Something has been bugging me lately. And given how busy I have been, there’s not been much chance to write about it.
Essentially it comes down to a single word: performance.
Those of you that follow me on social media might know about my faith and the role that it has played in my writing, in my everything really. And one of the biggest components of that faith is the idea that I am not responsible for my own salvation. That my standing with God is not based on my performance. This is a crucial and integral aspect of my faith. But it’s also starting to echo into my writing career, as it were.
There are more books on how to get published, I think, than there are published books. That’s only a mild exaggeration. Everyone and their dog knows how to get published. If you do a search for how to get your book published, you will get hundreds of thousands of results. Depending on the path you wish to follow, you will get directed to the “Write > Edit > Pitch > Agent > Publisher > Adoring Public” route or the “Write > Maybe Edit a Little > Amazon > Public” route. And then if you’ve been keeping score at home, you might also just up and give away your books because you aren’t satisfied with either of those options.
And there are tricks for all the above paths. There are methods to try to get your book from your brain to people who love your work. There’s social media strategy, cover design, professional editing, conferences, more books, more classes, actual six week life-changing studies, college level degree programs, etc, ad infinitum. But the equation is essentially the same all the way around: do X and publication(read: happiness) will be yours.
Except, that’s not true. Take Steig Larsson for instance. He wrote the bestselling book in the US in 2010. Well, he didn’t write it in 2010. He was dead then. Six years dead. But still, his novels sold like crazy. Not while he was alive, after he had died of a heart attack. So, to be blunt and brutally honest, nothing Steig Larsson did had an impact on his publication. Nothing. He was already a fairly well known journalist while he was alive. He had writing chops. Clearly he could do the work. But did he craft a compelling query letter? (“Dear Author, As you know this industry is very subjective and that rape seems sorta rapey…”) Did he spend time building an audience? (“#RT #SWEDISHINDIE #BOOKS #EBOOKS #BLESSED #WINNING.”) No, he wrote a great series of books. That was it.
And so with my writing and with the gaggle of writers I associate with over on Twitter, I so many days want to just yell, “I GIVE UP!” But that’s anethema to that community. It’s frowned upon, this idea of saying that with all you do, with all the correct paths followed and all the correct rituals performed, you still probably won’t get published. And if you do get published, it probably won’t be a bestseller. And if it is a bestseller, it probably won’t be a sustainable “career.” And if it is a sustainable career, it definitely, under no uncertain circumstances, will NOT make you happy.
I want to write because I enjoy writing. I think it’s good for my mind, my soul. I think it’s enjoyable and I like that other people seem to enjoy my writing. But when I throw all these other conditions on it, I make it something… icky, for lack of a better term. I put a string on it that tells my writing, “You better be good enough, this time, to catch the attention of an agent.” I put another string on it, “You better have a powerful enough meta narrative to provoke and inspire.” I poke at it, “You better make money even if everybody thinks you’re pulpy crap.”
Why do I do this to something I profess to enjoy? I don’t cook gourmet meals with that in mind. And if I did, I would imagine eventually coming to hate doing that. But instead, I get wrapped up in this expectation and identity of Being a Writer. Of hanging everything I am on that. And the secret here is that nothing can sustain that level of worship. If I put all my hope in being a writer, it will fail me and I it. Instead, how about I write because writing is fun? How about I laugh at myself and my ways while I improve? How about I open a book how I damn well want to open it, not how it will look best to an agent? How about I quit worrying about getting the performance just right and relax in the joyful journey?
Sunday I am going to begin NaNoWriMo. Not because I want to know if I can write a novel in 30 days. I’ve done that four different times already. I’m doing it because I like the idea of just writing for the hell of it, setting a good pace, and running along with others. I want to write stories that matter to me and that I enjoy writing. And I want to be free of the expectation that it has to be more than that. I want to be free of the chains of performance.