The most important thing for a beginning writer is that of discovering who he really is.
At first blush this might look like a selfish thing to do. Instead it’s the opposite. In fact, the more you know yourself, the more you know how to apply the rules of writing to your work.
You take what you like and are comfortable with, and toss out, adapt, or reinvent everything else.
I mean, if you write he go into the shop because you’ve decided to ditch the “es” for the singular third person, I can choose not to read your book because your departure from the norm I don’t like, or don’t feel comfortable with, but I can never point a finger at you and tell you you are ignorant even of the most basic grammar rules.
Similarly, you can tell a story starting from the end. You can tell who is the culprit right off the bat. You can make male characters speak like women and vice versa. You can spend no word about the setting of your story. You can avoid naming the main protagonist.
Slow and steady…
What matters is consistency. Not across different books, unless you’re writing a series — perhaps. But within the damn book.
Every story is your opportunity to express yourself, to experiment. Then you can use the knowledge you’ve garnered for your next book. And the next after that.
In fact, while specialization — writing always more or less in the same genre and with the same style — can help you be prolific, it’s only when you challenge yourself that you can learn something new.
A reality check
Sure, you have to put out four books in a year to keep up with your readers’ expectations, some experts say. But following their advice you might be forgetting two simple things.
First, you don’t have to do anything. Anything at all. A reader who ditches a writer just because she’s not prolific enough isn’t a good reader — he’s just a spoiled reader who behaves like a child. He wants more and more of the same. Till he gets sick and can never pick up one of your books without feeling sick all over again.
Second, while experimenting can be taxing. in the long run it’s like training for a 50 km ultra trail. Even while it’s demolishing you a step at a time, or a word at a time, it also builds up your confidence and greatly improves your resilience to stressors.
A matter of balance
I know that someone is now probably thinking this is nonsense and that writers need to know about their market and the readers’ tastes.
But if you force yourself to write to market without ever giving a thought about what you really like writing, chances are you’re going to burn out sooner or later. Unless, that is, you can write flawless prose without ever stopping and thinking about it, and you don’t have any preference about the stories you write. You just enjoy the process.
Given that the above depicted scenario is extremely unlikely, for the 99.99% of the writers, getting to know themselves is an essential step because it allows them to find a balanced compromise between what is marketable and what is close to their heart.
That is the sweet spot you should aim for. In fact, it can be rewarding both psychologically and economically, so ultimately offering you the opportunity to have a long and interesting career.