As a child, I was fascinated by writing stories. Enchanted forests with knights and elves, space stations on the edge of the galaxy, worlds where magic existed. Like in all worlds, there were monsters and bad guys to deal with, but of course, the elf princess and the ace fighter pilot always kicked their butts. I never dreamed that one day I'd write about these places and an editor would buy them! Somewhere after those first few sales, something happens. I crossed over from writing for myself and
writing for markets, putting my inner sense of wonder at risk.
Writing was always the one thing I did well in school and it was the one thing that always excited me most in my life. And like most things in my life, I believed that if I just worked hard enough and long enough, then I'd "make it." (whatever "making it" means) What I discovered was that things didn't always work that way. Reminds me of an old saying, "worry about the things you can change and not the things you can't." See, there are two factors to this profession that I have absolutely no control over. But there are also two factors that I can control, but they're not easy to control because.well, because they're monsters. Together, these things can really impact a writer's inner sense of wonder.
Frequently, these factors do crazy and painful things to me. They make me feel like I'm a terrible writer, that I make wrong decision after wrong decision. Occasionally, they make me feel jealous at the
accomplishments of my colleagues, and they make me feel hopeless about my chosen profession. These are two factors I can't control: 1) Luck 2) Subjectivity. See, no matter how hard I slam my head against the brick wall of
publishing, I can never escape these two factors. Luck is luck. It's being in the right place at the right time and it's writing about a subject that becomes the hot topic/trend. It's being lucky enough to make the right
contacts for your work. Or it's simply having the right story in front of the right editor at the right time. Can't be fixed, right?
No, not the luck factor, but I can go to conventions and do other things to increase my luck. Can't win if I don't buy a ticket, right?
And then there's subjectivity. Even though I've sent 50 stories to a market, my subjects and writing style just may be polar opposites to the tastes of that editor. Won't matter how many stories I send. Unless I hit that editor's taste, then he/she isn't going to buy our stories. Can't change this one, but I can deal with it by reading and studying the magazine or book line. If I can figure out patterns or tastes, then maybe I can meet that editor halfway.
Along with the uncontrollable factors, there are also factors I can control. I warn you, though, they are monsters: 1) The Reaction Monster 2) The Comparison Monster.
Reaction and Comparison Monsters come in all shapes in sizes and they each have individual tactics guaranteed to mess you up. The Reaction Monster is more direct and it affects how I react to things. My reactions have a profound effect on my inner sense of wonder. Negative reactions, especially to events that only have perceived impact on my writing career, erode my inner sense of wonder. Take rejections (please!), for example. Some writers amaze me by their calm acceptance of rejections. Others spout off for fifteen minutes about the injustice, then go on to their next project. Others internalize the rejection and allow it to build up until the whole miserable pile is weighing on their entire career (like a house of cards) and eventually flattens it. I've had all three of these responses. For me, this monster can be very hard to dispel.
Now, the Comparison monster is sneaky. Slips up on you quietly. It helps me create false measures for myself because that's what we tend to do -- generalize. Fifty percent of those surveyed responded with the answer "blue." Sometimes, we talk in generalities as if every writer were the same. So...because some writers started submitting at the same time I did, I assume that we'll all have the same timeline by which we achieve our career goals.
Painfully, timing has nothing to do with my own timeline. Some writers who started out at the same time as I will pass by me like a speeding train, others will dawdle here and there and lag behind, others will walk with me all the way, and still, others will slowly pull ahead. Most writers will see-saw back and forth, though, but still, the Comparison monster makes me believe that all writers are created equally and they will all achieve success at the same time as their peers. I have to recognize this and ignore this monster because things just don't work that way.
So what do I do about all of this? Quit? Yeah, I've thought about it a bazillion times, but I can't really quit. See, that inner sense of wonder at the world is why I love to write. What I don't always love is the heartache of sending my work out into the professional world. It's painful and exciting at the same time, hope and misery tucked into the same manilla envelope. I love passionate ideas that burn through my veins and quiet ideas that nag at me to make use of them. I love creating a new world or exploring magic. Can I quit writing? I don't think so.
Okay, so I can't quit. What other options do I have? The best and only option I can come up with here is to try my best to write for myself again. It's really hard to go back when I've shifted focus from
writing for myself to writing for markets. Because now, in order to please myself, I have to sell the story or make someone else happy with the story, someone I respect professionally. It's no longer simple anymore. I'm not
that little kid sitting behind the piano in grade school writing stories.
But maybe I should be more like that kid? She didn't care what people thought. She just cared about the words, the images, the emotions -- the worlds. I've taken the pleasure I used to derive in the creation of fiction and placed that in someone else's hands.
So, I'm throwing this little essay out here and saying this to all the struggling writers as much as I'm saying it to myself. There are a bazillion and one ways to be unhappy in this business. But as far as I can see, there is really only one way to be happy in it and that's to write what you love. If you aren't in love with what you're writing, change it so you are at least intrigued by the idea. If you aren't excited or happy or satisfied with what you're writing, then write something that does this for you. Then when the story is finished, ONLY THEN put on your marketing hat and decide the best place to send it. Do your best not to think about the marketing until the piece has been written.
Because, in the end, no matter how many wonderful things you've written in the past, you've still got to love the one you're currently writing. You have to find your own sense of wonder in your work or it's all too painful. Isolate yourself from things that put you into a tailspin and write. If you need to take a break, then take a break. Replenish your creative energies. Visit a place you've never been, revisit a place you love, find ways to explore new ideas. If writing were about "writing that one GREAT WORK," then there wouldn't be a lot of joy along the way. It would all culminate into an "either or" and those just make writing painful.
Don't give up the dream because of things you can't change or things you can change. Give it up because you just can't stand to write another word ever again. Give it up because you've stopped dreaming
or because you're just tired of creating new worlds. But. . . instead of giving up, try this: Run and jump through your fiction. Dream. Color outside the lines.
Experiment. Enjoy. But above all, write what you love and maybe that will keep the monsters away?