Existential crisis of a writer

At the Alaska Writer’s Guild annual conference, I heard a lot of things. So many of those things stuck with me as really good and legitimately helpful advice. I will go on about that quite a bit over the next few weeks in part because I’m still digesting what I heard and writing it out like this helps me to understand it. That said, one of the things that hit me, and is still hitting me, is this question:

Why do we write?

If you’d asked me that question before last week, I’d have selected one of the following clichés:

– Because I love doing it, and I want to keep doing it,

– Because I want to be a professional writer when I grow up,

– Because it legitimizes my wearing of socks and sandals in a way nothing else can.

Okay, I made that last one up, that’s being a programmer. Being a programmer does that. So the real answer, and one I’m embarrassed to say someone had to tell me, is that we write to be read. Wow. Okay. That distills it down to the very heart of the matter, doesn’t it? I think that ought to be enough for me to just carry on and keep writing. After all, it’s not exactly an earth shattering revelation. Yet, it still nags me, because I can’t get past the second why. This is the why that hangs out with a but just at the end of the to be read.

Why? It’s the ultimate existential question isn’t it? You can why anything to death. I keep wanting to come back round to the why I do this, but here’s the kicker, it’s not about me at all. If I make it about me, then I’m missing the point. I’d like to think what I write is humorous. Perhaps not outright funny, but silly in a slightly better than slapstick way. Attempting to be humorous adds something to my work for sure. When I started doing that, the quality of my writing increased dramatically. Even I like it better and I’m extremely hard on myself. I’ve even gotten a few compliments, and compliments feel good. For me, the best compliment is “I’m really enjoying this.” I’m not really looking for anything more than that. There it is again, that me thing, but that’s why I do it, we’re talking the second why, not the first one.

To get back to the first ‘why’ in ‘why do we write’, it’s a two way street isn’t it? I get satisfaction from hearing the words “I’m enjoying this.” and the reader has clearly gotten something from it. They’ve gotten what I was hoping they would get out of it. The problem here is that it’s all too easy to focus exclusively on the ‘me’ portion of the equation and not the reader portion. I’m not saying it’s all about working out exactly what an audience wants to see, because quite often they don’t know what they want, that’s why creative people exist, to make up the new things that people didn’t know they wanted until they have it in front of them.

In any case, this is something for me to ponder and think about as I work through the difficult process of getting enough pre-orders to publish Wine Bottles and Broomsticks on Inkshares, and moving forward too into other projects that will need to find the readers that need them.

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Writer’s ego: success

ego

I’m really not falling off of the blog-wagon, just too busy to mash together any ideas longer than 140 characters. Anyhow, I did have a thought the other day that I want to share, although it’s a rather incomplete thought. What came across my mind is the product of a challenging month, both positive and negative. It’s about success. Success comes in two parts:

1: convincing yourself and others you can do something,
2: proving it.

Before I go much further, I want to point out that I don’t consider myself a particularly successful person. No doubt I’ll be called out on this one, because I’ve done alright, but I’m really not where I want to be, and I fail badly at #1.

It’s one thing to sit in an interview and wax poetic about your skills and abilities, and perhaps even be convincing enough to satisfy the hiring manager(s) that you are, in fact, all that and more. This is well and good, but it’s only part of the story. Once you walk into that new job or contract, the clock starts ticking to prove yourself. I’ve hired a lot of people. Some try too hard to prove themselves and miss the mark, after all they were hired for a particular task. I’ve hired others who come in, identify the needs and push to excel in meeting those, and I have absolutely hired people that have come in and upon being hired feel there isn’t any need to prove themselves, or only give it a token effort.

I think it’s the same with writing, well any craft really. An amazing sales pitch might sell lots of books, but what’s that worth if the story stinks? Conversely, I could write an amazing story with fabulous commercial potential, but if I can’t make the sales pitch, nobody will ever know. Both of these things need to happen. As much as I’d like to be a professional, full-time writer, I recognize I’m chasing a dream. I’m fine with that, but I would like people to read and enjoy my story.

I could sit here and blog all day long about how well I write, maybe convince a few folks that I can tell one hell of a story. However, without a damn good story to stand behind, what does it even mean? What does it mean if I’ve written an excellent story and haven’t been able to convince anyone they should take a look at it?

I have no idea.

I don’t really know where I was going with that. Perhaps I just want to make the point that this is something I struggle* with.


 

* Beat myself up.