I’ve always been a panderer. In second grade when we first started writing stories with beginnings, middles, and ends, I would write what I hoped my classmates would like. Also—because I was an attention whore, a trait (I think) I have since cast off—I wrote what I thought my teacher would most likely ask me to read aloud to the class. I liked telling stories. I wanted to tell them. So I wrote for the “popular market” of my second grade classmates. And it worked. My teachers let me read out loud. My classmates laughed at “the funny parts.” And I felt like a phony.
This continued throughout my burgeoning “career” as a writer. For contests, I wrote things that I thought the judges would like, as opposed to submitting work that I’d already written that I thought fit with the theme. And it worked. I won. I got money. My name was in anthologies. I was a successful panderer.
But I wasn’t happy with my writing. When I wrote my first novel—which I am currently shopping—I made certain decisions that I thought would be popular. Themes, word choices, scenarios. It was the book I wanted to write, but elements of it were pander-y. (Yes, pander-y.) And not only was I unhappy with its quality, readers weren’t connecting with those parts. When your voice is missing, it doesn’t go unnoticed. The novel has since changed in a myriad of ways, and I have slowly begun to feel as if it is truly the story I intended to write.
So my lesson, dear readers <Mother Goose voice>, is what I think tons of literary agents would echo: write the book YOU want to write. And, by extension, don’t write for trends. Kinda like the Rifleman’s Creed, but the Writerwoman’s Creed: “This is my story. There are many like it but this one is mine.” This one is yours. Make it count.