Monday, April 9, 2012

The Rise of the Amateur - Why Do You Write?

The other day I picked up one of my books and started reading in the middle, and got hooked and couldn't stop. This happens to me all the time. I do not feel guilty about this. It's a brazen secret: I love my own stories.

That's why I write them.

So they exist ... and I can read them.

Writing them is also fun and entertaining. I enjoy crafting a story, I enjoy the business end, I enjoy editing. But I'll be really blunt here, if someone else could just write all those stories in my head for me, I would not be at all upset that I didn't have to. They'd just have to do it the way I'd do it... and they won't.

There are a lot of other reasons to write. All of them are valid, even the "I just want to be rich and famous and show Mrs. Pickledorf from third grade that I am NOT a complete loser who will never learn to spell."

But your motives will have an effect on how you go about your writing life, and whether you stick with it, and whether you can make a career of it. Whatever naturally motivates you, whatever it is that drives you to start this and keep at it, is the easy part.

The problem comes in what motivates you do to the stuff you don't care about.

For instance: if you love crafting the final draft, but hate staring at the blank page, what can you do to motivate yourself to keep at that blank page until you have something to work with?

For me, the struggle to "break in," to make a living at writing, to hold my book in my hand -- those used to bring enough benefit (excitement, interest) to get me through the process, and get those stories out of my head and onto the page.

But now... they just don't do it any more. It might be my age (the whole "been there, done that" thing), or it might be the one-two punch of traditional publishing becoming just too horrible to desire, and indie publishing being too open to worry about.

And so I find myself in a very very odd position. I'm scrambling and yet complacent. Floundering and satisfied. Running without drive. Happy and yet stressed out.

Finding The Prize to Keep Your Eyes On

I've talked before about the concept of keeping your eyes on the prize: Having a single unifying (albeit artificial) goal to keep you on track and keep you from being distracted. When I was screenwriting, I was able to use the Nicholl Fellowships as that artificial goal. It was a single, simple thing that got me to push those stories from my head to the page, and not worry about marketing or schmoozing or production or contracts or rights. For the Nicholl, all you had to do is write a great script, and mail it off before the deadline with a thirty dollar check.

Breaking in to traditional publishing used to be that simple too, particularly the magazine market. It was Heinlein's Rules all the way: write, submit, write, submit. However, once you broke in, the goal began to scatter, as you dealt with other things, and started aiming at higher markets, etc.

With the addition of self-publishing, there is no unified goal. And every goal has a million options. I decided that the only way to simplify it was would to set an arbitrary numbers goal: number of titles published, number of titles in a series. Having a "plan" for all that.

But none of that gives me much drive any more.

And I've finally settled down to the elemental drive -- the one thing that really drives me to do what I need to do:

If I don't write it, I can't read it.

I have to bring this into existence. If I don't, the characters will linger and die before their time; before they do all the cool things they want to do with their lives.

This is what I would call the Amateur Perspective. Or you might even call it (if you want to get all high-falutin') the Moral Imperative Approach: "If I don't do it, nobody else will." Or looked at another way, you might call it the Existential Approach. ("There is no meaning, no existence, unless you bring it into being.")

This feels like it's contrary to the professional approach. It's more suited to totally amateur efforts like Nicky Charles, than the sort of thing Dean Wesley Smith seems to teach, for instance.

But really, it isn't. Both are about work ethic -- about drive. What gets you going when you don't feel like working? What gets you to do the jobs you don't particularly like to do?

Heinlein's Rules are the Bible for writing as a vocation, but I really think it could be good to look at them through the lens of writing as an avocation. What do they mean to the dedicated amateur? How do they apply to the artisan? I don't know when I will get to this, but I do want to take another look.

See you in the funny papers.


David Michael said...

Maybe Yoda got it wrong all those years ago. Maybe what he meant to say was,

"Do, or do not. There is no why."



The Daring Novelist said...

Well, you know, English didn't seem to be Yoda's first language.


R. E. Hunter said...

What motivates me:
1. A new challenge (programming's not doing it for me anymore).
2. To get the stories out of my head (because they demand to be told).
3. It's something I've always wanted to do.

Nicole Pyles said...

My interiors to finish is to see my idea on paper and complete. If I am excited about the rewrite, which is everything (!), than the rewrite itself keeps me going! I must be excited about the rewrite. For my latest fantasy, I am so excited to be at this stage! And I'm enjoying evey second! Other stuff I have worked on, I have comfortably put a finished draft aside to let it marinate more!

The Daring Novelist said...

R.E. - The challenge is a big one! That one depends on the project, though. As I get older I don't _need_ challenge. It's just one of the pleasures that comes along the way.

Nichole -
"On paper and complete" - that's one of the things I want to mull on further. What makes it "complete"?

I'm sure you're speaking at least partly metaphorically -- "on disk" is equivalent to "on paper." I think there is this emotional moment, though, where it feels complete. It's outside of just having all the words there. It's that moment when, even though it's rough, it tells the story I want to tell, and therefore I can hand it to someone to read.

Nicole Pyles said...

I think "on paper complete" I meant literally. I always handwrite my first drafts and to get that first draft complete is a wonderful, fulfilling feeling. And when I can go back to it, and type it, and finish it for real, I can thoroughly enjoy it and play with it!

Sarah McCabe said...

I just want to thank you so much for this post. For the reminder that this is really why I started writing as well. I'd completely forgotten to take joy in my stories. That it's ok to love them. I think a lot of writers I've seen around the blogosphere have also forgotten this amidst all the advice that you must be uber critical and rip everything you write to shreds before it can be any good.

The Daring Novelist said...

Thanks, Sarah. It is important for us to keep in touch with why we do it. (It's not an activity that makes a lot of sense, when you consider the time and effort and external factors.)