Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Why does Rik write?

Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent extraordinaire, has been asking questions about what motivates people to write. I enjoy answering questions, so I thought I'd give this one a go.

But before starting, I think I need to clarify what my main work-related life goals are, and how writing fits in with those life goals. They're pretty simple, really - my main aims for my working life are to:

A) have enough money to keep a roof over my head and put food on the table;

B) minimise work-related stress, principally by avoiding the need to commute to work; and

C) write stories and poems well enough so that I don't automatically cringe when people ask me about my latest book or poem.

Now then, onto Ms Gardner's questions.

Rachelle asked: if you had to choose, what would you rather be?

(1) An author publishing steadily to positive reviews and strong critical acclaim, but selling low numbers of books and therefore unable to support yourself with your writing...


(2) An author publishing frequently (maybe two books a year) to average reviews and sometimes even being called unflattering names like "hack" yet making an extremely comfortable living and never having to take on other work.

I've worked in jobs with significant writing duties, producing copy on demand with minimal interest in the subject matter. I hated it. I can't see the difference between writing 2-3 reports a week for the boss and writing 2-3 commercial fiction books for the publisher.

So I think I'll be a #1 writer, please. I don't need that much money to live on; I'd be happy doing menial work part time (waiting tables, stacking shelves, etc - as long as there's minimal commuting) and using the rest of my time to write what I want to write.

Rachelle also asked: What is success? What would it look like to "arrive" as a writer? What are you striving toward? What is the definition of success?

Do I want name recognition? Do I hanker for literary celebrity? Do I want to be the star guest at conventions and festivals?

No. The mere thought of these things scares me. I am, genetically, a reclusive sort of person. Also, as a sufferer of prosopagnosia, I spend much of my social day wandering from stranger to stranger, struggling to remember if I've met them before, or if I like them - it freaks me out when people who know me approach me and say hello, and I can't recognise them. To extend that out to being recognised by people I've never met? No. I don't want that. I don't want that life.

But the recognition of the quality of my work by my peers? Yes, I do want that. Complements from strangers on stuff I've written is something I crave. I don't need awards, but having the respect of other writers - that, to me, is the definition of "arriving", of "success".

Now Rachelle is asking: Are you torn?

I’ve noticed lately that there seem to be two general kinds of posts amongst the publishing blogs:

1. The ones that talk about writing a commercial, saleable book, and how to make yourself marketable through building a platform; and

2. The ones that tell you to forget all considerations of publishing and marketing, and simply write. Write your truth, write your heart, write the best you can and don’t be sullied by considerations of what will sell.

So what then? Do we advise people to either give up their publishing dreams—or change what they write? I don’t know. Again, this completely depends on the goal of the individual writer. Is mass publication important to you, or is it secondary?

Or are you torn between the two?

And, having been led through the previous questions, I can honestly say that no, I'm not torn. I want to be published, but I'm not willing to write whatever the market demands in order to be published. I know my work is not currently commercial and while, in an ideal world, the Great Reading Public would be clamouring for the sort of stories and poems I write, the fact that reality and imagination do not (currently) overlap does not worry me.

Thanks to the miracles of modern technology I can publish myself. I can hold my books in my hand and share them with people who enjoy my writing. And while I can't walk into a bookshop and see my work on the shelves, well I'm learning to live with that and I'm becoming comfortable with the fact.

I know this makes me sound like a 'loser', but I don't care. There's more to life than rat races: in my world, integrity and honesty, and pride in the work you do, really are greater than success.

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