One of the main reasons for failure lies in not knowing why we do something. As a high school teacher, I was always told that every lesson should start from within the world of the children – it had to be relevant to their lives, and they needed to understand why they were learning it.
Adults are no different in that respect. In the course of our lives, we challenge ourselves to start new ventures, new hobbies or follow a dream. The reason we do something still has a bearing on what we keep up, and what we abandon mid-way. We may think we know ‘why’, but once we start, it soon becomes apparent if it’s valid and rings true with us. Moreover, the particular reason that moves us forward influences the process; the ‘how’ we do something.
As both author and publisher, I often hear about people’s writing aspirations. For the majority, this path never starts (“I always wanted to be a writer”); for some it does, but it’s abandoned half way through (“I don’t have time right now”); and for some, it becomes part of everyday life (when you are clearly a daily-word-count addict, belonging to the elusive word-mile programme, as I call it).
I can’t cover all the reasons for wanting to write, but I can definitely look at the main ones. So, why do you write?
REASONS FOR WRITING
1. Writing For pleasure
I used to keep diaries, an 18-years habit to be precise. I knew about Anne Frank’s diary and Laura Palmer’s diary (yes, two very different things!) and like these girls, I appreciated the comfort and usefulness of writing things down. As a teen, I wrote short stories, mainly for a few friends (this was the pre-internet era, don’t forget) or myself.
Many people write for pleasure, and thanks to Blogs, a skilful writer can even manage a healthy notoriety without worrying about other aspects of publishing. If the thought of completing tax returns fills you with dread, if readers liking your musings satisfies you, and systematically sharing your own posts on other social media is all the marketing you can handle, then chances are you found your happy writing place.
If this is you, then set up a blog or become a contributor to a website, there are many places that will allow you to do so. Take the SFFN, the Scifi Fantasy Network: it’s run by volunteers, and it’s a great platform for sharing your blog posts or writing brand new ones.
2. Writing For Recognition
Recognition is perhaps the most common reason for wanting to be a writer. At one point or another, every writer has entertained the thought of their book becoming a bestseller and receiving worldwide attention. In a society which strives to achieve GIF-length fame, there is a lot to be said for wanting to be known for literary prowess.
In fact, I would argue that this ‘why’ is even stronger than writing to make money, as it plays into the very human need for peer validation.
For this reason, it can be a great motivation tool, yet at the same time a treacherous one.
There is a fine line between wanting to be praised for our writing skills or a new idea and seeking acceptance at all costs, between recognition and ‘fame’. The risk is that we may lose our ‘voice’ as we try to comply with what is considered successful and acceptable in the eyes of others.
You cannot reconcile your original inspiration with market’s demands. To do so is to force your characters to look, act and say things to please others, as opposed to developing a life on their own.
Another risk of writing for fame is that of chasing controversy in a contrived manner. The point of good writing is to challenge the readers, make them leave their comfort zone in a stimulating way. Controversy for its own sake becomes sensationalism, a cry for attention – the worst kind.
Do you write to ‘be famous’? Assuming you understand famous as in acclaimed or recognised, a good way to go about that is to bring writing in the thick of your life: practice, complete projects, explore your ideas and be true to yourself. Writing is a skill to hone and perfect, a gift that can transport readers to inwards and outwards journeys and make them forget where they are. If you can do that, people will take notice.
3. Writing for Money
Well… once maybe. These days the chances of making writing your means to pay a mortgage and survive the expenses of living are reserved for 5-10% of writers. Selling movie rights doesn’t happen every day, let’s face it, and sometimes seeing your book bringing in the cash is truly down to luck – I’m sure we can all think of at least one book which made it big, but for all the wrong reasons.
Given the amount of competition out there (brought about by the digital revolution and the rise of self-published authors) and costs of publishing, advances and royalties are not enough to sustain a family; they may be able to pay a few bills or a holiday, but that’s about it. Often is the spouse/partner who brings in a reliable income, allowing the writer to pursue their career.
Although I don’t believe that an author is only as good as their last book, there is an immense pressure to produce, simply to be in the limelight. These days advances are given mainly by traditional publishers, and you know how difficult it is to get a contract. If you are able to pay bills, even the occasional one, with your royalties, it is very likely that you are in the right career, so keep it up.
To a certain extent, the majority of writers wishes to make money out of their books. The question is, what happens if you don’t? Do you care about writing enough, not to quit?
There are of course other ways of making money with writing, including freelance journalism. If you write to make money, and it’s not happening via books, or you are not fussed about what types of writing makes you money, perhaps you should consider diversifying.
4. Writing for Life: the Word-Mile Club
This is a multi-category zone. You write for yourself, for pleasure, for recognition, for the networking, the marketing, the retribution. You are committed and ready for business. Motivation is your middle name. The idea of having lunch with your tax inspector fills you with joy. Lack of fame or money would never stop you from making writing your career. Your bumper sticker says, “Writing is for life, not just for Christmas”. You’re in for the long run.
You get no suggestions from me here. You have it sorted.
So, have you found your answer? Ultimately you can be the most self-motivated person, but if you are writing for the wrong reason, it will not be enough: you’ll either quit or stall. Be honest to yourself and to your readers. Life is short.