If a tree falls in the depths of the forest…
Writing is a lonely occupation. You spend weeks and months alone, staring at a blank computer screen or notepad.
Still more is spent editing and agonising. Some days, you churn out thousands of words of pap and others you become fixated on a word, a line, a comma.
Even when it’s finished, there is no guarantee that anyone will read it, let alone enjoy it. What you write seems so inferior to the work of other authors, doesn’t it?
So why even bother?
So why be a writer? When people ask, it’s usually rhetorical. They are probably already thinking of lunch-time. It’s just a water cooler conversation. An interesting question to ask is What is writing for you? There were a large variety of answers.
How about some of these:
“To tell the story that is talking in my head.“
“Pooping on my own dreams.”
“A repeating death where I find no light or joy beyond the words.”
“A reason to keep going when the real world is spinning out of control and ripping into my life.”
Depressed yet? Here are the reasons why I write:
I have a story to tell – There are a number of stories in my head struggling to get out. They gained a life of their own and I became invested in them. However painful it became, completion was everything, simply so I didn’t need to think of them any longer….like that worked.
I want to make a million – I would love to become a millionaire. However, I have to be realistic. To date, I have spent £929 over the five or so years I have been writing. I have earned £939.66. So I am just over £10 up on the deal. Suffice it to say the tax man is not hammering down my door.
I need to validate my poor miserable existence – Well, yes. I have had a long, successful career yet little recognition. For some years, I played bass in a rhythm & blues band, recording a number of CDs and playing live, yet little fulfillment.
But writing is just putting words down on (electronic) paper isn’t it?
Well, yes and no. If a tree falls in the depths of the forest and no-one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? If my writing stays on my hard-drive unread, is it actually writing?
Surely writing is about readers? About others validating my writing? But how reasonable is that?
Validation – Friends and Family
So the people I can expect support from, first and foremost, are my family, right? Wrong. There is no guarantee that they will care beyond a ‘that’s nice, dear’. There is certainly no guarantee they will read my work nor that they will buy it. Indeed, most expect a freebie…that I had to pay for.
Is this fair? Of course it is! The brother who supports a different football team, the mother who is more interested in shopping. Even the wife and children. My daughter has decided that, rather than start reading my books, she will re-read the Harry Potter books. She’s 23 and I am naturally aggrieved.
As an author I have to suck it up. I decided to be an author, not them.
Validation – The Adoring Public
A fellow author Tracy Tonkinson told me when I started publishing that I cannot expect anyone to read a page of my books let alone finish them. Look at it this way. Why would I want to read your book? I am not a fan of teenage fiction, or wizards, or erotica or gritty urban crime. And all that swearing! My chosen genre is the one you invariably don’t write. Oh, and I only buy established authors. I never try anything new for fear my eyes will melt.
Well, Tracy, was right. However, quite a few people have enjoyed my books, reaching the end and finding not only was it painless but also pleasurable.
It is also true that getting a review out of them is like getting blood from a stone.
Here’s a quick analogy. Your neighbour Chuck buys a vintage motorbike. In his garage he spends weeks and months renovating and restoring it to factory condition. He wheels it out on the drive and says ‘Hey, Hal. I finished. Whaddya think?’ You are not into motorbikes, so you respond ‘Yeah, that’s great.’ You’re still pleased for him but have no idea of the effort involved. Now imagine you are Chuck and the bike is your book. Hal doesn’t read detective stories, he pleased for you but that’s as far as it goes.
However, out there somewhere is a guy who loooooves vintage motorbikes.
Validation – Publishers, literary agents, editors, reviewers
A relative and fellow author, John Phillpott, advised me also to steel myself against disappointment and that I would paper a room with rejection letters.
Let me spell it out. None…of…these…people…care. Nor should they. They all need to eat as do their wives, husbands, significant others, children. So they are not in business to pamper my ego or lower their standards to cater to my sensibilities. They are there to shift product.
So I have to choose between the Sisyphean ordeal of continual rejection or the slow water torture of self-publishing. Guess what. I chose the latter. I don’t mind believing I am rubbish but I hate other people telling me (actually the don’t so it’s all good).
Should I write for myself or write to the market
If I’m happy with my own work then everything’s okay, surely? But then again, will it sell? Am I in this to make a living? Should I write what sells. Two diametrically opposed views but which is right?
I know you have your view but I have mine. I have worked in a career where everything I have produced is owned by the organisation I work for. There are companies out there that have made seven-figure sums out of me. I made my wage. That’s OK. That’s what I signed up for.
Writing is for me. I want to be proud of my achievements. I write what I want to write. I put it out there to show I have done it. If you want to read it then that’s fantastic. But it is mine.
So, I ask again. Why do I write?
So here are the rules according to Ryan Stark:
Write because you enjoy it – It has to be fun. Revel in the unexpected twists and turns your characters make. Take a beat to reread it and tell yourself ‘I did that!’
Write to please yourself – Be it a manual on Vintage motorbikes, a charming tale about fairies or a gritty detective story slopping with blood, if you are not content then why bother?
Write to stretch your imagination – I am a killer, a philanderer, a megalomaniac, a psychopath without ever leaving my box-room office.
Always write, even if you’re not in the mood – Sooner or later the creative juices will begin to flow. Then you can edit out the crap.
NEVER beat yourself up – Unless you are very special, your writing will never be perfect. Don’t beat yourself up over it. It might just need some editing. If you’re brave, get a tame reviewer to critique it.
NEVER write to please others – Unless you please yourself at the same time.
NEVER expect others to show their appreciation of your writing – Some will, most won’t. It’s a lonely furrow to plough.
NEVER trust the opinion of a relative or friend – Often they tell you what you want to hear.
I write because I enjoy it but I need a little more than that. I need to put my writing out there (no, not there…there) so that it can be read but mainly so I can see the finished product out in the wide world.
The truth is that strangers have read my books and enjoyed them and provided positive critique. 44 people have bought paperback copies and 431 have bought the ebooks. Not many but very gratifying.
For there to be a physical book on my bookshelf, that’s great. For it to be on someone else’s, that’s magic.