A friend of mine once told me that he wasn't planning to write any more stories at that time because he felt like he didn't have anything he hugely wanted to say. At the time, I didn't get that. It felt like waiting around for that perfect piece of inspiration and a burning topic just to write short stories was a bit over the top. After all, he could still write something entertaining and interesting.
Yet now I have a few novels under my belt, I can sort of see where he was coming from. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with the purely 'fun' novel. Indeed, that is something occasionally levelled at Court of Dreams as though it is an acusation, when it really shouldn't be. Wodehouse built a career on 'fun' novels. Although I do worry a little, because CofD was actually meant to contain quite a bit about family, duty and responsibility, so if that isn't coming through, maybe I got that part wrong.
Certainly now, I can feel the importance of having something to say. It isn't enough to knock out a novel for the sake of putting one out there. It isn't enough to just follow a vague genre template with a few twists of location or character (although there are obviously genres where doing so is considered the norm). I think this is perhaps one of the pressures of a world where people can publish whatever they want, in whatever volume they want. It's easy to be caught up in a competition to keep up.
Instead, I currently feel like the competition is to say things better. To have something that you feel deeply interested in and explore it. That doesn't necessarily have to be what other people would think of as a big issue (although I explore some pretty big ones in 'The Glass', for the current WIP I'm thinking about history and the ways we think about it, which is clearly primarily of interest to me). It does have to be something that means enough to you to be worth seventy or eight thousand words.