Do you write for love or money?
Does it make you a sell out? What’s wrong with selling out, anyway, if it pays your mortgage/puts your ADD kid in ballet lessons? Does it make you any less of a writer or moreso, depending on which leg of the pendulum you swing on?
IT DOESN’T MATTER.
There is no right answer.
We can all agree that writing is a business, but that doesn’t mean that you HAVE to take part in it. I started writing “seriously” (and that’s a term I use loosely) about four years ago. I didn’t think about agents, publishing, platforms, anything in the beginning. I banged out two novel first drafts in three months. I was THAT excited about it. But then I thought, now what?
That’s where I simultaneously succeeded and fucked myself in the ass.
The “now what” predicament led me to a writers’ group, which led me to knowledge, understanding, practice, and my first publishing opportunity (a short story I am now expanding into a novel). But it also led to the IMMENSE, suffocating, obnoxious amount of pressure I put on myself, daily.
When I wrote those first two drafts, I did not, for one second, think to myself “Wow. This sucks.” Because I didn’t care if it sucked. If it did, I’d fix it later. I wrote for the sake of writing. Because it was fun. I was making shit up and it was FUNNY SHIT.
A few days ago I have a mental breakdown (not the first, and certainly not the last) in regard to my writing. I’m going to call this particular meltdown a post-NaNoWriMo effect. I will never take part in that shit again, by the way. NEVER. You CAN’T make me.
In the middle of this breakdown, I reached out to my writer friend and hetero life partner, Henry Lara. The conversation went like this.
Me: I QUIT. I can’t do this. I refuse. All these stupid things that a writer is supposed to do? It’s stupid and pointless. Stupid. Really, really stupid.
Hetero Life Partner: And what is it that a writer is “supposed” to do?
Me: You know, the blogs, the twitter, the platform. The reading and absorbing of thousands of articles on the publishing industry. Keeping tabs on agents and what they’re looking for. Talking to/entertaining people that secretly annoy the steaming excrement out of you.
Hetero Life Partner: Really? Hmm. I thought a writer was supposed to, you know, write.
And there it was. The WHOLE problem with my on again/off again writing crisis. I was focused so much on the business part of it, that it became a job. I felt like I was obligated to write a quota each day. I didn’t look forward to writing time like I did before. I was writing for a market – will they like this? Is this kind of thing selling? What do I classify it as when I query it? – instead of writing what I fucking felt like.
And then I expanded on a short story for the explicit purpose of submitting to Barrelhouse Magazine. It was funny shit. And it was fun funny shit. I caught a glimpse of what I felt in the beginning when I was smiling to myself as I put various protagonists through a series of awful tasks designed to either scare the hell out of them or push them into doing something crazy.
Maybe I’ll finally move up from publishing short stories to publishing a novel. Maybe I won’t. Maybe it doesn’t matter. I’d happily toil away at a 9 to 5-er if it means that I could disappear into my MS and care only that the story gets written down.
Some of you will say that that makes me a “hobbyist.” Not a “real writer.” To those people, I say fuck you very much. Being a writer is a lifestyle. Something inside you. You don’t do it on a bet, or because you want to make a quick buck. You do it because you’d rather make shit up than deal with reality. Let’s face it, reality sucks.