Are you writing for the wrong reason?

by 11:25 PM 0 comments
I want to speak to everyone a bit about writing, and why I think a lot of us are doing it for the wrong reasons. No, I'm not accusing you of this, I'm merely floating a concept, though anyone immediately offended by the suggestion should probably skip the rest of this post, because it's only going downhill from here. 

Have you written a great book that no one has read, even though it's been on sale for a decade? Then most in the industry would consider you a failure. Now, I would argue that you didn't fail. You wrote a kick-ass novel. You DID your job. That most every author, independent or traditional, is taught to measure their success against the New York Times bestseller list is beside the point, which is that many of us are writing for the wrong reasons. Some of us write because the promise of wealth is just too tempting. That we are so damn special that once everyone else discovers it, they are going to buy everything that comes out of our gifted hands because, well, they should. We're awesome. Why wouldn't they? You do that because our culture is unevenly trained to respect a small number of elite at whatever metric you aspire to succeed against. It's the "lottery mentality". We sell ourselves on the long odds because all of those endless zeroes on the right side of the "1 in 10,000,000,000" aren't nearly as deserving of winning as you are

Some of us write for fame. They've grown up hearing about their favorite author, how interesting everyone thinks they are, and how they really just want everyone to respect them that much. I've fallen victim to this. I've struggled my entire life with a terminal case of "know-it-all-itis", and while I like to think I'm making progress, I'm really not capable of the proper perspective to say it with any sort of validity. Shit, just read this blog for a while, there's no doubt hours of proof of it. 

I had a friend say to me, not too long ago, that "You don't always have to be the smartest person in the room (even if you often are)" The parenthetical portion was included in the original quote, I didn't add it now. I have a ton of respect for this person, and while he was worried about me being upset with him over it, he needed to be reminded of two things.

A: I'm nearly impossible to offend. Seriously, I don't give a shit. Really.
B: I'm aware that I like to share the things I know, and that sometimes (despite an honest effort) it comes across as being smarmy. 

He knows me well enough to understand that I don't have an insatiable urge to be right, I just enjoy sharing stuff that I think is cool, that I read a lot, and thus have a lot of cool stuff to share. Stuff I accumulate while everyone else I know is busy having something called a "personal life" (whatever that is, pssh).

And it's this need to share things that drives my desire to write. It's not about getting rich, it's not about gaining notoriety, it's about that feeling you get when you show someone something they've never seen before, teach them something new, or help them shift their perspective a little so they can see the world in a new way. I can almost guarantee that I will never become rich or famous. I'm not wired that way. I spend money faster than I can make it. I give big, dumb gifts sometimes because it's fun. I won't be famous because I don't care to be so, and I seriously doubt that the writing ability I have is so profound that it will transcend my introversion. I'm not one of those people that walk into a room and am instantly the center of attention. 

I don't need that. It's like I posted recently on my twitter account, I don't want to be the one tasked with fixing the world. I just want to say my piece, and enjoy the show. (Yes, autocorrect totally boned me in the misuse of peace/piece in the original.) I want to write my stories without any pressure of financial expectations. I have written two, and will continue to write. I strive to improve because I want to write more entertaining stories, not because I think it will make me more money. I will keep my day job, unless lightening strikes , and despite my best effort to avoid it, I reach a point where I am making considerably more from writing than I do at my day job. 

I do this because I enjoy doing it. For me, that is the right reason to write. As far as I'm concerned, it's the only indefensible reason to devote as much time as I do to it. If you are doing it for fortune and/or fame, you might just get it. You might become rich, or you might become famous, but it won't last. The only way either of those qualities stick around is if they appear as a secondary result from doing something that you LOVE. Because you have to love it to do it enough to succeed. The love has to come first, because writing is such a poor investment for your time otherwise. 

It takes hundreds of hours to write a novel. Hundreds more to edit it, create the cover art (if you do your own), etc. If you do that expecting it to pay off with J.K. Rowling's checking account balance, well.....I won't even tell you how unlikely that is. You're better off dumping half of your paycheck each week into the lottery, and once you win, doing the same thing again and again. That's how long the odds are. 

Write because you love it, and any chance you had to achieve that will still be there. 

You can't force it. 

There is an entire cottage industry that has arisen around the independent publishing phenomenon. Thousands of companies wishing to teach you or help you build an online presence, to the point where you will spend more time peddling yourself online than you ever did writing. I'm not even arguing if these companies can even do what they tell you they can, I'm simply telling you that any time spend doing self promotion that is one foot outside of who you were when you are writing is not going to prove out useful. 

There are people out there that can do it. People so media savvy that they can manage ten social media accounts and appear omnipresent online. These people would be doing that even if they hadn't written a book, I think. It's who they are. It's who they were, are, and always will be. Yes, they make it look easy, and it makes you fucking hate them because you wish you could be that outgoing. You know they gain a profile faster than you for equivalent writing talent, will sell more books because of it, etc. 

Get over it. If you were meant to be that person, you would already BE that person. Stop trying to jam your square-peg personality into the round-hole of the internet. 

That's another piece of universally useful advice-be yourself. You are the best version of you you will ever find. Sure, in time, with appropriate levels of hard work and good advice from people you trust enough to put int practice, you will get better at being you, but if you weren't fairly close to being good enough before, you're never going to close the remaining gap. 

Does this mean you should give up? Never write another word? If you can actually do that, you weren't really a writer to being with. Every writer I've actually had a chance to sit down with and get to know has the same problems I do. They try to stop, but eventually the story ideas, the (fictional, mostly) voices keep piling up until you are forced to find a way to purge them onto something capable of recording them. How much money you can make or how famous they could make you don't really come into it. I've heard it called a curse, I've heard it called "your muse speaking to you", but whatever you choose to call it, it's a part of you. 

Money and fame aren't the reason you write in those circumstances. If you never feel that uncontrollable urge to write, and it's always been work to you, write news columns or magazine articles or something, because you really need to not be able to help yourself to create something from nothing, and writing is as close to that as there exists in this world. That blank sheet of paper when you sit down to start writing? Sure, it's scary, but if it's still blank because you're thinking of how awesome it's going to be once you become rich and/or famous, I think you can save yourself a ton of heartache and find a new hobby. 

Chris Godsoe

Developer

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