The stakes are a lie

Bloganuary: What’s a lie you tell yourself?

Well, this one’s a bit salty.

For me, it’s this idea that sometime in the misty future, I’ll be able to earn a living with my fiction writing.

This notion is so ingrained I’m not sure I can completely rid myself of it. But I’m trying to. Not because I dislike making money from my writing. I enjoy that.

But it was never my original motivation for writing fiction in the first place. I’ve been thinking a lot about this over the past several months. Interestingly, writing these prompts every morning has helped clarify some of the thinking, even those prompts that don’t relate to success or goals.

Or maybe especially those. It reminded me that I love to write. That my first motivation for doing so was to have stories I couldn’t find anywhere else.

When I started writing, I recognized the gap immediately. What I was writing did not match what I was reading in published novels. This frustrated me.

So I used publication as a way to gauge my progress. It was a great way to work with editors and learn.

At some point, instead of being a means to an end, publication became the end. Back in the days when traditional publishing ruled, the author with the most contracts (or awards or bestseller lists) won.

And I was—frankly—miserable. I maybe didn’t show it, but deep down, I was.

Then indie publishing came along. For a good couple of years, I had so much fun—again, learning and making progress. I love creating books, from the wispy first ideas to the finished project.

But then sales and money became the markers of success, to the point where it’s binary. If you aren’t earning “good money” (however you define that) with your writing, you should quit. Or at least, this is what it feels like. The notion permeates so many conversations about writing and publishing. It’s the water we swim in. (Which is why I’ve opted out of most of those conversations.)

For me, at least, it’s not a binary choice. Perhaps this is unique to American culture. But holy cats! We don’t need to monetize every last thing we do. Writing has worth. Whether you earn six figures from it or you simply blog for the joy of it.

I’m trying to unlearn this lie. And while I like it when people buy my books, it’s not why I write them.

So I’m searching for a new way forward. Perhaps, if I reach into the past and take the hand of the woman I once was, we can find our way into the future.

1 Comment

Filed under bloganuary, Publishing, Writing

One response to “The stakes are a lie

  1. What a thorny issue! On the one hand, there’s the importance of honoring — and developing a response to — the ideas (gifts!) we’ve been given. Doing this, though, takes time. And as we all know, time = money. And if you’re not making money from your effort, what value does it have? It’s an awful downward spiral.

    Worse, what if you do get the attention of a mainstream publisher and what they want is a few changes here and a few changes there, and suddenly your creation is trussed up into something you can barely recognize? Yikes!

    I suppose one response is Emily Dickinson’s: write what you will, and then throw it under your bed and ask your best friend to burn it all after you are gone. Not a very satisfying one, though. It’s nice to find a home for the things you’ve made, someplace where they can get a little airspace, a little air play. For one thing, as their creator, I think people see their work differently when it’s been released to a larger audience — and that’s an important source of learning. For another, once a work has been “released”, seems like that would make it easier to move on to something else.

    From my point of view, it seems like you’ve found a good balance with independent publishing, and it sounds like you are coming to the point where you see yourself as a Real Writer, just because you are, in fact, writing. Seems like a good place to be.

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