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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Making My Heart Sing - Is Writing for the Sake of Writing Enough?



This is honest talk.

I feel pressure to promote my written work. Absent intense and focused promotion, unless I catch a lucky break, my work will likely exist mostly as files saved on a computer.

But, you want to know the truth? My heart is not in the marketing of my work.

I know I am not the only writer who feels this way. Yet, many still go to valiant lengths to ensure that, at the very least, somebody "out there" notices their work. This is arguably easier to do now with the advent of the internet. Further, with the ease of self publication, creating a "finished" work for someone to notice is less challenging.

Still, good marketing is a somewhat different skill than that of creating a well-written novel. Good marketing can also be as intense and time consuming as was developing the product now seeking sales and recognition. It may intrude on the ability to embark on new writing projects. If one does not have unlimited time, one inevitably will have to choose how to allocate efforts.

Here is what I have finally allowed myself to admit. I write to give expression to the quiet voice I hear within. Hustling my work does not make my heart sing. If the work sells, great, but, if it does not, it is not the end of the world. Of course, I say this having the luxury of knowing that my next meal does not depend on receiving a royalty check. If it did, I would just have to suck it up and do as good a marketing job as I could. 

Absent that necessity, though, is it okay to choose to keep my quiet inner voice sheltered from the buffeting winds of the commercial world? Would I gain sufficient satisfaction from only challenging myself to create the best work I can? And then doing it?

Unavoidably, I must ask how, without exposing my work to the world, I can possibly know it is truly good. The allure of getting published and doing so successfully is, after all, not just about the money. It is also about getting validation from readers, from the literary community, and from my own circle of family and friends. Not only do these individuals provide standards of excellence for me to meet, but all of them might see publication and receiving awards as affirmation of the value of my work. But, do I need their validation for me to feel worthy?

I also recognize that options exist for me to assign the marketing of my work to others. I don't have agents or publishers lined up waiting to take me on, but I could allocate some of their traditional roles to others. Editors and cover artists, for example, are available for hire. Of course, beyond how I might feel about undertaking such a multi-pronged effort, it costs money to hire these individuals. And, while I am not starving, I am also not wealthy. 

Aside from the money issue, then, is my arriving at this point in my literary life simply an acknowledgement, indeed admission, of my failure to win the coveted brass ring of publishing success? Or is it that I am not hungry enough for what literary success might provide me? Because, surely, it is not hard work I shirk. You don't complete five novels and publish numerous short stories as well as a poetry collection if you are incapable of hard work.

Still, how do I distinguish between walking away because I did not succeed versus a deliberate choice to walk away because my strengths are ill served?

The answer must lie in whether I feel peace of mind about my decision. In the end, it is a matter of how I choose to spend my life. If I'm going to work hard, I want it to be doing something which honors my authentic self. 

Yet, why do I bother writing stories if no one might ever read them? I do it because writing introduces me to wonderful characters whose joys and sorrows I feel deeply and who become life-long friends. Writing helps me answer the questions I ask of those characters at the start of each story. In resolving those questions, I too grow as a person. In the process, I also enjoy the craft of figuring out the best way to depict how characters grapple with conflict and seek resolution. I rarely know how things are going to turn out when I first start writing. So each new page I write is like turning the page of a good book I just discovered. Ultimately, I write the book I want to read.


It is possible, even likely, that I may revisit more than once the issue of where to focus my literary efforts. I may even ask myself whether all of the above is just a fancily explained excuse for throwing in the towel.

Perhaps. But, now, with a profound sense of relief, I turn without guilt to focus primarily on what I love to do most, which is writing. I do that prepared to experience the consequences of my choice. I will write, though, without the monkey on my back to make a "success" of my writing. I will write to make my heart sing.



***


Post Script:

A very wise friend read this post and challenged me to make sure I was being honest with myself about my motivation for taking a leave from promotion. His challenge was: if he gave me an interest-free loan to be repaid out of future royalties and, absent royalties, my re-payment obligation would cease, would I still embark on a promotion-free leave? His loan would be targeted specifically to enable me to hire the professionals who might shepherd my work to commercial status. Would I still, given his offer, elect to take a leave and focus primarily on the creative side of my writing, what I had called "making my heart sing"?

I thought long and hard about his generous offer. As my friend intended, it made my decision a pure play about whether it was the creative impulse or the financial factor which was driving my choice.

I decided I still wanted to take a leave to focus on my writing. That doesn't mean that, someday, I won't reconsider. In the meantime, though, I will be responding to a strong hunger to write for the sake of writing, free from commercial considerations. I want to embrace again the energy which allows me to develop to its fullest potential my unique perspective as revealed through my writing.

How this will play out, I don't know precisely. But, it is reassuring to have confirmed for myself that this is a thoroughly deliberate decision on my part. It is also reassuring that, if I change my mind about engaging in the commercialization of my work, it is a decision not hemmed in by financial limitations. Like a new story about to be written, I have the opening circumstances and players, the conflict, and the elements involved in the resolution of that conflict. The denouement, right now unknown to me, will reveal itself in time. In effect, I am reading my own life's book.

13 comments:

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

Well said, Judith! I took 2014 off to reasses my writing priorities as well. I came to much the same conclusions you do and have recently trimmed down my social media marketing and book promo to the absolute minimum for much the same reason (plus a few more) Ultimately, it's the writing that counts. And, if that's what makes you heart sing, then that's where you have to spend your energy. I do believe that the people who need to read your words will find them. Keep on writing and let the rest take care of itself :)
Judy Croome, South Africa : A Golden Sorrow

Muffie said...

All of what you say is so true. Do you write for your own satisfaction or for others to share? If you were a writer by trade, and needed the checks to survive, then by all means, you'd have to market yourself. It's a tricky corner you've backed yourself into.

xaidw B said...

Judy,
Your words and thoughts are of a compelling nature. Do we stay true to our real selves, not needing the accolades that the world deems "successful"? Or can we be satisfied with knowing instinctivey that our talent is real and expressed as we wish it? It is a constant struggle. You have accomplished enough to satisfiy the outside world. Now, live and write for yourself...but, share with us.
Hilda

Judith Mercado said...

Judy, I owe to you the phrase, writing for the sake of writing. I also feel reassured that you believe that those who need to read my words will find them. It is a matter of trust in the process, isn't it?

Muff, rightfully so, you point out the challenge of whether one has the flexibility or not realistically to make the choice I am making.

Hilda, you understood exactly the dilemma. You also encouraged me to remember that there are people "out there" who are interested in what I may have to say.

Judith Mercado said...

I forgot to suggest that you read the post script I added to my post.

Karen said...

I have been challenged with the same issues regarding my photography. A dear friend with "connections", urged me to publish. I have declined. I enjoy "taking pics", and for me, that is enough. If I turned my love of photographing the things I behold in wonderment into monetary gain, I am afraid the thrill of getting the "perfect shot" for me, would become tainted.

Judith Mercado said...

Karen, yes, well meaning people urge one to pursue publishing. The key for me has been to recognize that publishing is not something I Must do. If it happens fine, but it is not the driving force behind why I write.

A Cuban In London said...

A very honest post. The average writer makes £11,000.00 a year in the UK. The threshold below which you are considered to be living on the breadline is £13,000.00. That should give you an idea of how important decisions like the ones you are making are.

Greetings from London.

Malcolm Campbell said...

One day or another, these issues, all the promotion stuff and validation stuff and why am I writing stuff confront all of us.

It's easy to rationalize it or (horrors) lie to ourselves about it.

I like what you said and it's soul food for thought for the rest of us.

Malcolm

Judith Mercado said...

Cuban, I'm surprised the average writer makes even that much and, on a net basis, it is probably even less. In others, make sure you have a day job!

Judith Mercado said...

Malcolm, it is food for thought for all, but we might come to different conclusions than I did. It has taken me a while and a great deal of thought to make the decision I made. For some, the drive to be known as a published writer may trump any other considerations. Perhaps because I have already published numerous short stories, and also have "published" a blog, that drive ended up not trumping everything for me.

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

Interesting post script, Judith! Your friend issues a serious challenge that must have truly cleared out your thinking channels! Something I wrestle with often. Am sure "the reading of your life's book" will be a fascinating journey!

Judith Mercado said...

"the reading of your life's book" will be a fascinating journey!"

Yes, Judy, always interesting, not always comfortable, but never boring. Thanks for stopping by again.