Sunday, January 29, 2006

Goals

Most people have goals, and writers are no exception.

Some writers aspire to find an agent, or land a book deal, or hit the NYT list, or win awards, or gain critical praise, or sell a gazillion copies, or several of the above.

Here's a goal that most writers forget:

Entertain your readers.

Strangely, that's the most important goal of all. If your work can give people pleasure, many of the other things mentioned above will fall into place.

I find it interesting that many writers seem disdainful of those who achieve the above goals. It's easy to pick apart the flaws of The DaVinci Code, or to criticize the last several of Patricia Cornwell's books. (Boy, is it easy.)

But the fact is, someone obviously enjoyed them, because they sold like crazy. Dan Brown and Patricia Cornwell are entertaining millions of readers.

So why the sour grapes?

I believe that every writer thinks that their way is the best way. I believe that every writer believes they have the answers, and the only reason they haven't reached their goals yet is because things have happened beyond their control. And I believe when writers see other writers becoming successful, winning awards, gaining fame, it pisses them off, because they feel they are better writers and more deserving.

Of course, this doesn't apply only to writers. This is human nature.

Instead of concentrating on all of that, writers need to focus on the one thing that they do have control over: Entertaining their readers.

Looking objectively at the situation, I'd have to say that Dan Brown entertains a lot more people than whoever won the Nobel, Booker, and Pulitzer combined. Perhaps Brown, with his cardboard stereotypical characters, contrived escapes, cliched structure, and formulaic endings, is who writers need to hold up as the ideal.

Because no matter what else you can say about Dan Brown's books, he's entertained a lot of people.

My advice: Be entertaining.

You might not win any awards. You might get crummy reviews. The literati will despise you, your peers will vilify you, and many folks will dedicate themselves to knocking you down.

But trust me---an email from Jane Average in Oregon who named her cat after your main character means more than any of the above accolades I've mentioned. Because that is a goal you did reach. You entertained somebody.

Write the best book you possibly can, then dedicate yourself to getting people to read it.

And maybe, if you're lucky, you can be as despised as Dan Brown.