works.

(Translation: derivative works.)

I was walking away from myself.

I was leaving the things I liked, or loved, or that interested me.

Which meant I was leaving my strengths behind.

Which meant I was abandoning my reasons for being a writer in the first place.

So, I’ll exhort you right now:

You should write what you love.

You should write the things that look like your heart, pulled open with prying fingers.

You should walk towards yourself as a writer, not away.



Reason One: Because The Market Is An Unknowable Entity

I’m pretty sure that when Lovecraft wrote about gibbering entities outside time and space that, when gazed upon too closely, ruined man’s sanity the way a rock ruins a mirror, he was really writing a metaphor for the publishing industry and the book market. Nobody knows what the fuck is going on with the market. Publishers like to pretend they do, because that’s their job — but they’re still a bunch of old ladies passing around one eyeball between them.

You’ll hear, “Oh, vampires aren’t hot right now,” and then next thing you know, vampires are hot again. They didn’t get that way because the market was manipulated into being that way. The market didn’t randomly countermand itself and spontaneously grow a spate of new vampire novels. This happens because someone, some author, hears vampires aren’t hot right now and says, well, whatever, I’m going to write a vampire book anyway because I think vampires are cool as fucking shit, and then they write it and it hits the market and it does well. And then publishers are like YEAH, WE TOTALLY KNEW THAT VAMPIRES WERE GONNA BE SUPER-HOT RIGHT NOW and then another 100 derivative reiterations (and maybe 10 original iterations) hit the market and punch it so hard that two years later you hear the familiar refrain: vampires aren’t hot right now.

A lot of the truly amazing books are not ones an industry could’ve predicted. Like I said yesterday, Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy is… fuck, I don’t even know how to describe them. Invasive… alternate Earth-punk? No, that’s not right. But it doesn’t feel like a trilogy that chased any market. It feels like a series that stands all by itself in a room of its own devising and design. It’s not following anything. It’s a leader: original, weird, amazing, and (if you’ve read Jeff’s work before) most certainly a product of his voice. (The third book, Acceptance, is also out today. Do your favor and go and read them all right now it’s okay I’ll wait here.)

The work that prevails rarely feels like it chases the market.

The work that gets its claws and teeth into you says, “Fuck you, market. I’m the market now. What? You don’t like that? Too bad.” Then it hits you in the face with a toaster oven and says, “YOUR MOM SAYS HI.”

Okay, I think I took that metaphor too far.

Point is: don’t chase the market.

You’re not a dog running after a car.

Be the car, not the dog.

Reason Two: Because It’s What You’re Good At

In school, teachers make you read books, and if you’re anything like me, you hated that. Because nobody likes art to be some kind of obligation. Art is a thing that calls to you — it’s got gravity and it grabs you by the root and pulls you toward it. The books I loved are the books that I found on my own — admittedly, sometimes by the urgings of others (sometimes, even the urgings of teachers and professors), but almost always with the offering of choice on the table.

Choice. Consent. Compelled by, not forced to.

Writing is the same way, at least for me.

The things you write — that you choose to write, because you want to jolly well fucking write them — are likely things you’re better at writing because you chose to move in that direction. Writing things that don’t really speak to you? I can often feel it. It feels stilted, awkward, a story forced into an uncomfortable shape by an author wearing someone else’s skin. It’s itchy and weird.

That’s not to say you can’t — say, as a freelance writer — take an assignment and own it. You can make work you don’t automatically love into work that you love by pressing your fingerprints into its clay. But even there the message remains the same: in that work, you’re finding what you enjoy and what you’re good at, and putting that into play. Can you go beyond that? Can you play outside your comfort zone? You can and should. But you have to start somewhere, and the core of the work is often taking our strengths and building off of them. Further, improving in less comfortable directions means improving in a way that is desirable to you, not desirable to a market.

Reason Three: Because I Want To Read It

You know what I don’t want to read?

A book you didn’t want to write.

You know what I do want to read?

A book you couldn’t help but write.

I wanna read the book that pops out of your goddamn chest like a goddamn baby Xenomorph. No matter how many Tums you have taken. No matter how many guests you have at your dinner table. You cannot contain it. It’s just — oops, splurch, sorry, that book just kicked open my breastbone like a set of saloon doors and oh, shit, here it is, flinging itself into the room.

A book you loved writing will likely have that love translate over to the page. Don’t get me wrong — love isn’t enough. It also has to be, ohh, you know, not shitty, which means a full-scale editing assault — and trust me, editing is not always a process you’ll love. (That’s the thing about this thing: by writing what you love, I don’t mean, making sure every day of writing is a bliss-fueled romp around the bounce house of your imagination. No matter how much you love the material, some days are going to feel like chewing on a brick. And some days you’ll hate what you’re writing no matter what — the point is to begin with work that speaks to you, calls to you, grabs you by your genital configuration and demands to be written.)

Reason Four: Because This Gig Knows No Guarantees

The saying often goes that one does not become a writer to get rich, which is perhaps a toxic meme further continuing the idea that art isn’t — or shouldn’t be — a way to get paid. (I got into being an author to both Make Up Stories and Make Money For Making Up Those Stories because I happen to enjoy the intersection of art and commerce because in that intersection I can do things like pay bills and buy dinners and hire assassins to garrote my enemies with typewriter ribbon.) Regardless, despite it being a goal, making money or having success as a writer is in no way guaranteed. You don’t get a salary. You don’t hit ‘save’ on the document and get a publishing contract. This is a land where promise is a dry creek.

And so, if you’re planning on stepping into this arena knowing that you may die once your foot hits the dirt, you might as well step forward with a weapon that fits your hand, not the weapon some other asshole told you to carry.

If you’re gonna take your shot, do it with work you care about. Work that says something.

Do it with work you love.

You’re not guaranteed an agent. You’re not guaranteed to find a publisher. You’re not guaranteed sales if you’re a self-publisher, or an audience, or good reviews, or awards, or dignity, or cake.

Not any of it.

So? Go ahead and make it count.

Write what you want to write.

Might as well write what you love.

Reason Five: Because Life Ends In Death

You’re gonna die.


But it’s true.

Dead. Fuuuuuuucking dead.

Some part of the animated meat that comprises you will one day fail. The bone puppet that lives inside you can’t dance forever. You’ll get hit by a car or get soul cancer or a frozen hunk of shit will fall off an Airbus 380 and land on you while you stop to pick up a lucky penny in a parking lot.

Now, maybe some part of you lives on past Bodily Death. Maybe there’s a heaven or a happy hunting ground or some 1-Up Extra Life re-try. I have no idea. Doesn’t matter.

What matters is, knowing that your time on this Hurtling Space Sphere is limited, you should make an effort to live your life — and your art — the way you damn well want to. Do you really want someone to chisel the words MADE MEDIOCRE ART SHE DIDN’T MUCH LIKE BECAUSE SHE THOUGHT THAT’S WHAT SOMEONE ELSE WANTED HER TO DO on your gravestone? Or would you rather them carve in the words: ROCKED IT LIKE A MOTHERFUCKER, WROTE WHAT SHE DAMN WELL WANTED, BOO-YAH, MIC-DROP –?

On second thought, that’s probably too much for a headstone.

Maybe, instead:


Get out there. Write big and bold. Embrace the moments you have.

Write what you love.

Because otherwise: why bother?

* * *

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76 responses to “Why You Should Write What You Love”

  1. Point 4 always made the most sense to me. The odds are stacked against you (not that success is completely determined by luck – far from it), that it makes no sense to write anything but what you want. It’s actually quite liberating in a lot of ways, and its the lack of guarantee that allows for genius.

  2. -ARTED THE HARDEST, MOTHERFUCKER- Seriously, I DO want that on my headstone. Or maybe have it scribed onto a huge-ass mausoleum with a sculpture of me atop making a rude gesture. A slimmer, more sinister version of me – of course. The sculpture represents my soul not my pink, saggy meat sack of a body. Bwahahahahahaha!

  3. Timely. Stunningly so. That ms that had been tormenting me has been set aside. It was already on the edge, but the ping I got from this post pushed it over. Thank you.

  4. One of those Moments of Clarity Supplied By Chuck At Exactly The Right Time. It’s really pretty freaky how that happens so much, but as always, I’ll damn well take it, with thanks.

  5. “garotte my enemies with typewriter ribbon”

    I snorted tea at that one. Thank you for that particular…um…image. And the rest of your funny stuff. And this article in general. I actually lost touch with a YA manuscript/story/thing precisely because I was too afraid that it wouldn’t be what people wanted to read in YA, that it would be too harshly judged, that I wouldn’t be able to go where I wanted with it or go full dark. So now I’m writing a thing that’s not YA and that’s a better fit for me. Will I ever get back to the YA project? Probably. Hopefully when I’ve stopped caring quite so much about what other people think. It’s odd, that as writers we depend so much on what other people think of our work — yet getting too dependent on that can be absolutely crippling, as you point out.

  6. Been doing a lot of experimenting lately with style and genre, so I’m feeling a little artistically out of sorts. Just weird and cranky. Like I’m wearing that ill-fitting skin you mentioned. After reading this, however, I’m feeling a bit more sorted. Thanks again, Chuck, for helping me get back on track.

  7. This is a critical post, particularly for young or new writers. When I started my first novel I kept thinking, “what do people want to read?” or “what would an agent want to see?” It was paralyzing. It’s not possible to do. You just have to write what you want to write.

    On the other hand, at the time I started the novel (and even now) I see a lot of agents say “no vampires” or “no zombies.” So, they certainly try to predict the market, although maybe it’s because that’s what the acquisition editors say.

    But when I see that, I think, hey, there’ve been vampires around since Dracula, and before, no doubt. There’ve been vampire movies since “Nosferatu” was silent. People love vampires, and always have.

    So, why was my main character not a vampire? I wanted him to be. He started out that way. But at the time I wrote it, everyone was down on vampires. And my vampire was not a young, handsome high school boy. He was in his 50s, cranky, cynical, and cussed a lot (i.e., he was me). In other words, I changed my story to fit what I thought other people wanted to see. Although I was able to find a publisher, I still regret it to some degree.

  8. Thanks, Chuck, for reminding me that it’s worth it to write what you love, even when times get hard and depressing. Even when that little voice every writer keeps penned up in the back of their brain whispers, “No one will ever love what you write. Give up.” Because as long as I love what I do, it’s been worth it.

  9. At first I was going to quote the bits that spoke to me the most—but quoting 1, 970 words (approximately, ahahahahahha) seemed super weird. Let me just say: I really needed to hear this today. And also, I’m not a crazy psycho (er . . . ) but I am SO PSYCHED ABOUT HEARING YOU IN SURREY IN OCTOBER.

    I am not a new writer. Or a young writer. But every writer needs to be reminded now and then! Thanks for your words–and your encouragement to us all.

    🙂 Me

  10. I have just sprayed coffee out of my nostrils thanks to you.

    Never mind, at least the tea snorter back there is not alone. Phnark.

    What you say is so true though. Unless you love what you write, it’s almost impossible to write with any conviction. It would be nice if I loved something a little more mainstream, from the point of view of getting paid/getting an agent and getting published. But maybe I’ll mellow with age.

    I will Reblog this, probably on Thursday, when McMini goes back to school.



  11. What you wrote today reminded me of a discussion I had with another writer in my writing group:

    We were chatting about a peculiar picture I had found and I said this is how I’d work it into my story world. Then she said: “Haha! I would tell an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT STORY with that picture!”

    And that’s both of us being true to ourselves – as we write and read each other’s writing, it really brings home to us that no two writers are alike. Even the way our imaginations work is completely different.

    So the lesson is as you say, Chuck: write what you love, write who you are (even if it’s fiction). You can’t really run away from yourself, after all. It always leaks through in your writing style, thought processes, and quirks of imagination and logic.

  12. For me this post fits with the ‘There’s a weird thing that happens sometimes’ post. You’re smashing those insecurities to shit and I love that. But, it has to be said, you have the magic, and when it comes to making a living from your writing I do believe that counts and rightly so.

    I’d also say that this is where going indie gave me the biggest buzz. None of my stuff quite fits the market. The series I love writing most has a mega loser protag, is written in first person present, has a secondary storyline with a gay romance, and there’s a lot of swearing. When I took it indie I fucked up the cover and title so it looks like paranormal romance, although there is some twist of romance in there, so not everyone who downloads it as a romance hates the thing. But despite all my fuck ups there are people who get it (mostly in the UK and a few who are not and still get it despite the UK spelling and references, and that almost gives me the biggest buzz).

    Money would be nice but after years and years of not getting the agent, and even back to when you could sub to publishers getting that nearly but not quite letter, to get the stuff you love writing out there and have someone say they love it is fantastic. But as I said above, it’s a Marmite book, and so the agents etc were right.

    So, yes, write the stuff that makes writing a bigger buzz than reading your favourite author (even if it takes sweating blood to get it done sometimes and you know you’re never quite going to catch up with the SOB, but let’s be honest you don’t expect to play football, tennis or golf like the champions either).

    ARE you coming to the UK anytime, sir?

      • Yeah, sums a situation up perfectly and it’s a great thing to realise how many different types of readers there are out there, a chance for all of us!

    • Tired as I am of the zombie genre, I have to admit that I’ve tried my hand at writing a zombie story with enough of a twist to stand out from the shambling crowd.

      My experience has (mostly) been that it’s the stories that call out to you as a writer, the stories you have to write, that end up being easiest and quickest to sell.

      Although I wouldn’t mind some advice on what to do with my most recent story, a 17,000 word family drama set in 1944 Home Front America, with NO science-fiction and NO fantasy elements. I don’t think I’ve ever written a normal story before, and I’m not at all sure how to try marketing one. Damn good story, though, I think.

  13. Imagine a stadium filled with 100,000 people all doing a Mexican Wave and cheering their faces off. That’d be me.


  14. Tired as I am of the zombie genre, I have to admit that I’ve tried my hand at writing a zombie story with enough of a twist to stand out from the shambling crowd.

    My experience has (mostly) been that it’s the stories that call out to you as a writer, the stories you have to write, that end up being easiest and quickest to sell.

    Although I wouldn’t mind some advice on what to do with my most recent story, a 17,000 word family drama set in 1944 Home Front America, with NO science-fiction and NO fantasy elements. I don’t think I’ve ever written a normal story before, and I’m not at all sure how to try marketing one. Damn good story, though, I think.

  15. My computer screen is splattered with coffee and bits of toast. You have a way with words, my friend.

    I have impulsively followed my heart and my gut. I am too new to the trade to know any better. Anything that takes calculation and forethought just isn’t me. Passion fills my tank.

  16. Often, when I’m asked to be on a panel, I’ll end up saying, “Look, here’s the thing. Some day you’re going to be dead. So you might as well do what you want to do.”

    And, to point to a specific example from my own life:

    Two weeks ago, after stuffing my brain with news coming out of Ferguson, I decided to set aside all the other work I was working on and writer a pilot for mini-series. On spec. With an outline for the next seven episodes. For no other reason than I really wanted to write it. I really want to see it.

    This morning I’ll be sending my manager the revised draft off his notes from Friday.

    There’s no guarantee of anything on this. But I had to do it. I can only see if anything comes of it.

    And now back to all the other things I’m loving.

  17. I am NOT a dog chasing a car?

    NOW you tell me.

    Also, what am I supposed to do with this bumper? The rest of the car got away. I think the Muse was driving it.

  18. Mr. Wendig,
    Thanks for this most tremendous gift. I’ve just signed on and this is my first cup of fresh from the pot Chuck. It’s like I went out to get the paper and there was this boot sitting on the doorstep with a note: Please insert right foot and spend the rest of the day kicking yourself in the butt.” Writers need to be reminded to remind themselves to write. And sadly we seem to drift a lot into little cubby holes of gun metal grey despair that we suffer on our own. I actually stopped talking about my writing because people kind of look at me like I’ve just served them a slice of cold leprosy pie.
    Anyhow, I printed up your one sheet about writing and pinned it next to my cat clock. I’m in therapy (maybe I’m in therapy because I have a cat clock?) and have just recently discovered that I may be a multiple which would explain why I write a lot of horror stories. Had no idea that the shape shifters and things in the closet were actually stand ins for something darker that actually happened in real time. I told my therapist that I would agree to go forward as long as she didn’t get rid of my monsters. You’ve given me that spark. Writers need a coach to slap them into “arting” with their muse. “Sun bloated corpse ” made my day. Looking forward to your next bit of madness. %}

  19. I hate grammar. There I had to say that first. Because I am a far-sighted, dyslexia who confuses words like Sarah Palin makes salad. And I get corrected. So right off I will screw something up here and I hope I royally dangle a particle over your (not you personally) dead and decaying body.

    In the meantime, love this post. I have been writing song lyrics (or just songs? Correct me here). I have wanted to write songs forever and have put it off. Well, I can’t read music, don’t sing and like Ginger Rogers I’d probably read it backwards and in heels.I have so far have hated almost every moment of writing songs… and I have loved it all too. It is like writing on slate with a piece of rock. Scratching out lines, trying to get blood from the vein of tired, anemic white woman living in NJ (hey, that is me). I was listening to Tom Waits “Make it Rain” and thought well that guy is a shitty singer and boy that song just rocks my little dying ember of a soul. I mean I could have some sort of flare up listening to Tom rasp on. “Got to make it rain/Make it rain/You got to make it rain/Got to make it rain?You got to” Need I say more? Happy to have found you… lost in the wilds of the Internet.

  20. I was planning on writing my obit soon, not that I want to die soon, just so that when I do everybody knows what I want said about me. But thanks to you, I now know what I’m going to put on my, er, urnstone: She rocked her favorite stories like a mo-fo bitch, right to the end! Or something like that.

  21. I had just finished reading the section on how we are supposed to censor our works in my newly started writing class when I cam upon this post…seriously, thank you Chuck!

  22. Thank you once again, Chuck, for your extraordinary mass-mindreading-and-then-thinking-what-can-I-do-about-that abilities.

    I’m still squirreling through Draft Two of my w-i-p, a novel that, like that guy in Brokeback Mountain said, I just can’t quit. For at least the last six weeks I’ve thought at least once every day “No-one else on the planet is EVER gonna want to read this.” I’m not even sure which commercial genre it would fit – it’s mostly sci-fi, but I’m pretty sure a lot of male sci-fi fans are gonna hate it for being too ’emotional’ (a criticism levelled at me in the past by male beta readers of some of my previous sci-fi w-i-ps.) So maybe it’s ‘too emotional’ to be Proper Sci-Fi? I dunno…

    On a related note… just this week I went into two major bookstores here in the UK – and it appears they’ve dispensed with the categories of Sci-Fi and Fantasy altogether on their bookshelves! There’s now just a General Fiction category that’s absolutely mahoosive – about three times the size of what used to be called General Fiction. Have you noticed anything like this happening on your side of the pond? Is it a sign of things to come – or do I just happen to have wandered into a couple of weird bookshops?

  23. I once met a person who sold an Amazon keyword finder that did some other things. They held a seminar once about how to use the tool, but it was not how I expected. They used the tool to find untapped markets, then pay someone to writer it, get some stock images, and sell it. Make your money back in a month.

    Hearing that, felt like I was being asked to sell my soul. I couldn’t do it, nor would want to be associated with them. I do write what I want, how I want. Which is why I go self-publishing route (for now).

  24. Laughing 🙂 My story took a severe curve in the road which of course, I didn’t see coming. I’ve argued with it for two days. After reading this…I’m taking the curve on two wheels. 🙂 Thank ya!

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