Monday, January 3, 2011

The Importance of Fit


Bear with me today.  This is one of those posts that is going to spiral a bit, but I think (given the topic) it's important that I write it as it comes naturally to me.  This is neither a whining post, nor an advice post, though it may seem like both.  I would love any feedback, comments, questions, pointers, sarcasm, or anything else you'd like to offer, though.  I love that Nevets.QST has, over the past year, become more interactive.  I love the exchange of ideas and conversation in the comments almost more than I like the posts themselves. So hang in there and then voice back!

Let me start with the part that will, at first, sound like whining.  Like many writers, and indeed like many others in this world, I am working a day job that I don't particular care for.  In fact, as of last Wednesday, I was already sick to my stomach at the thought of returning to my job today (Monday).   I realize how pathetic that is.  I'm not asking for pity, though.  Because here's the thing -- my job isn't that onerous.  I don't do grueling labor, I don't have a monstrous boss, and for the most part I don't have to engage with venomous clients.  The job is no big deal, really.

So why do I struggle with it?

Because it's a poor fit.

Many of you have probably gathered enough about my personality to understand that I'm not geared for a workroom-type job.  When I first took  my present job, there was a large portion of time spent with clients and amidst the urgency of people's immediate needs.  Over time, the job has transformed into one that keeps me in the workroom most of the time and focusing on long-term projects and technology.  I'm good enough at it, and it's not horrible work.

But it's a poor fit.

I thrive in chaos and I get my energy from interaction with other people.  I work in a realm of ideas and emotions.  Long, step-by-step work literally makes me car sick (seriously).  Facts and figures, mechanics and   measurements are a foreign language to me.  (I was a history major who couldn't do names and dates.  Go figure.)

Now here's the part that might sound like advice: the only reason I'm writing about this is because I've realized increasingly just how important this is in writing, too.    It's not enough to be good at what you're writing.  It needs to be a good fit.  It's not enough to write properly and in a productive way.  You need to write in a way that is a good fit.  It's not enough to find an agent who represents books like yours or a publisher that sells books like yours or a blog that posts stories like yours -- it has to be a good fit.

No matter how good the stories are, if they're not really a good fit for you, it's not going to click, and in the end you're going to feel like writing is a burden and a struggle.  You're going to be struggling with all sorts of ancillary questions about genre and voice and tone and structure and marketability.  Sometimes you're struggling with those questions because your subconscious is looking for an excuse to not write that story in the first place.

So here's the kicker, if you want advice: write something that's a good fit for you, and stop worrying about everything and everyone else.

It's not even about about what you like.  I like a lot of things that aren't a good fit for me.  I loved what I was doing when I was doing forensic anthropology.  But it wasn't a good fit.  I loved the wilderness of Alaska, but as a place to live, it wasn't a good fit.  I love this suit that's hanging in my closet, but it doesn't fit.

When it fits, you not only like it, but you excel at it, you're comfortable in it, the challenges feel like opportunities, and the upsides make up for the downsides.  When it doesn't fit some of those may be true, but others may have to be forced, and at the end of the day you're going to be sick to your stomach about it.

And yet so many of my writing friends try to write things that don't fit them.  Because they're afraid of the consequences if they let it all hang out.  Or because they're afraid no one will like it.  Or because they don't think it's up to snuff.  Or because they think a grown-up shouldn't be writing Young Indiana Jones fan fiction.  Or because no one reads Westerns anymore.  Or because everyone in their crit group tells them that they really are a paranormal romance writer at heart.

If it doesn't fit, you must quit.

But I said this was neither about whining or about giving advice.  And it's not.  What's it about then?

It's about the dang struggle.

Because it's all well and good to say fit is important.  But when you have to pay bills in a down economy, you keep the job that doesn't fit.  And when you're writing, you don't always know what's a good fit.  And sometimes, when you do know what fits, the implications are too crazy to deal with.

Writer of that which is-not-but-perhaps-might-be-or-should-be, Tara Maya advised me recently to write for a world of me's, or to write for a Japanese audience, to write the crazy surreal, wu xia-influenced fiction that I like.  And she was pretty much right.  That would be a pretty great fit in a lot of ways.

But, at the end of the day, I face a pretty mercenary question.  As screenwriter and novelist Ryne Pearson put it: do you want to write about peach pie or do you want to sell books?

But (yes, there's another but) that's a trap, because you're not going to write your best books unless you're writing something that's a good fit.  And if you're not writing your best books, you're not as likely to sell them.  (And, in case you're unfamiliar with Pearson's work, I don't think peach pie would be a good fit for him.)

So what does that mean?  For me, I think it means stop screwing around with all the other stuff and just write a good story.  Check out the conversation that Domey Malasarn started in the Literary Lab blog today.  As he suggested in the initial post, a book does not need to be perfect in its individual elements to be a great book.

Domey talked about plot, character, and prose.  The same goes for everything else.  The word perfect means complete.  What makes a story perfect is that it's everything it can be.

That doesn't happen without fit.

Someday I'll take that advice to heart and write something that truly fits.  But in the mean time, I have a novel to finish.

If you're still with me, I appreciate your endurance.  And I would absolutely love to hear from you in the comments.


Blue October provided the soundtrack for this post.


  1. C.N. ~ I recently had to realize something similar to this- I find i excel at a challenge, hence why i do blogfests because they challenge me, am I capable of writing what they ask? can i do it before the deadline? I enjoy that. But in school, college, I had to realize I wasn't going to school to be a psychology major like I originally decided- i wanted English, then in english i realized, I don't like teaching english- can i do it- yes, amd i good at it, yes, does it make me want to do it- hell no, teaching is not my cup of tea- however upon further research inside myself- i realized I want to edit other peoples work- am i good at it, yes, do i like it, yes, would i want to do it for long periods of time, sure I do it for free already. i spend hours and hours of my free time editing other peoples work, and i do it for the simple enjoyment I get at making someone elses writing better. Imagine getting paid for that! I'd love that kind of job. Yes I love my writing, yes I'm persuading being published- but that is not what I am going to make my career from. i will be published, but my day job will be editing, and then I have no pressure other than to write exactly what I want without worrying about a pay check. :)

  2. This is very true, Nevets.

    Most of us, I assume, are not writing for the money (if only because very few writers make *real* money). Given that, why wouldn't you write something you find enriching? Writing something that, deep down, you don't really want to write, is just like the day job, only worse paid.

  3. This all really means, be true to yourself, doesn't it? And you're right, Nevets. Years ago, after I sold my first story, I thought I'd cracked it, and started writing formulaic stories that I thought would fit the market (they didn't) if not me. It was a long tme before I sold another, but I learnt a valuable lesson. I would love to write literary fiction (whatever that is) but I know that I can't, so I shall never try. But I enjoy what I do write, and I believe in it (even when no-one else does. After all, you have to love your own child, don't you?).

  4. I can definitely relate to this. I worked on novel #2 for four years, struggling away, trying to make it gold - before realizing that it just was not a good story and never would be. When I really allowed my voice to shine, and write what I wanted, that's when I was able to discover my true talent. It's amazing how that works, but you HAVE to write what you love.

  5. @Summer - I'm sure the road has felt bumpy, but it sounds like you're at a really great place and that's exciting to hear! I'm very happy that you're figuring out what fits for you -- and that you're not only figuring it out, but listening to it!

    @Tim - I love that quote so much that I'm going to memorialize it somehow on my blog presentation: Writing something that, deep down, you don't really want to write, is just like the day job, only worse paid. Brilliantly said, and I know you understand where I'm coming from, so that makes it all the more powerful.

    @Frances - Way to boil down my thousands of rambling words. haha Yes, exactly: be true to yourself. I can't wait to start reading your stuff. My TBR pile is so deep right now it's driving me crazy. I'm glad you came out of that experience learning a lesson and responding to it, not just getting bitter and depressed like some authors do when presented with the same lesson.

    @Elena - Well put. It just struck me as I was reading your comment that it's a whole heck of a lot like singing. I'm no great singer, but when I'm by myself playing my guitar, I can sing okay, and I've had a few times singing in front of others where I've pulled it off, as well. But generally when other people are listening, I'm self-conscious and second-guessing myself and listening to closely to my own voice. When I really just stop caring and let my voice out, I sing much better. It's the same thing with writing. I've not really tied to the two forms of voice together so tightly before -- thanks for inspiring the light bulb moment!

  6. To me, you are writing about a journey to find fit, and it may have several wide turns built into it. When I first started writing, I was writing stuff that fit me well. Then, often, in my attempts to "fix" my stories, I would force my writing into things that no longer fit. This usually ruined the stories whether I managed to get them published or not. After ten plus years of writing, I still fall into this same trap, but it happens less frequently. I am able to write stuff that fits me for longer stretches before messing it up! I'll probably feel like I've mastered writing when I'm able to finish an entire book that all fits. For now, it comes in spurts. Bread is the closest I've come to writing what fits me. My new book is fitting well so far, but I only have about 8000 words. Still, I love my 800 words!

  7. I hear you, Nevets. That's all I can say. I hear you. I think this is something Idealists struggle with, specifically, among writers. We're always searching for our most authentic self, and our writing has to be an extension of that.

    What happens when your truest writing self isn't creating what the industry sells or wants? For me, it means accepting my writing as art alone and never likely as a business for me. That's the only way I can write, or I just get blocked. I am not built, as a person for the machinery. It's not a matter of fear of hard work- it's knowing I am not a good fit for the publishing industry machine.

    I know that the business part is key for you, so all I can say is I truly wish you peace on the journey and to find a balance that truly fits your goals, and your heart.


  8. Excellent post, Nevets. I think this is one of the most important things a writer can learn - how to find the right fit. I think this is one of the reasons I don't have many book ideas. They take forever to come, and oftentimes I throw them away before any of them even make it to the keyboard. The books I have manage to write and now am publishing are the "good fits." They were what I finally felt I could get passionate about - and I ran with it. I'm glad I did.

    I think it's important for every writer to be brave enough to write the "good fit" even if it's unpopular. I think when it's unpopular, that's when most of the problems start cropping up.

  9. @Domey - You're right that it's a journey and that's it probably a crazy and unpredictable path. I'm glad you're at a place on the path that feels like fit right now. I wish I understood journeys and paths. My mind works in states, and the transitions are assumed. Makes life confusing and conflicting at times.

    @Bru - I am so glad that you've come to an understanding of your fit. I think how you fit in the writing world as just as important as how your story fits your writing. If anyone ever thinks you're afraid of hard work, they're crazy. And thanks so much for your support, too. I think the trick is to write fit and then be open to letting the business people tinker with it when they get it.

    I think. haha

    @Michelle - Thanks! I agree that it's critical to have fit. It's interesting to me that you tie this in with the pace at which book ideas come about for you. I hadn't considered that implication, but it makes total sense. I wonder if you reach a point sometime that you become so perfectly "in-fit" that the ideas can flow more quickly and more naturally.

    Perhaps, as Domey said, that's when you've mastered writing.

  10. I hear you all the way. The more I progress with my writing and that aspect of my life, the less I fit at my day job.

    With my writing, I hope I don't stop writing what I want. I write a little of everything dark and I hope it continues.

  11. @Hannah - Good luck with the day job fit. And I tell you wet, if I see any signs that your writing is drifting, I'll send you a note and say, "Hey, does that really fit with you? If so, cool. If not, get back on track." :)


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