Those of you who’ve seen the Drollerie Blog Tour posts I’ve done may recall my fellow Drollerie author, Joely Sue Burkhart, with whom I appear in the anthology Defiance. She’s also the author of Beautiful Death and several other works from Drollerie, and she has a new work coming out from Carina Press this year. That’s a lot of undiluted awesome for one author to be packing–but Joely took it up another notch by hosting Maynowrimo this year, her answer to Nanowrimo, in which participants can set their own goals for writing projects. She’s doing this in conjunction with Drollerie’s event CoyoteCon, and there’s already quite a bit of lovely community action going on on its mailing list!
One of the things she’s doing for Maynowrimo is highlighting writing-themed blog topics all throughout the month of May. And this post is my contribution to those. Joely gave me free rein to write about whatever I’d like, so long as it was writing-related. That’s a whole lot of territory, though. So I’m going to narrow it in and talk about one thing in particular: motivation.
Which is to say, how you keep writing even when you have a rejection list as long as your arm, and you’re certain you will never, ever sell a word as long as you live.
I realize that it’s easy for me to spout off about this–after all, I’ve sold something. But here’s the thing. Even if you do make that first sale, this doesn’t get you off the hook for maintaining that motivation. If you’re an e-pubbed author like me, you may well be secretly wondering if you’ll ever have anything in print. If you’re actually in print, if your books can be spotted on the shelves of brick and mortar stores, you have to kick it up another order of magnitude–because now you have to worry about how well your books will sell, and whether your publisher thinks they’re justified in buying your next two or three books. Writing and selling one novel is tough enough. Writing and selling enough novels to maintain a regular income? Even tougher.
So how do you keep yourself going, no matter what stage of the process you’re at? For me, a lot of it is what I hope’s a healthy mix of realism, optimism, and sheer love of putting words together.
I need the realism just to remind myself that you can write the tightest, most cohesive novel ever, and chances are still pretty high that you won’t get published. You still have to do the work to find a publisher who’ll take it, or an agent who’ll do that work for you. This means you need to find someone who will not only see a potential sale in your work, but who will also be passionate enough about it that they’ll want to convince other people to buy it, too. And since a great deal of that passion is fundamentally subjective–no two people are going to have the exact same reaction to the exact same novel–it’s a lot like trying to start a romantic relationship. It’s probably not going to work unless you and your agent/editor have the basic click.
And although it’s a tough thing to do, I try to give myself permission to fail. Sometimes this means permission to not get any writing done if the emotional, mental, or physical stresses of day to day life are sapping my creative energy–like they often do. Sometimes this means the bigger permission of not actually ever getting a book into a physical bookstore. Realism says that sometimes I simply won’t be able to write, and that I may not ever have a mass market paperback with my name on it, or be nominated for a Hugo. And you know what? That’s okay.
This is where optimism comes in. Optimism says, “Okay, these hundred or so books over here that you plowed through last year because they were just that awesome? You can write one easily as good as any of those. Go for it!” Optimism says that the important part of this whole process is trying. My chances of accomplishing the publishing goals I have aren’t big–but optimism makes me remember that they’re also not zero, as long as I write the best novel I can and do the necessary work to get it into the hands of the people who need to see it.
Last but not least, there’s the love of writing in general. I am a voracious reader, and I read so much just because I love stories and I love books. I read what I find fun–and I therefore want to write the sorts of things I’d find fun to read. It helps, too, that I come out of a long history of online role-play, so I’m very used to characters in my head demanding to have their stories told and not shutting up until I do something about them. The simple act of creating those stories is just that fun for me. The possibility of getting them into other people’s hands, people who might in fact give me money for them, is just icing on top of an already pretty delicious cake.
As with anything pertaining to writing, your mileage will of course vary. Writers, solitary creatures that we are, come in countless variations; what works for one of us is by no means guaranteed to work for anyone else in our number. But I would definitely encourage all of my fellow writers to try to work both realistically and optimistically, and most importantly to write stories you find fun. That’ll go a long, long way to keeping you going even when you’re not sure if anybody else on the planet will read a word you wrote.
Don’t discount the value either of commiserating with your fellow writers. We may all be naturally solitary by virtue of our chosen craft, but I guarantee you that we’ve all suffered the same pangs of doubt. There’s great virtue in venting your frustrations to sympathetic ears–though be sure to let them vent back! So this is my invitation to anyone reading this post: vent! Let me hear your frustrations in keeping your work going. And if you have tips to share on how to keep your spirits up and the words coming, share them with your fellow writers!
Thanks much to anyone who’s read this, and thanks again to Joely for Maynowrimo and giving me a chance to sound off!