Do You Have To Bleed on the Page

I think if you’re around writing circles long enough, someone will mention how writing can be like cutting a vein open and bleeding on the page. You know, pouring a piece of yourself out there for the world to see in all its brutal, painful glory.

I was even in a writing group a few years back that had ribbons drawn up to that effect.

In one of the comments on a recent thread, author Jon Wasik (who has a new urban fantasy release coming out this week, check it out) was wondering if it always has to be that way.

Do you have to put that much of yourself out there every time to write something “good”? Which, of course, makes it all that much harder if the book doesn’t sell like gang busters right out the gate, right? It was a piece of you and no one wanted it.

(Which on Valentine’s Day I’m sure many can commiserate with, even the non-writers. You put yourself out there and…crickets.)

I figured I’d take the response I gave him there and expand upon it a bit since I’ve written a wide variety of things at this point, some that absolutely had a part of me in them and some…that didn’t?

So December 2014 I decided what the hell, I am going to dash off a billionaire Christmas short story and publish it. I did it in a day. Wrote the story, edited the story, put together the cover, and hit publish all in the space of about eight hours. I didn’t even write that story in my office, I wrote it while sitting on my couch watching TV.

And then eight months later I rounded it out and turned it into a collection where they go from that start to married. That took I think about a week to write the rest of it.

So let’s say two weeks of effort.

Now, as I mentioned to Jon, there was a part of me in that story in the sense that I can’t write a rescue fantasy to save my life. Over the course of that series of stories the woman prioritized her family over jet setting with her billionaire, dumped him when he tried to pay her to stay with him, started her own successful company, and only married her billionaire when it was clear that they were going to be equals in the relationship.

It was very much a billionaire romance as written by me.

But it was also a throw away. It wasn’t something I slaved over or had an emotional investment in. It wouldn’t have hurt me personally to see people say rude things about the character or her choices.

As I mentioned to Jon, I don’t think that story is a story anyone thinks about for more than ten minutes after they finish reading it. So it may not fit the definition of a good book. But what it was was a profitable book.

Mostly because it was a billionaire holiday romance. There was and is a voracious audience for that kind of book. (And I’m not saying they’re easy to write, because romance and sex scenes are not easy to write, especially over and over again. I have all awe and respect for romance and erotica authors because that stuff is hard to do.)

I haven’t written anything new under that name in years, that’s really the only big thing I ever published under that name, and advertising options are limited because they’re short stories. Despite all that the series has sold 3,600+ copies and made me a profit of close to $2,000 after taking out advertising and audiobook costs.

Not big numbers if you’re a romance author, but big numbers for me at the time. And for a short story series? Really big numbers.

And it was not because I bled on the page. I did not carve a part of myself out and offer it to the world. What I did was meet the expectations of the readers I was targeting enough that they bought the initial story and went on to buy the collection as well.

Sometimes readers just want enjoyment. Or a good laugh.

I actually think that putting emotional weight on the page can be the harder thing to do. At the writing workshop I attended almost five years ago, they hated my writing for the most part. It was too emotional. Get on with it. Stop sitting in the feelings and give us action. Make things happen. We don’t care what your character is feeling or thinking. At least not that much.

My first fantasy novel a good friend called the character whiny. Probably for the same reason. She was too busy grieving her dad to ride her horse around having adventures.

It is not easy to have a character on the page be deep in their feelings and have most readers care.

For me that first fantasy was about grief and losing your parent. But that friend who found my character whiny? Has never lost a parent. I’m pretty sure they’ve never lost anyone, not even a pet. Maybe a grandparent. Maybe. They couldn’t connect what was happening to their own experience so they wanted to move on to something more interesting.

So if you’re going to put emotion on the page you have to either accept that you’re not writing for that type of reader who can’t identify with the emotion you’re writing about, or you have to get so good at writing emotion that you can suck any reader into it and make them care. That is much harder to do than dashing off some fun romp.

Of course, I do think the stories we remember and that go on our shelves and that we tell everyone else about are the ones that are deep and somehow make us feel those emotions.

So lasting literature that people rave about? Yeah, that probably requires putting a piece of yourself in there. But profitable literature? The thing that can pay next month’s rent? Eh, not so much.

Author: M.L. Humphrey

M.L. Humphrey is a former securities regulator, registered stockbroker (although only briefly), and consultant on regulatory and risk-related matters for large financial institutions with expertise in the areas of anti-money laundering regulation, mutual funds, and credit rating agencies. Since 2013 M.L. has also been a published author under a variety of pen names and across a variety of subjects and genres. You can contact M.L. at mlhumphreywriter [at] gmail.com.

One thought on “Do You Have To Bleed on the Page”

  1. I definitely wonder about where those two cross – profitable vs deep/emotional. I know some of my all-time favorite stories, both in print and in movies/TV, have a good mix of the two. These days my favorite author is Jay Kristoff, and somehow he manages a good mix of it all – great action and incredible events worthy of a big-budget movie, mixed in with deep emotions, striking chords that leave me reeling emotionally. Funny enough, his first trilogy, the publisher didn’t think it was going to sell (probably because it seemed ‘too emotional and too niche’) and they gave him zero marketing help. That trilogy became a NY Times Best Seller for each book. I think I look up to him as a writer because of that – he somehow found the balance that is appealing to readers en masse. (and I think I’m oversimplifying it, too – I’m sure his success comes from more than just that. He has a…unique writing style.)

    Thanks for the shout-out! 🙂

    Like

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