In business, companies assess risk vs. reward all the time. Usually, the higher the risk, the higher the potential reward. But for writers and other creative types, we measure these things differently. Or do we?
Every day, we take risks when we follow our creative call. We put words on paper, images on film, pick up an instrument or paintbrush…these things are risky. There’s the risk of failure, the fear of ridicule, the terror of obscurity.
We create anyway.
But after a while, if no one is standing in line to applaud our work or validate our efforts–or worse, we face rejection at every turn–we get weary and start questioning. Why am I doing this? What’s the reward? Where’s the payoff?
This is where it gets tricky. Because it means stripping away the appropriate answers, the ones we think we’re ‘supposed’ to have, and getting down to the truth.
Why do you do what you do? Why do you write? Create? Paint? Play an instrument? Take pictures?
For fame? Fortune? Self-fulfillment?
Unless you know the answer to that, how will you know if you’ve succeeded?
A friend and I started re-reading Ann Lamott’s fabulous book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.
In the introduction, she says, “I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all it is cracked up to be. But writing is….The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.”
I’ve been mulling over that statement this week. Somewhere in the quest for commercial success with my writing, I’ve lost touch with the reasons I love it. Just like a character that has gone astray in one of my stories, I’ve lost my motivation. I’ve tried to change and twist the reason I do this into something it is not, and in the process, I’ve lost the thrill of the journey.
I’m taking decisive steps to renew my joy. I’ve started by yanking my motivation back to the place it began: the act of writing. Sure, I have to think about agents and publishers and story structure, but that comes before I sit down to write. Or maybe after. But not during the writing process.
The secret, I think, is to shut the door on those other considerations and allow only the story and the characters into the creative chamber. I must bar the door to those sly thieves who would snatch my confidence.
Instead, I’ll simply wallow in the joy of creating something out of nothing. I’ll remember the thrill of getting the words just right, so the story in my head shows up on the page just as I envisioned it.
That’s the reward. And I think it’s worth it. Don’t you?
Great post, Connie! Like you, I have to step back and wonder why I’m doing this. In the beginning, the focus was on perfecting my craft and getting published. Now that I’m published I seem to be more focused on promotion. Trying to get readers to take notice and purchase my books. But not one review yet for my January release and lackluster sales, so far, has caused me to reevaluate why I’m doing this. I really don’t like doing promotion. I want to spend my time and efforts writing.
So, I have to go back and focus on what I love to do and, if I’m lucky, the readers will follow. If not, at least I’m doing something that makes me happy. So, it’s worth it.
I’m with you Susan. This is a frustrating business and self-promotion is just…bleh, for me, anyway. I know promotion is part of the job, but I have learned I need to balance that with enjoying the writing itself. If I lose sight of the joy of writing, all I’m left with is frustration. I’m with you: Write what you love. I believe the readers will follow!!!
Great insight, Connie! I’ve been dealing with this same issue this week, longer really. I found my solution yesterday, though. I’ve been trying to write a story to fit an All Call since last September! After three fresh starts, the last of which EVERYTHING including the character’s names changed. Still- it wouldn’t write. I put it away, took the pressure off myself and my muse and pulled out another story I’ve been trying to nail down for almost two years. I opened a new doc and began writing. Ten pages later I feel great about what I do and will continue until I feel differently..
Hooray for ten pages on a project you’re excited about!! I think that’s the key, Calisa! Work on projects you LOVE! Good for you 🙂
I, too, dislike the sel-promotion. And I’m not sure that all of it truly works. I feel like the only people I’m reaching are other writers. Most heavy readers don’t blog or tweet. It’s those people I’d love to reach, but how? Great post.
I hear you, Vonnie. It’s a constant struggle. But at the end of the day, write the books only YOU can write. The rest is largely out of our control. So we may as well enjoy what we do!
I’m with you. I’m getting so caught up in creating a marketable product that I’ve forgotten the love of it. It’s actually stifling my creativity at the moment. Thanks for the reminder. Time for me to get back to basics, I think.
Joanne, absolutely. It’s definitely a creativity killer. And often, we don’t realize we’ve fallen victim until nothing seems to be working anymore and we’re not enjoying the process. Glad the reminder helped. Write for the love of writing. (It’s always good to know I’m not the only one struggling with these things 🙂 )
Ditto to pretty much everything said here. However, while I can’t say I love the promotion end of marketing my creations, just as in writing, when that new discovery in my story gives me a thrill, I enjoy the little discoveries and successes in the crazy marketing world.
Like all of you, my first love will always be writing, but I’m making a conscious effort to enjoy every aspect of my wild ride in publishing. I mean, it has to be done, I may as well have fun with it.
I like your perspective on marketing! It absolutely is part of the deal, so I’m with you–trying to enjoy it as much as possible. New discoveries are always a thrill!
Having been caught up the last couple of months in marketing, I’m sick of it and ready to write, to create that something out of nothing. Y
Here’s hoping you will renew your excitment and joy in the process, and enjoy wallowing in creativity for a while!! Happy writing!
Stepping back and focusing only on the writing process is not so simple. I’ve only been writing for a few years, but I still feel sort of selfish when I decide not to look at blogs, or do research, or the dishes (what’s that?) but the positive thing is I’m getting much better at it. I think it’s part of the learning process, and I’ve decided to learn to do marketing etc better but not be a slave to it. ( Ask me in a year if I’m any better at both though???)
I’m not sure we can focus exclusively on the writing, Nancy. Not if we want to be commercially successsful. We have to find a creative/marketing balance. But if we get too focused on the ancillary things that go with writing, the joy of the writing itself can sneak out when we’re not looking. Then we end up with drudgery. Good luck as you find your own happy balance!!
There’s one aspect of losing the joy that ought to keep you girls at that keyboard. It’s getting old, with the attendant infirmities. I’m 71; my first book was published when I was 61. I’m now loaded down with works that need revision before a publisher sees them, typewritten (manual!) manuscripts that need to be transferred to the computer, stories begun on computer and not finished, etc. etc.
I even find it difficult to do the assignments set at our local Writers Group, where all the members are friends and encouraging ones at that. The cause is partly physical, partly mental. It takes all my strength to get from one end of the day to the other, and by then I’m too exhausted to be creative. I’ve done the get-up-at-five a.m and work bit, and can’t do it anymore. I look at my unfinished projects and all I can think is – work! Ugh! I’m too tired! And promotion is a merciless dominatrix I could frankly live without. In a sense all the blogging etc. is simply a matter of preaching to the converted. Don’t look at my blog – way out of date!
I apologise for whining. I do not want to discourage anyone when I know exactly the difficulties you face. As I said – do it with all your might while you still have the physical ability.
And I’m about to look up ” Bird By Bird” on Abe books or the Book Depository. I’ve heard and read good things about it and maybe it will give me a good kick in the backside. Or get my arthritic hands (in nylon gloves with the fingertips cut out) back on the keyboard with some consistency. Or even inspiration.
Dear Monya, you are not whining–you are offering sage advice. You are further down the road calling a warning to those coming behind you. Thank you for doing that. My heart aches for your frustration, both physical and mental. I think Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird will encourage you. Let me know what you think of it. From a very practical standpoint, could you hire a local teen/grandchild to scan or type old MS into the computer? No need to do all that work yourself. As to having more MS to work on than time and energy, you are not alone. I face that all the time. I got some great advice from Vicki Hinze in her book, Writing in the Fast Lane. She says she decided long ago that she would “only write stories I love.” It may be like trying to choose a favorite child, but start by working on your most favorite story, the one that moves you the most. I hope you’ll be able to rediscover the joy of the journey–even if you are taking much smaller steps! Let me know how I can encourage you…
I love this post (probably because I think the same way as you do). I’ve spent the past 4 weeks spending more time with marketing and not enough with my current ms. Monday this changes. Writing the best book I’m capable of writing is what I must do.
That is my reward. 🙂
Good for you, Casey. Hope you enjoy every word of the writing process!!!