– written in BERLIN

I once was having a coffee with a fairly known Italian writer in one of those smoky bars in Berlin. We had met years earlier in a creative writing workshop — He was teaching, I was learning. I had read a few of his books; some were good, some less. Anyway, I admired him also because he had published with one of the largest Italian publishing houses.

– So, you are writing the second novel? – he asked.

Kind of expecting (read: dreading) that question, I started pitching the story, highlighted the characters’ dilemmas the best I could, and slowly revealed the plot. 

He looked at me with those beautifully dense brown eyes and said: – You know, I am sure that adding a chapter about the struggle of the Italians who live in Berlin will help you later with the marketing of the book. –

What the f**k?  No even one word on the story? No mention of my poor characters? And what has to do the struggle of the Italians in Berlin with my manuscript?

I took my time and answered politely with another question: – Do you really think that Kafka or Bulgakov would write a story having the marketing of their books in mind? –

He put his best who-do-you-think-you-are face on and the conversation turned to less interesting topics.

Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion — Jack Kerouac

Perhaps I am too naive, too romantic if you will, but I do believe that if you stick to your idea and write high-quality work — if you write from within — readers will follow, and perhaps money too.

Writing toward trends and writing from within may in some rare cases lead to the same novel, but these are fundamentally different approaches.

Writing toward trends

I am not a fan of focusing on the outer world. I have spent years in an effort to controlling or changing it. I mean, the temptation is there all the time, but I try to be self-aware and overcome the urge. What others do, have, like, choose is not that relevant. 

Others are writing a post-apocalyptic novel set in Berlin that sells well? Good for them. Readers want more books like [fill the blank]? Fine. Many authors will try to reproduce that style, some may get their manuscripts published, a few may even get rich with it.

But… If you become a reader-pleaser, agents will spot this at the first line. And the more experienced readers too.

Let’s say that you do not care. You want to be rich and famous and that this is what drives your writing.

You analyze the market, determine how long the sentences should be, how erudite the vocabulary, how fast the plot, you even get a thorough understanding of what publishers or agents demand, and finally come up with the holy grail of creative writing: The great formula of best-selling novels. [good news! It has been found!]

Well, the probability of your success is still low:

Given how long it takes to write a book, find a publisher, and then see it into production — generally a number of years, even just in the latter stages — it is not realistic to attempt to be “on trend” during the writing process. Trends move fast, and writing, editing, and publishing do not. (Elisa Gabbert)

But so many have succeeded!

Oh crap, you are right… It is true. You may still succeed. In this case, congratulations! You are not a writer. You are a very rich algorithm and soon will be replaced by a better one.

Writing from within

One way to be happier in life is to let go of the need for specific outcomes.

It is the same with writing.

You calm yourself, perhaps have a good glass of wine or relax with some music, wait and wait until some magic happens: A character comes to visit you, and then another. A location appears. A plot is formed.

Writing a book is an inner journey regardless of the outcome.

Does this cheesy hippie crap sell?

The answer to this is — Who cares?

If you put your writing out there — your real writing — and keep writing and writing and writing… something will happen. That is authentic. It is true. It is you.

Final thought

Of course, it is up to you how you are going to write your novel. Yet, I believe that in writing, just like in life, you are like a slow train that steadily proceeds towards a chosen destination. Mile after mile, readers will hop on your train and accompany you to that destination. An authentic piece of art is ahead of people’s need — It does not follow demand, it creates it.

The “train station” photo was taken during one of my trips to Paris.
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Phaedrus’ Journey

by Arturo Robertazzi

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