Why write? Why take this path?
It’s a question I’ve seen float about on a lot of blogs. The typical answer after much meandering is “Because I’d still do it anyway. It’s like breathing. I’d die inside if I didn’t write.”
Okay. Fair answer. It’s the same answer everyone gives. It’s the answers readers and writers alike nod at and pump their fists to and get all psyched up over.
But I think we’re asking the wrong question. Why write? is silly. You write because you feel a driving need. Period. End of Discussion. We don’t need a 1000+ words essay about this.
I think the question we should be asking is Why Publish?
That’s a whole different path.
Why Publish? Why put yourself out there? Why take the risk that trolls will hunt you down and make your life hellish in the comments pages and the fan letters? Why do you want your work potentially presented to hundreds and thousands of people daily- you don’t even know – just so they can pass it by? Again? Why spend hundreds, maybe even thousands, of dollars per book just to be rejected by the masses? Which is statistically the most realistic option.
Are you a masochist? Do you need external validation? Do you seek fame? Money? A movie deal?
Yes, you love writing. So do I. Believe me, I get that. But why deal with assholes? Why not just write and keep it private and maintain a bank account that’s a wee bit more stable with a regular day-job? You can still weave beautiful tales. You can still hone your craft. You can still research and study and learn and try out new genres and all that with little to no risk.
What makes you want to PUBLISH?
I ask because I’ve been pondering that myself, lately. Things have been difficult. I’ve been kattywampussed, and not in a good way. The writing is a struggle, the parenting – which people told me would get easier as the twins got older – has become more difficult. Why is unimportant. What it important is that it has made me consider all those “Why Write? blogposts and re-read a few of them and then get pissed because on deeper inspection, it’s not a terribly deep question or answer.
Why Publish? Why pull on boots to wade through metaphorical blood, sweat and tears, take mountain passes that are sorta documented on a map (but it’s kinda fuzzy, at best), break your own path in hip deep snow, hoping you’ll find the nice cozy cabin at the end of the journey and not die a painful death of exposure?
It isn’t an easy question to answer. They say you should ask it of yourself before you start out, because if you don’t have clear goals, you’ll get lost and die (business-wise).
And I’d rather not die, thank you very much.
If I take the time to wash away all the glitter and razzle-dazzle dreams of what I’d like to happen and replace it with the cold hard reality of numbers, there isn’t much to inspire that climb. Hell, Mt. Everest averages more people a year who successfully climb it than publishing has of those who make a living wage at writing (percentage-wise), and more people have successfully climbed Mt. Everest than have ever finished the Iditarod (and let’s face it, the Iditarod is probably a closer analogy to writing and publishing than climbing a mountain).
“If I do it, I may as well get paid for it.”
Mercenary, but I can respect that. I’d like that, too, but if that’s all I’m going for, then I should be able to just write to the market and call it a day. I should be able to look at the Amazon best-seller lists and drill down with cold, number calculating clarity to determine what’s hot right now, write up a story that fits in that category and then lather, rinse and repeat.
That hasn’t worked out so well for me.
“I want to inspire people.” Okay, altruism is another respectable goal. Sadly, I’m not very altruistic when it comes to things like Writing as a Business. I want my writing to at least pay for itself within the year it was published. I’m greedy like that. But…
“I want/need to make money.”
Oooooo…. this ain’t the career option for you, hon. You hear the one-in-a-million stories all the time, but they aren’t the reality of the industry. Don’t get me wrong – I like money. I like it a lot. I just know that if I make a regular living wage at this gig, that’s considered awesome.
“I need validation of some kind about my genius.”
I have no rejoinder for that.
Seriously. I got nothin’. Perhaps because I understand the desire to have someone you don’t even know walk up to you and say “you’re awesome.” Tell me that wouldn’t blow your skirt up and make you tingle for a whole day.
“Katty, you’re killing me. Just get to the point, already.”
I’ve been having such problems with writing these last few months. These problems are mostly with the stories I’m wrestling with, but they’ve morphed into other drama. Such masochistic hair pulling and ranting about my lack of professionalism. How I’m not approaching it as a proper business. How I’m a loser for doing things the hard way (according to the pros), or not the quickest way or not the whatever way. Writing becomes a chore, because if I can’t be “successful” at it (read: earn a living wage at it) then I have failed as I have failed so many times before at other things. So why bother?
Which then mutated into how I’m a shitty parent for not cleaning the house as often as I should or not getting my daughter’s dance recital props constructed as quickly as I would like or slacking off on the Halloween decorations my son has begged me to make for 2 years running or dreading that now he’s in Boy Scouts, I’ve had to step up my game yet again to make snacks and help him with his Boy Scout homework and how then I forget it’s bath night or I suck because I don’t cook awesome meals for the family or workout regularly or whatever like those absurdly successful people you hear about.
And then there’s the bell-ringer: What kind of idiot would willingly put their family’s financial well-being at risk by seriously considering throwing away hundreds – nay – thousands of dollars on publishing stories without a clear target demographic other than “uh… people who like to read fiction?”
This mood got me so down that I started *gasp* watching television. (Well, okay. Not real television, but Netflix and the various and sundry stand-up comics that randomly appear in the selection. Most television shows currently airing aren’t blowing my skirt up.) When my husband came home, he let me finish my show and then queued up his own – Penn and Teller’s Fool Us which, you know – it’s Penn and Teller. Therefore, by definition, it’s cool and I will watch with glee because magic is cool.
And also depressing because it reminds me how much research I’m going to have to do for yet another series I have in mind, but I haven’t even finished the first series so why the hell am I even thinking about 3-4 other different series when I can’t even write myself out of a paperbag in the first one? And a business plan? Ha!
“…I almost quit magic. I felt like a ballerina on a stripper pole. I felt like I was just trying to make ends meet and I wasn’t enjoying it. My outlook changed when I realized I’m not curing cancer or doing brain surgery… If I could make someone happy and forget their day for just one moment, I’ve done my job.”
What first caught my attention was the gorgeous imagery he evoked with the ballerina on a stripper pole. I don’t care who you are – that phrase is going to catch your attention.
His monologue got me thinking about what I’m dealing with.
My mistake was yoking the writing to a goal of success at publishing, despite knowing the odds. Some would say that is a smart way to approach the business plan – you go in knowing the odds, now find a way to shake it up and roll the dice in your favor.
It is apparently not the best decision in my case. Putting that kind of pressure on myself has made writing a chore. It sucked the joy right out of it. In large part because I was comparing myself and my methods to other people.
If my writing can make a person smile, or weep, or re-read it again, then I’ve done my job.
That feels okay.
Not the most financially responsible reason for publishing, but perhaps good enough.
So I guess I’m more after the altruism (and maybe some money and validation, but those may be secondary) than anything.
In some ways that’s disappointing. In some ways it would be nice to have so much money I could pay ballerinas to create a new interpretative dance of Swan Lake on stripper poles without worrying how that little extravagance would affect the grocery budget for the next seventy years.
On the other hand, it’s nice to know I can entertain people for a few hours and make them forget about their shitty day.
And maybe that’s okay.
Now, remembering that’s okay, day in and day out…
that’s a different challenge entirely.