Write what people want? Is that the best advice a successful author can give you?
When I first received this advice I had to contain my expression of absolute bewilderment. I also had to conceal an offended chuckle. Really? You go to a literary event and ask what is the best advice you can provide for new authors? Answer: write what people want.
You will have to excuse any expletives that I now write but what the F*!!! If everyone knew what people wanted surely all books would be bestsellers. What's more, not all people want the same thing. Do we really think that some of the most famous authors sat down and thought - what do people want to read? I am sure that J.K. Rowling did not go - hmmm people will want to know about a young boy with a scar on his head. Or Douglas Adams laid thinking - what do people want? - Oh yes they want a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Their ideas and books came from inspiration. Douglas Adams was travelling, a little wasted and laying in field looking at the sky when he had the title pop into his head. There was none of this - hmmm what do people want?
Now, in contrast to approval seeking, I like to think of my writing as a time and a space in which to explore characters and build stories. My whole approach is not seeking approval from strangers; instead, my writing is about enjoying every moment of creation. It enables me to explore visionary concepts and step into constructed mental landscapes. Maybe this is the anti-thesis of write what people want - I write what I want because it provides mental adventure. I write to sit crying laughing at my own jokes or enjoy taking characters to absolute extremes. If I was writing what I thought people wanted I would spend my whole time focused on seeking writing approval. That would certainly not motivate me. Instead I a compelled to write because it is my passion and I love literary escapades.
Another point that popped into my mind was maybe 'people' don't know what they want to read until it exists. Now there is a paradox - you don't know something is missing until it turns up in your life. Maybe the next book you or I write will be precisely what people want - they just don't know it yet.
My advice is write your passion for you. If people want it good. I would also then ask why I write. Do I write because I desire to be rich or do I write because something within my soul compels me to write, explore and enjoy?