My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

It's Really Okay Not to Write. Really. (Part V)

Intro and Part 1- The Journey Begins

Part 2- Chesslectric Boogaloo

Part 3- The Search for Sporadic

Part 4- Live Free or Write Hard 

Part V- The Expense Strikes Back


You Could Just Do It For Fun.  Really.

So you really do love writing.  Really.  What's next?

You're not just looking for a way to fame and fortune that's more plausible than your unerring ability to quote every line of an MST 3k episode while watching just the movies.  You don't just like writing "a little" or think that it beats a root canal with rusty gardening tools.  You love it in a way that makes the neighbors whisper and your friends give you that look where they suck their lips in and make their mouth as flat as possible when you talk about it.  You're writing because you genuinely love it, not just because you're good at it and you have a guilt complex about wasting talent.  Not because grandma told you you were brilliant and that it would be like pinching a deuce into God's face to not do what you were good at.  And you love it for its own sake, not because you dream of the sophisticated and classy life of a published writer.  (*cough*)  You write every day, or at least with extreme regularity, as if writing is a skill that could decay if you sit around not doing it, and you don't just when the spirit moves you to write like some great inspiration from on high or when it makes you feel great or when it doesn't feel like a chore.  It's more than just a dilettante hobby you do for the fun parts.  It's okay that some days it might feel like work or like a chore.  You know that pushing through those parts makes the words flow when you want them to, and you have this insane obsession that makes the "chore" parts of writing better than the good parts of most other things you could be doing.  (With the possible exception of oral sex and cheesecake--but only both together at the same time.)  Even when you hate it, you love it.  You love it enough that you want to be better at it.  You want to be great at it.  You'll practice–well....train really–and work on the parts that aren't always enjoyable and fun in an effort to improve.  Hell you put on "Eye of The Tiger" right before you power type out a paragraph with mad character development and symbolism.

Well, what now?

But here's what the real question ought to be: must there be a next step?

Writing is a strange sort of activity.  Almost no one does it just for fun.  People may have fun doing it, but writing seems to be the means to an end, and rarely its own end.  This is why every prompt I write has a disclaimer not to worry about turning it into some finished product for submission.  Otherwise everyone thinks that everything they ever write will eventually be worked into a story that they will sell/submit.

Think about how many people have a manuscript or half done manuscript.  Now how many of them have said they wrote it just for fun, and they're done?  On the other hand, how many have said they intend to finish it, clean it up, revise it, have it professionally edited, and get it ready for publication?  Probably pretty close to all of them.  If you're anything like me it's pretty much all of them, and I know a LOT of writers.

Quite literally, if you gathered up a hundred writers working hard to improve their craft, you'd probably be hard pressed to find even half a dozen who didn't have their eye on the prize of writing for a living....some day.  Oh a few writers blog regularly or keep a journal and really try to improve without ever hoping that it will burgeon into a career, but they are the exception, and are heavily populated by people scratching other itches like exhibitionism or passive agressive communication   Almost everyone is hoping to one day transform their efforts into "hella scrill."

Cause writah gots ta get PAID!  ....apparently.

I have one friend--one--who writes, loves it, works at her craft, enjoys publishing her work online but holds no ambitions of one day cultivating her presently fallow career.  Every time I talk to her I'm blown away by her self-awareness.  Unfortunately I'm also struck by how unusual it is for someone to love writing but not want to be a famous novelist.

It's a singular sort of preoccupation that you don't see in many other activities.  When it comes to skills, crafts, and even other arts, there are often huge swaths of people who pursue their passions just for fun. In fact, that's how most people pursue most things except the singular activity that they earn their living from doing.  I have actually heard people say, "Why would I write if I'm not going to make any money?"  Oh I don't know because yesterday you said that it was "better than sex" and you "loved every second of it even more than the three-way turned seven-way."  Maybe.

Oh I like writing more than orgies.
I also don't do orgies unless I get paid.
I know.  I know.  Sheer madness.

People who like ballroom dancing, practice their steps, learn new steps, work hard to better and go to dances just for fun--most never once think that it's leading to a career as a professional dancer. Bug collectors enjoy learning about new bugs and growing their collections without ever a thought that they are destined to make a mint off of selling their wares. The recent rash of women I know who've signed up for roller derby did so without the slightest expectation that they would become professional athletes making big bucks endorsing kneepads and deodorant. Even so, they train damned hard to improve. The gaggle of knitters who fill Supportive Girlfriend's social circles are constantly trying to learn how to do new stitches and knit progressively more complicated patterns without the slightest thought that the endgame of their efforts will be to knit in the world knit circuit. Even people involved in other arts like acting, and music often practice and perform just for kicks, not to make money. Painters paint just because they enjoy painting without ever thinking to sell a painting. But for some reason when it comes to writing you see very few who simply write for the sheer joy of it.

It's okay to write just for fun.  Really.

Making any money at all through creative writing is considerably harder than most people realize. Constant rejection, incredibly small numbers, the entire business end of writing with it's gatekeepers and their persnickety rules.  Everyone imagines they will be the next Jim Butcher or Suzanne Collins (and that only if they are at least willing to admit that it is unrealistic to expect that they will be the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King), but the vast majority of those published regularly and pretty much everyone ever who only gets published once isn't making enough to quit their day job. It can add an unpleasant dimension of banality to something that is otherwise fun. You can't just write–no, you have to also submit and go through scathing editing and deal with people who want to make changes that will "sell" and back and forth with copy editors about your FUCKING OXFORD COMMA and deal with greedy publishing to negotiate contracts and promote your book or watch it disappear in the first two weeks, which means you have to do promotion stuff like book signings and panels that are fun to think about for five minutes but actually every writer describes as pretty unpleasant and grueling after the initial novelty has worn off (especially when people start telling them what they should have done differently). The business end of writing turns out to be a lot of stuff that isn't actually writing. And a lot of stuff that isn't very fun.

And I'll let you in on a dark secret. There aren't as many groupie threesomes as I've lead you to believe. That's more of a running joke than anything. I know you're shocked.

The decision to write for fun doesn't even have to be about not being published either. Not worrying about monetization can be liberating when it comes to pursuing venues for publication--you're far more likely to be published in a venue that cannot pay (as Casey has discovered). And this is really only if you have some sort of need to see your name in print on physical wood-pulp paper.  The internet provides anyone with no particular interest in making money with a venue for being read by far, FAR more people than any print media. Here at writing about writing we have readers from all over the world including Jordan, The Philippines, and Turkey--you're never ever ever EVER going to get that from some graduate MFA program's literary journal. (Except maybe the Iowa review or something.) Not needing to have a paper publication that garners a price-per-word payout can actually open a lot of doors.

Though maybe they're all hate following me, I don't know.

Ten hours of strangers telling you about a missing comma in chapter 3 is probably less awesome than it sounds.
It is even possible to do as I have and fuse SOME monetization (like ads and donation buttons) with a general open policy of publication. It's sort of a mixture of doing it for fun and doing it for money, but it's not as if I am exactly rolling in cash. Nor would I stop if the money did. I would just cry myself to sleep every night (and probably take Thursdays off). And....oh I already mentioned crying.

No scrill?  No poems.  Cause Emily gots ta get PAID!
That is if you even wish to pursue publication at all.  It is actually even possible to simply write for fun and enjoyment and not show others the products of your efforts.  Of course, Emily Dickinson did this--most of her work was published posthumously.  Lots of people just do their art or craft or skill and tuck it away, better and more fulfilled for having done it.  They enjoyed doing it, and that was enough.

It's really okay not to expect to turn a love of writing into the ambition of a career.  Really.

Part 6 The Half Blood Prints


  1. I totally understand and agree, and yet, I just want someone to read it and like it. Do you have a list of potential ways to get what we write, read? By just somebody? For free, even? Just to give me feedback that it doesn't suck, or maybe it does and I'm a crazy person? I always imagine I'm going to influence people to live more meaningful lives -- that would even be better than money, but if no one ever reads it, then, sad....

    1. Well there are lots of ways to publish for free with the advent of the internet. Blogging for example...