I’ve been forced to ask myself this question over the last couple of weeks. Why do I write? What are my ultimate goals? Why do I sit alone everyday for hours at a time staring at my laptop screen, and what do I hope to gain from it? Why do I dredge up experiences I’d rather forget, talk to people who scare me, and endure the blank stares of family and friends who say, “I don’t get it. What do you do?”
I’ve been seriously pursuing a career in writing for five or six years now, and by that I mean – sending queries every month, writing every day, learning craft, reading industry blogs and craft books, attending conferences near and far, giving and getting critiques, taking courses and classes online, doing free internships, etc. Why do I do that? Is there a point to that long apprenticeship? What’s my goal at the end of the day?
I think people write for different reasons, and there isn’t a right or wrong answer – just a right-for-you answer. I also think the writing snobs who point fingers at one group or another and say, ‘That means you’re not a real writer’ need to take a giant leap off a short pier.
I want to be published.
What does published mean? If I pay someone to create an ebook or print format of my manuscript, is that published? Does it matter how many people buy that book outside of my mother and her friends? Does it have to be my best work, or just good enough for now? Is listing a book on Amazon or Goodreads mean I’m published? Does just having friends and family read my work mean I’m published? Do I need an agent and royalty-based publisher to consider myself published?
**An aside: I think that if writing a book is on your bucket list and you pay someone to print it and list it on Amazon just so you can say you wrote a book – go for it. But if you’re in this to make a career out of it – heed this caution. It’s become exceedingly easy to press ‘publish’ when you get rejected by one agent, or get negative feedback from a contest or peer. This ‘I’ll show them,’ attitude isn’t a teachable one. Very few get to be company president out of high school – there’s a lot of living and learning and apprenticeship that has to happen before you earn the place at the head of the board room table. Don’t think that just because self-publishing is easily accessible that you can skip that apprenticeship and win the author lotto. That’s a short road to failure.
I just write for me.
Not every writer wants to be published. I know lots of people who attend conferences every year, who read writing blogs, and sit alone and write in their journals, write their own poetry, blog once a week or once a month – just to encourage others. Maybe they use their writing in family Christmas cards, or letters – maybe they just write for their church. Some never intend for anyone to read their work, they just enjoy the hobby of writing.
I need to earn a living writing.
What does that mean? Will you be the sole income earner? The second income earner? What’s your standard of living? One person is content to live in their parents’ basement on $13,000 a year, someone else needs to make $100,000 to be content. And here’s a huge pet peeve for me. Is writing a novel the only way to earn money writing? What about journalism, writing greeting cards, communications work, marketing copy, academic writing? They hire writers to write the dialogue and story lines for video games – does that count? What if all you ever got paid for was covering local high school sports for the small town newspaper?
It drives me completely insane when people ask me, “What do you do?” I say, “I’m a writer.” Then every single person asks, “Oh, have you written a book?”
Gah! Is having a book in my hand the only thing that makes me a writer?Seriously? Don’t get me started.
My immediate goal is to be published by a traditional royalty-based publisher – which means for most publishers I need an agent. My co-writer and I are going through that process now. If that doesn’t work out, we’re going to self-publish. But not until we’ve queried dozens of agents. As well, we’ve gotten feedback on that manuscript from bestselling authors – we’ll be hiring professional editors and cover artists, and there will be bucket-loads of marketing and promotion planned months in advance because I will have a benchmark goal of sales I want to achieve. And while I’m doing that, I’m working on my next book, because my long-term goal is to write full-time growing sales, readership, and community with each work. A company with only one product to sell won’t be successful in the long run – generally. What’s that saying? Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.
Once you determine, specifically, what your goals are, look at why you’re writing. Is there a purpose behind it?
I write because at heart I’m a storyteller. It’s just how I’m wired. I see story everywhere. But there’s more to it. I’m also a truthteller. Even when it’s inconvenient, when it sucks, when I don’t want to be – I’m a truthteller. Some people appreciate that about me, some people walk away and say ‘You’re such a talented writer – why can’t you write happy stories with happy endings?’ In other words, TMI. But the artists who are swayed by others opinions struggle to create work that resonates, that’s fresh, that’s compelling – in my opinion. It’s taken a long time for me to be comfortable in my own skin.
When I write, I am always searching out the truth. I want my fiction to resonate, to touch people’s hearts, reveal the history in the myth. With my non-fiction, I strive to authentically tell the stories of people and organizations, get to the heart of the matter. That’s what I want to be known for – what I want my ‘brand’ to represent.
I think of Stephen King – his brand is writing scare-your-pants-off, stay-up-late-with-the-lights-on thrillers and horror fiction. Nora Roberts is known for kick-a$$ female heroines finding love. James Scott Bell is known for writing legal thrillers – even his zombie novels are legal thrillers. One of my favorite authors is Ted Dekker – his brand is fast-paced, don’t-see-it-coming-plot-twists that unmask society and every story is centered on revealing love in a variety of ways. When I pick up a novel by one of those authors – I know exactly what I’m buying.
My cowriter, Marcy is all about hope and redemption.When we write together, our strengths complement each other. Marcy’s stories have a lot of intrigue, are fast-paced, and involve elaborate world-building with intricate plot twists. My writing is gritty, dialogue driven, fast paced, with a lot of action. But the reasons why we write – what we want to be known for – are woven through every scene.
What are your writing goals? Why do you write? Have you gone through this process for yourself – were you surprised at your answers?
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