Monday, April 28, 2014

Love, Money, and Metaphors

So I don't know if you guys saw the results from the epic writing survey that were posted a few weeks ago, but if not, you should go here and check them out. Definitely interesting stuff. One of the questions that was particularly interesting to me was this one:

What's the best part about writing for everyone, we wondered?

You probably need to click it to make it bigger and see, but the main thing that caught my attention here was the last answer--"The Money." Zero people said this is why they wrote. This wasn't especially surprising to me, because it's probably the one constant piece of "advice" that I've gotten since embarking on this "make writing a career" journey however long ago it was now. That is, "Don't do it for the money." 

Because if that's what you're here for, then most likely, you're going to end up severely disappointed and frustrated.

Five years ago, when I was writing that first book, this was easy enough advice to get behind. I'd loved writing for as long as I could remember, and I loved the idea of simply writing a book-- of accomplishing that, and seeing it through to the end, regardless of what came next. It was nothing except the sheer joy of words and the amazing feeling that came when you managed to string them into a whole, coherent story. When you'd created a world and cast of characters entirely in your head, and then--with even just a little bit of success--managed to recreate those things on the page for other people to see and believe in. And that's what it's all about. It's cheesy, but even just typing those last few sentences made me feel all warm and fuzzy, because it woke up that part of me inside that said oh yeah. that is what this writing thing is supposed to be about.

But--and brace yourselves, because this is the part of the post where I'm going to level with you--I have to be honest, those warm and fuzzies have gotten harder to feel, the longer I've been at this. After that first book, I wrote three more before I was offered representation. And with each book, though I didn't really notice it at the time, I think it became less about the simple joy of writing, and more of a complex combination of yes-I-love-writing-but-what-I'd-really-love-is-a-book-deal-now-please-and-thanks. It became about not failing at something I'd already dedicated so much time to. About getting to the point where the accepts started outnumbering the rejections.

This is a hard post to write. I debated about posting it, even after drafting it and thinking about it forever, because I'm not sure how this reflects on my character; I've had enough private conversations with fellow writers to know that I'm not the only one who feels this way, but in public? In public it seems that often we're only allowed to talk about how much we love writing, and how we would do it forever and ever even if we never saw anything but rejection from it.To feel differently--even on only the occasional bad day--means that GASP! we must not be real writers! Real writers do it because they love writing. Period. 

But I don't know if it's that simple. Yes, real writers love writing. Obviously. Obviously, some part of me is madly in love with writing, too--because if it wasn't, I seriously doubt I would have spent four years writing four books only to have the publishing door slammed in my face over and over again. Yes, some part of it was sheer stubbornness; but stubbornness alone doesn't write a book. Not a publishable book, anyway. And I eventually wrote a publishable book. I hope to write many more publishable books. And yes, some part of me would always be a writer, even if I never managed to make anything resembling a career out of this.

But this is where it's gotten tricky for me, and why I think this topic has been on my heart lately: because once you're published (or soon-to-be-published), it becomes harder to think about that simple love that got you writing books in the first place. You suddenly have Expectations. You have people who have read your debut book and asked about sequels. You have an editor and possibly an agent who you have to keep on impressing. You have well-meaning friends and family who want to know when you'll be quitting your day job since you're obviously making a ton of money now (ha!). Or who want to know when you're going to stop spending so much time writing and get a real job (because they know how poor you actually still are). 

And when you don't know what to tell these people, it's hard. It's disheartening. You get tired of explaining to people that publishing is slow and there's nothing you can do about it, and that yes, it's a HUGE accomplishment to have gotten a book deal in the first place, but that doesn't necessarily mean you're "in" at that point, or that it's all going to be smooth sailing from then on, or that this is even an actual, viable career now. There are still a lot more hurdles to leap. A lot more books to write. And now you're writing with all these people staring at you, wondering what's going to come next in your fledgling career--and to top it all off, a lot of what happens in said career is out of your control. That is, basically, everything except the actual writing is out of your control. Wheee.

It's sort of how romantic relationships often go, isn't it? You start out all infatuated and loving everything about your partner, but then you start noticing how annoying their laugh is and then suddenly they're all "sorry but you're not quite right for my list right now" and you're like "well, damn". And then you have to decide if what you have goes deeper than infatuation, and if it's worth it to keep fighting until you get it right. Or something like that half-assed metaphor.

On to my point, though (yes, I did have a point all along, I promise): this post isn't meant to be a complaint, or a woe-is-me-publishing-is-so-hard-and-unfair sort of rant, just for the record. I am ETERNALLY grateful to know that I will have a book on the shelves in September, even if it's the only one that ever makes it to said shelves. But in the true spirit of this blog--revealing the  secret life after surviving the slushpile and such--I thought it was time for another painfully honest topic. So here you go. Bottom line? The warm-and-fuzzy feeling that writing gives you may not always be as warm and fuzzy as it was when you first started. Sometimes it will be downright cold and prickly and you'll probably wonder if it was ever there in the first place, or if you were just fooling yourself. I personally don't think that makes you less of a "real writer"; it just makes you human. To revisit my terrible metaphor, all good relationships--including the one I share with my writing--need work sometimes. And sometimes you want to just completely break-up and crank up some Taylor Swift and tell your polished turd of a manuscript that you are never ever ever getting back together, and that's totally okay and I'm totally not judging you for that. Also, I have no idea how Taylor Swift just became a part of this post.

Ladies and gentlemen, Michael Scott-- aka: my spirit animal.

Anyway, the trick, I guess, is to just do what you can to not lose that warm feeling completely. Maybe write some random bad poetry that you're never going to show anybody. Read a book for pure enjoyment and pay no attention to how it compares to yours, or how the writer crafted this or that. Remind yourself that writing is actually really, really hard, and then go eat a cupcake. Fall asleep dreaming of words and scenes you want to write, even on the bad days when you didn't actually write a single word. You're still a writer, even on those days. And it's that warm feeling that will remind you of that over and over. You just have to hang on to it, and let it convince you to write one. more. sentence. Even when you're pretty sure nobody else in the publishing world wants anything to do with those sentences. 

Stefanie Gaither writes YA novels about killer clones and spaceships, with the occasional romp with dragons and magic-users thrown in for good measure. Said writing is generally fueled by an obscene amount of coffee and chocolate, as well as the occasional tennis and/or soccer break. She's represented by Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary, and her debut novel, FALLS THE SHADOW, is forthcoming from Simon and Schuster Books For Young Readers in 2014. You can add it on Goodreads here!

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10 secret replies:

  1. Thanks for sharing :-). I find it so helpful when authors are honest about their struggles.

    Good luck with your writing! I'm so excited for FALLS THE SHADOW!

    1. Thanks for reading! So glad you found it helpful. And I hope you enjoy FALLS!

  2. I think everyone needs to read this. We're constantly told to believe in ourselves and our words no... matter... what. Good advice, but not practical 24/7.

    My "less noble" goal is not money, but readers. I want people to feel something when they read my work (not boredom). I want to give them something to think about (not how a root canal is preferable to reading my poems).

    So no, never apologize. Get frustrated and moon a photo of Jane Austin (best if done in your own home). As long as you still love words and eventually dust yourself off, it's all good.

    1. Well said! Totally agree with all of this (especially the mooning a photo of Jane Austen part, haha).

  3. Thank you so much for being hontest! What an eye opener and I will def be on the lookout for Falls the Shadow. love the color! I love clones due to Orphan Black. Keep writing and keep the spirit going. It helps with authors are truthful for us newbies like you. Thank you for sharing and you can do it!

    1. Glad it was helpful to you!

      I hadn't heard of Orphan Black before now, but I just Wikipedia'ed it and now I'm definitely going to have to check it out. It sounds awesome!

  4. I wish more authors would be honest like this. I've been writing awhile and I was starting to wonder if there was something wrong with me because I don't get as excited when I finish something as I used to get. So definitely thank you so much for this post. It's okay to not be excited all the time. :)

    1. There's nothing wrong with you at. all. Trust me! :) You're right-- it's totally okay to not feel ALL THE EXCITES ALL THE TIME. For me, part of being a "real writer" is feeling meh sometimes but being able to eventually fight your way through it.

  5. Our motivations for writing are not necessarily identical to the fruit we'd like to harvest because of it.

    I write because I can't Not Write. I write to get it out of my system.

    Once it's out, I think, "Wouldn't it be nice to take all this effort and use it to bring even more happiness?" Polish, sub, print.

    I write because I have to. I publish because I want my writing to make other people just as happy as it made me. And if I can get it to return fiscal rewards as well, that goes a long way to justify the time spent writing when I could have been totalling up spreadsheets or troubleshooting software or asking people if they want fries with that.

    Is money a motivation to write? No. I can't think of any writer whose primary motivation is thus. Statistically, you make more money per hour from flipping burgers. (Want fries with that?)

    But as a fruit of one's labour-of-love? I can't think of any writer of my acquiantance who would turn down them apples.

  6. At some point, everyone who wants to write professionally and/or make a living has to think about the money. It's the same in every career -- there will be things you like about it and things you don't. Great post!