I have a simple purpose in my writing this post: contemplate my purpose and goals in my writing. I am not sure whether this will end up being short or long, or what this post will ultimately look like. It’ll be interesting too, as I am treating this a little like a stream of consciousness focusing on my writing. It’s also why I am leaving the explanation above in this…
A lot of what I’ve been doing has been called into question at the beginning of October. Having a family member take a pistol to their head trying to kill themselves will help to shatter one’s perceptions of life, and I’ve been struggling to sort through my own… writing being one of those things.
It was a long time ago where I got this crazy idea that I liked writing. Soon that like turned into a desire to become a writer… like one of those New York Times Bestselling types of writers. But even more than that, I just began to think about writing all. the. time. I wanted to write, and I had ideas that I wanted to write gritty, horror-like stories. Then I wanted to write other things. And other things. Eventually, if you asked me what I write, I started just answering “a little bit of everything.”
Even though I like to write a little bit of everything, thoughts abounded as to whether I wanted to follow norms and pick a genre to write in. Today, as I struggle to understand what I want from my writing, I wonder if it would just be easier to market myself as a genre writer. Or a writer of literature. Whatever would keep me in somewhat of a narrow path to appease a narrow, but loyal set of readers.
It’s that struggle that we all fall into: writing strictly for one’s own self vs writing to please an audience. It’s a struggle that I know too well, bouncing back and forth between my understanding as to which one is better. I guess the answer to that question is for me: who am I writing for? What do I want from my writing?
It’s my purpose vs my goal. It’s my need to write vs my want to be paid for my writing. It’s why I stay up late at night after the family has gone to bed to pound my fingers against the keys on a laptop while eagerly hoping that sometime in the near future, I eclipse the hill and my sales accelerate. It’s why I daydream about characters and plots jutted against thoughts on how to capture the attention of another reader.
The internet abounds in success stories, or pseudo-success stories that catalog one or another’s journey to success as a writer. X writer was able to quit their job and work full-time at writing and they did it at least in part by listening/not listening to the readers. In other words, they either wrote for themselves or they wrote of others.
Now there’s nothing wrong with either side. I know there isn’t. There’s absolutely merits to both. I know as a reader, I like both. I like being surprised by a writer who ignores what I would prefer out of a story as well as those who give me everything I want. The only difference I find is that I tend to better remember the ones that surprised me. But what does that mean for me as a writer? Who should I pander to?
It’s a convoluted question… one that I am too afraid to answer for myself. Because neither ensures that I will be successful as a writer in terms of finances, as I am shooting for. Even more than that, it starts to bleed more into the areas of how much effort should I be putting into the other areas then: marketing, editing, design, etc? I mean, how much of that is necessary were I to only be writing under the strict guise to satisfy my own sick perversion (that perversion being writing…)?
It has all come into question with me since that aforementioned event, to a point where I am not even 100% certain of what I even want to write. During all of this, I was questioning if I was going to continue to write in my Agnes Pyle series or if I was going to let it drop. I wondered if I wanted to write more serious literature on a more regular basis. There’s always been a part of me that wanted to explore through the dark recesses of the human experience, of how we often will make choices that take us down some of the darkest roads we can imagine.
Granted, Agnes is going to get very dark in its own rights… I mean, it is a story that involves demons and starts with the girl at the funeral of her parents.
As time created more distance, it also garners some changes in perspective. Where before I was in a rush to put out material, thinking that it would help boost my non-existent sales, I now am waiting to make sure that I am putting out the story that I want out. Where sales were a higher priority in my mind, I came to understand that my actions were revealing something different.
For one thing, I’ve always hated marketing. Being socially anxious means that purposeful attempts to sell my work only leave me feeling drained due to fighting against my heightened flight response in social situations. Nothing about it to me feels organic. It feels fake; forced, rather than like the organic flow of conversation. But is conversation ever truly organic? We’re always trying to sell something, whether it be an idea, our social status, our sexuality, our intelligence; we’re always attempting to get others to see something about us that will elicit a desired response. How is my being a writer any different?
Where I found my own difference was that I don’t feel as though I had anything to sell. At least anything when I compare it to writers whom I admire (and even those whom I don’t admire, but have found tremendous success). I feel like I am trying to sell a tricycle to a person looking to buy a Bentley. Some call it impostor syndrome… and I know that I am not alone in feeling that.
Death, or in this case, near death, of the kind I was confronted with will shake a lot of that kind of detritus away from one’s mind though. As much as I keep looking at these things, I end up seeing that I want to write, I want to share what I write, and I really don’t give a [insert your favorite expletive here] about what others really think.
Given the two angles above, writing for the reader or writing for myself, that last line can sound fully narcissistic and in the camp of writing for myself. But something else is going through my brain with that. What I see in the idea of “who a writer is writing for,” is exactly that: who? What group of readers am I pandering to? What group am I writing for? The answer can be found in a shrug, because I really don’t know. And being that I like to write in multiple genres about whatever tickles my fancy, I really don’t know who I am writing for if not for me.
Then, when I look deeper into my not giving a shit, it isn’t that I don’t want people to like what I write, it’s that I need to be happy with, to like what I write. Chasing this idea of the “successful writer” for me was damaging my enjoyment of the craft. It was placing a higher value on the marketability of my work rather than the work itself. The ultimate question death had presented to me: do I want to be rich, or do I want to be happy? Unequivocally, it is the latter.
(Sure, being rich and happy would be better, but I do not believe that financial wealth has a true bearing on happiness.)
I want to write; I want to be a writer. And I need to redefine my idea of success. For a long time, I’ve viewed success as being able to write for my living, instead of working a full-time job while writing on the side. It ties the idea of whether I am succeeding to my finances, to money. When that is done, the artistic or cathartic reasons I may write suddenly become only viable if they are making money rather than for the act itself. And that, in itself, is no longer acceptable.
Of course, it doesn’t mean that I am going to sell all my work for free, but it does mean that I am going to look at what I am putting out in a different way. I am not looking for some perfect, marketable piece that is aiming for the New York Times Bestseller list. Rather, I want to produce something that I am happy about as a story or as a piece of literary art. Any and all of the elements, such as editing, cover design, etc, that people hold in such high esteem for the purposes of retaining marketability, while still important in some sense (in other words I don’t want to just slap words onto a page, writing stream-of-consciousness, leaving a bunch of nonsensical junk on the page – like this blog post – and I don’t want my cover to be visually dull, as to me, there’s art there too), these elements pale in my wanting to write out a story.
I don’t want to put out crap, but if I am happy with that crap, then how can I complain if no one else wants it? In short: I shouldn’t worry about that. Writing is too important to me to worry about whether others care or not. If others connect with my stories, wonderful… and I truly mean WONDERFUL. When a story that I wrote means a lot to someone, I want to cry out of joy. But I know that if something I wrote connects with someone and it was something I wrote while chasing money, it won’t have the same importance. It just won’t.
I’d rather something imperfect that I wrote because I loved it myself (or was just pure fun) rather than something I only wrote to be marketable as a writer. Not that the latter is wrong; it is not for me any longer.
I am seeing this post’s wordcount come closer to 1800 words at this point, and I wonder how many people are still reading this, if any even tried. But this is also what I need to do more often: writing out a topic in almost an internal-debate minded approach.
Writing things out is far less insane looking when compared to my tendency to talk aloud to myself on any myriad of topics. I am less likely to be thrown into an institution for my ranting while still retaining the quality of being able to work out my emotions or thoughts on a given topic.
Unlike this post, most of that will probably be in a notebook and only for me to work through. I’ve started journaling as part of that. It’s imperfect, but the little bit I’ve been working through in the decreasing sporadic nature of it has helped me through this last event and has helped to give me clarity on a few things I was unsure of before… like my writing.
This whole idea lends to the concept of happiness, and what makes one truly happy. Ever since I read “Lost Connections” by Johann Hari and “Tribe” by Sebastian Junger, I’ve been on a quest to discover what makes me happier. And it has also placed me on this idea of what is it to be happy? It’s purpose. It’s connection. And for me it’s creativity.
Bringing people together through what I write will bring happiness, but it also needs to be based in truth.
Truth being based in fiction sounds a little like an oxymoron, yet if one thinks about it, there is a palpable meaning to it. Concepts of the truth of human nature can often be found more in myth and fiction than one would expect. Even more than that though, my stories must be true to me. They must be stories that I want to write and would want to read myself. And in the creation of something that is true to me in what I am aiming for in my creating a story, whether it ends up being popular or not, high selling or not, is what brings me happiness.
For a brief time, I was listening too much to all of the advice out there meant for independent writers to become business entrepreneurs in regards to their work. I get the idea of running a business. But again, it is not my primary goal.
I want to share my work.
Granted, the unfortunate end of this is that many writers actually think more like me than they do in the sense of a business-minded individual, and in most cases, this is how they get screwed. Of course, going and doing my own thing on my own with little regard to marketing and sales will screw me as well… except that others won’t make money off me, rather, I just won’t make much money.
But if that’s going to be the difference between being happy with what I produce or racking my brains out because I didn’t spend enough on editing to have a more commercially viable book, or I didn’t market test cover designs to foster higher purchase rates, then I am going to go with happy.
Anyway, I am babbling on and on about this topic. In all this ranting though, I think that I know how I am going to approach my writing from this point forward: for the love of writing. Life is too fragile to be concerned about anything else other than being happy. I want to write. I want to be happy. I don’t need my writing to be successful for my being happy with it.