Write what you want to read

I’m reading The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson now. (Thanks to my friend, Jesse, for the recommendation.) It’s an epic fantasy novel (1,000 pages in this first of a planned ten book series) and not my usual reading fare. But I’m immersed in it and marveling at the compelling narrative and level of detail the author has created. Years ago, before the movies ever came out, I read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and felt a similar level of awe at the marvelous world an author can create.

Intrigued by this young author’s career, I found this interview with Sanderson and appreciated his approach:

I can only speak from my own experience, which may be abnormal, but I really feel that the times where I worried too much about the market were the times I wrote my worst fiction. And the times where I wrote: “this is what I want to read — this is what I’m passionate about,” I wrote my best fiction. And so that’s what I would advise.

That being said, I was very steeped in this genre. You can say what I wanted to read was very naturally an outgrowth of what a lot of what the fandom wanted to read because I was one of them. That’s why it worked for me. And I’m sure there are a number of people who are writing to their passion, and it just doesn’t end up catching on. I wrote 13 books before I got published, and at the end of the day I decided I would rather keep writing and never publish than give up writing or go do something else. And if I reached the end of my life and had 70 unpublished novels, I’d still consider myself a successful writer. That decision has driven me ever since and it’s worked out for me. -Brandon Sanderson

He’s writing what he wants to read and seems as if he would be content if he was never published.

That’s a good formula for work in general, not just writing. Make things that will delight you. Do your best, not for the chance for advancement or to impress bosses or to win some sales competition. Be awesome in all that you do whether anyone else notices or not. You will notice. And you will delight in the intrinsic rewards of work that shines regardless of any extrinsic rewards.

And that approach is more likely to produce quality work that does resonate and connect with others in a more meaningful way than trying to figure out what will sell.