Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Meeting the Market

Writing Wednesday

There's a great deal of wisdom hiding in the story of the three bears. Of the three, however, I nominate baby bear as the wisest. Why? Because he has everything just right--not too hot and not too cold.

People tend to see the world in dichotomies. Psychologists tell us that the tendency toward dualism (black/white, us/them, etc.) comes from the basic way our brains are wired that enables us to perceive me/not me. In fundamental cases, reducing the complex world to one of two cases serves us well. But living in a complex society, we're better served by an approach more like baby bear's: Neither extreme is as appropriate or adaptive as someplace in the middle.

So what does this have to do with integrity in writing?

There are two inaccurate caricatures of writers: the hack that panders to the market and the artiste whose work must be good because it is so obscure and impenetrable. At best, those stereotypes define the ends of a spectrum.

The goal of every quality writer should be to follow baby bear's example and produce books that are just right. Put another way, you need to meet the market halfway with your creativity.

Everything happens in context. The leading lights among us metaphorically stand a little taller or see a little further. Take your favorite genius (say Mozart or Einstein) out of context (i.e., drop them in the middle of Africa) and they're no longer a genius (or, more accurately, none of their new acquaintances care).

A quality writer produces a book with integrity when they take the parts of context, convention, and expectations, add their love, personality, and creativity, and come up with a whole that is greater than the sum. Indeed, it takes more creativity to do something fresh within a well defined context than to have a field day with a blank slate.

I once heard Stacy Whitman, Editorial Director for Tu Book at Lee & Low, ask rhetorically, "Do you write for love or money?" Her answer, "Yes".

Image: Simon Howden /

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