Yes, But What Do YOU Want?

Since we’re now at the end of January and all it’s January-themed-ness, I’ll only be doing one last post on approaching life in 2016 and then I’ll get off my soapbox and back onto the writing high horse.

This one is going straight out to all the writers who are looking this year to advance their career in writing, with a meaningful side-glance at other people making decisions on work-life balance, particularly in creative media.

What do you want?

Specifically, what is it about the writer’s life that attracts you?

Writers (artists, game designers, entrepreneurs …) have this sort of narrative among us that if we weren’t doing That Thing We Do, we’d feel somehow that our life was lessened, diminished. If I wasn’t a professional writer, professional writers say, then I’d just be a writer in my spare time. I’d just be that person who tells stories to their kids/cousins/nephews and nieces of an afternoon. This is great, when it’s true. Despite everything that movies and media tell us, it’s actually relatively rare to have that kind of direction in one’s life.

As we all know, writing is a hard industry to break into, and even harder to make any real money in. For every writer who left their day job to write, there’s a number of writers who didn’t break in, gave up, or are still being rejected years later. That ratio is best measured in orders of magnitude.

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, we invented the Internet, which has increased the ways for writers to get their work out to a wide audience by a number that would be far easier to hyperbolise if the original number wasn’t “one”.

(I won’t be getting into the ‘self-pub vs. trad pub’ debate here, because that’s long and thorny and completely beside the point, but let me just say: They are both options, they can both be successful, and they cater to two different types of writer.)

So, to all writers, even those who believe deep in their hearts that if they aren’t published and making a living off their writing, they will have missed their calling in life, I ask you to consider what you want to get out of this.

Let me be very clear – there is not one single solitary shred of shame in the answer to that question being “I really like being able to pay rent and buy food, and I really like writing, so my goal is to make writing the thing that pays for my  rent and my food. Therefore my end goal is to earn Salary X writing”. If that is the case, good on you. I salute you, for you may have chosen the hardest path of us all. Make enough subjective human beings look at something you created and form the subjective opinion “I like this – give me more of it!” that you can make them give you a specific amount of money? That’s like throwing a spear, blindfolded, into the ocean and hoping it hits a certain breed of fish on the way down.

That doesn’t mean the writer who writes to be read, to make a statement, to capture a character or setting or idea, who writes to hone their craft and learn how to use words exactly right and phrases just so, or whatever it happens to be that’s driving you will have it easy. Anybody trying to find an audience for something they invented is bound to run into some problems, some letdowns, some really mean reviews, everything that comes with the territory.

Where analysing why you want these things comes in useful is in aiming. Keeping your eyes on the mountain is easy when there’s only one mountain – if you’ve got the whole range, how do you pick one peak?  Start with the aspect of writing that’s most important to you. If you’d like to be making a living from it, look at what skills you need to take each path, and see which one is the quickest and most reliable (note: Quickest and most reliable does not mean either ‘quick’ or ‘guaranteed’, nor does it mean ‘the only path you’re ever allowed to take’). Who’s going to pay you the amount of money you need and how do you convince them  to do that?
If you’re looking to be read, how do you get the book to the widest audience? How do you make sure it spreads?
If you’re doing it to hone/display writing craft, by whose metric are you judging (other than your own). Are you going to start discussions about your book? How and where? Who will join those discussions, and what, in your perfect world, would you want them to say?

And for the love of goodness, don’t start pushing other people off their mountains. Your mountain isn’t better, it’s just that theirs has spiders while yours has snakes. You might get better fruit trees, but they get that lovely river. If you really think they should be on your mountain, start building a bridge.

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