Who Am I Writing For?
Well, I did it to myself again. No matter how many times it happens, no matter how many times I learn the lesson, it still creeps back up and ambushes me again.
Write what you want to write, write what sings to you. Forget what you can complete and present to the world; if it isn’t singing to you right now, this moment, then any work you do on it will be poorer quality and at best not worth it, at worst discouraging enough to interfere when it should be singing later. Don’t ever, ever try to modify the content to what some hypothetical audience might want; use every bit of your skill to make it come to life for them, instead, and give them something uniquely your own.
It sounds like a fairly simple concept, doesn’t it? Just write, nothing else matters.
Except that it does.
There’s something intensely addictive about knowing that someone has actually read your work, this child born out of your inner self that you’ve set free into the world. About knowing that they’ve chosen to spend their time on it, a gift in a world where there never seems to be enough hours in the day, and allow your words to create a reality for them. Not everyone will love it, but some of them will, and those moments of knowing that you’ve been heard are a treasure.
If those moments are in extremely short supply for a writer, it makes the craving for more a hard thing to battle. The whole point of putting hundreds of hours into writing a novel and polishing it into a little self-contained bubble universe anyone can visit is, well, so that people can visit it. Offering up a piece of your soul to the world is a scary thing to do, but the drive to share can be stronger than the fear.
I’m inclined to agree with Lauren Sapala that competition in creative fields is ultimately a false perception. However, there’s another side to that. While obsessing over ratings and popularity and status is bad… the mirror dilemma is the question of how to make your work visible enough for anyone at all to see it.
I’ve talked before about my own views on publishing and freedom, and mentioned this problem. No one can read your work if they don’t know it exists. The depressing truth is: no matter how good your writing might be, ultimately whether it’s ever seen depends on completely unrelated skills and resources that not all writers have or can successfully develop.
My research into the field of self-marketing hasn’t been encouraging. Maybe I’m finding the wrong sources, but they largely seem to boil down to two concepts. One involves having financial resources available for everything from professional cover design through professional copy-editing to advertising to attending various cons – not a viable option for everyone. The other major concept is all about networking, but we aren’t all good at that. Writing is, despite the claims of some that every writer can only benefit from being part of a writer’s group, ultimately an internal and private process; while there are writers who are outgoing and social, there are also many who are not.
Personally, being a strong introvert, I very much prefer to spend my time with a limited circle of people; I need quality, not quantity, around the necessary extended periods alone to recharge. I find it very difficult and draining to interact even online with groups of unfamiliar people, and in person it’s just shy of impossible. I’ve had so many negative experiences with writing sites and groups that I now tend to approach them extremely warily, expecting to be bitten again. (I don’t think I’m a particularly difficult person to get along with, or excessively sensitive, but I do have problems relating to some common types of people I’ve found to be dominant in that particular ecosystem.) And when it comes right down to it, when there’s a choice between 1) actually writing more, or 2) spending hours trying, purely for the sake of being more visible, to become part of a community I can’t genuinely relate to, well…
Adding insult to injury, however, is the attitude of those who do have useful skill sets or considerable resources or simply luck: I’ve seen “all they want to do is write” used in a disparaging context in multiple places, clearly implying that this is inherently a bad thing, some sort of moral failing or personality flaw. Many of the visual artists, writers, poets, and other creative sorts that have been remembered beyond their own lives would simply never have been noticed in the current system. Many of them were strongly introverted (the Bronte sisters, Emily Dickinson…) or badly out of step with social expectations (Leonardo, van Gogh, Henry Darger…). A deep obsession with one’s art, with actually doing one’s art rather than promoting it or discussing it, is common in many of them. Obsession quotes about creativity More quotes about obsession
Until recently, the big publishing companies guarded the gates. That’s no longer the case; anyone can self-publish, digitally or via print-on-demand, without an immense initial outlay. This does make it hard to find the diamonds in the ever-growing oceans of sand, even more so when “diamonds” are so subjective. The drawback to the immensity and chaos of the Internet and the ready availability of everything is the difficulty of finding anything.
So am I whining? I want to be handed recognition on a silver platter, without working for it, despite the current realities? Maybe I am. I don’t think there’s an easy answer to this one, though. In order for one’s creative work to be visible, one has to take large blocks of time away from producing creative work, to promote it personally or earn the money to have someone else do so, or one has to hand over a substantial amount of autonomy in regards to that creative work if one can get the opportunity to do so. For those of us who face roadblocks with these paths, it’s a serious problem.
Reactions to my work tend to be positive enough that I’m fairly confident about my ability to spin a story and keep a reader from regretting the time they spent in my worlds – but how do I let the world know it exists?
I finished Yin-Yang back in early December, finally, and did get a few wonderful responses. The first of my Resurrection Project works came so quickly and easily that it went from a vague idea to a completed novel in only a couple of months, starting before the finalizing of Yin-Yang; my beta reader had some events interfere with reading it for me, but it’s back and I’ll be posting it very soon. Since I emailed it to her in late December, I’ve been struggling with what to work on next. Nothing has been calling to me, and nothing I try to focus on has been willing to crystallize for me in more than small fragments.
I think there are two reasons for this. Part of it is health-related (also why I’ve been quiet here and in the one online community I am a part of). At least as importantly, though, I’m sabotaging myself. I’m not writing for the sake of writing, or choosing which project to work on based on what’s currently singing the strongest. I’m finding that I’m trying to force which project based on what I should be able to finish quickly and release. Why? So I can make another announcement about a new novel, of course, and hope that I can draw just a little more attention to my work.
It won’t work, of course. It never does. Every time I’ve ever tried to write something for an audience, or with an eye to making it “publishable,” I end up quite frankly with garbage. Characters have to be bullied, threatened, and shoved into doing anything at all, and they do it sullenly, without grabbing control and running with it in unexpected directions. It doesn’t come to life, I’m unhappy with it, and I would hate to have anyone read it and think that it was truly representative of my work. Knowing that doesn’t stop me from now and then wandering off the path to follow the will’o’the’wisp, though.
After all, spinning stories is its own joy, and the ecstasy of it is a high beyond compare – but what’s a novel without readers?