Tuesday, March 6, 2012

How I Got into this Crazy Writing Business

In this new day and age of publishing, the question becomes motivation. The answer is that in the beginning of a writing career the motivation needs to be wanting to reach your reader, your audience. That's the only motive that will survive an entire lifetime. If all we want to do is make money, it was easier before the troubles in traditional publishing and the rise of the e-book. It never was an easy prospect, really, but it was possible—with some talent and a lot of luck--to sell books to publishers who paid decent advances. Now those advances are smaller from small publishers or non-existent when the writer goes it alone on the e-book route. If the motive is to be famous and well-known, that's less probable and a motive that probably can't last over decades. So it comes down to wanting to share your stories and novels, the Number One reason for writing. If we get into this work for any other reason I don't see how it can sustain us over all the years of our lives.

I can say this now with the strength of hindsight because I've wanted to be a writer since I was thirteen, I first published a novel when I was thirty-two, and I've been writing more or less regularly now for thirty years. That's a lifetime. My husband used to kid me about wanting first to write for an audience, then when my work began to be published wanting to write for money. But though I smiled and let him believe that, it was never true. I've always and, to this day, done my work because I wanted to share the stories in my head with readers. Money validates that motive, letting you know that you're worth reading—people will pay to read your work. But it is a secondhand motive and as a prime mover it really won't work over a long haul.

In the beginning and for most of my life, I lived a routine that made me get to where I wanted to go. I wanted to sell books, improve to the point I could compete with some of the best award-winning authors in my field, and build up a bookshelf of my own works. I knew the only way to get there was to write fiction as a job, go about it just like everyone working a nine-to-five job, and if I didn't, I had no chance of fulfilling my goals. So I wrote from early morning with my first cup of coffee, until I had to quit to straighten the house and begin the cooking of dinner—for I had obligations to my children and husband that couldn't be totally ignored. I wrote this way five days a week, just like a carpenter, a banker, an office worker. Then on weekends I did not write, giving that time to my family so they would have all my attention. This routine and dedication got me there. I wrote and published a novel, plus several dozen short stories, every two years for about twenty or more years. Had I not kept myself disciplined, I would have been a writer with very few credits, like J. D. Salinger or Truman Capote, and though they both were able to secure a niche in literary history by such small output, I felt a longer career with more works was that I really wanted. (So far it's 14 novels and more than 150 short stories published.)

 Often I'd stop and look at Stephen King's number of works and despair. We were about the same age and I'd admonish myself for not writing nearly as many novels as King. But that's a fool's game because it does nothing but make you feel impotent and lacking in some way. Besides, I had children to raise and as any mother knows, that's a full-time job in itself. King had a wife. If I wanted to be that prolific, I needed a wife, not be one. There are any number of ways a writer can compare herself to other writers and none of them are helpful--all of them can only make a writer worry. Worried writers don't get much writing done.

The point of all this is that the working writer needs the right motive in order to create a lifetime of work. Now this is important, or it was to me. Putting writing off means nothing gets done. I wrote when I was sick, when I should have been sleeping, when my children sat in my lap or climbed all over me demanding my attention. I wrote when I lost beloved family members, when in the midst of moving house, when the power went out, when I was deep in depression. Because it was my work and the postman couldn't take off a day and the mechanic had to go to work and people everywhere had to do their jobs. If they had to do it, why would I be given a pass? This was my work, wasn't it? This needed doing and it would eat up most of my life and I was happy for that. I chose my work, where most people are never so lucky. I was doing what I wanted to do and I did it joyfully, knowing I was privileged to get to do it at all. But most of all I wrote for those strangers whose faces I would never see, whose lives I hoped to touch though I would never know how, and I wrote because I had to. Stories are something like little boxes of mystery we carry around inside us; they want out, they need out, they don't belong to us alone. We write because that is what we do, without apology and without fanfare.

These days I am older and slower, but the work keeps coming and I work as hard as I ever did. If I wrote for money I'd have quit long ago. If I wrote for fame, I'd certainly realize what a fool thing that was. But I write to know what is in the mystery boxes and to share them with you.

1 comment:

  1. Writing is something by which a writer can melt the hard stone by the beauty of writing. So now a days this becomes a business for many companies and but when it is taken true to heart this is really exciting. Your last paragraph really mesmerising. Quite helpful for business writing service. Thanks!