Monday, September 7, 2009

Throttling colleagues

I'm not normally a violent person. The title of this post isn't about my rage issues. It's about what we all need to do to support each other sometimes. I was up on Denver not too long ago, having dinner at Mike Bateman's home. Mike's another writer and Clarion West grad. We talked about quitting and when that's a good idea. I explained to him that I'd throttle him if he even dared try to quit.

Writers talk about quitting all the time. I don't think I've ever met anyone at any stage of their career who doesn't at least joke about it. With a few exceptions, writing require more work for less money than a person can make elsewhere. In law, I could write one memo and earn the same amount I'd get for a first novel advance. It's easy, especially as one watches their stack of rejection letters grow, to want to give up.

It's also impossible. I joke about writing being an obsessive disorder, but I'm not really joking. The feeling that the world isn't okay unless you've spent time with your imaginary friends is a sign that you aren't altogether normal. Now, there are writers without the obsessive disorder who can, and sometimes do, quit. I'm not in that category. My options are to try to sell my writing, or to just let the stories and novels build up on my hard drive and do nothing with them. That would make me depressed. Writer is the one career I want.

I won't speak for Mike, but I think his story's similar. What then, do you do if you can't sell things? I don't know the answers, but I can list some stuff that comes to mind. First, join the club. That's normal. Nearly everyone goes through that, and a lot of it. There are a few who hit a home run on the first try, or seem to, but if you question them, you usually find out about all the little half-written stories and ill-conceived novels mouldering on their hard drive.

Second, don't give up and listen to the people who support you. During the dark times, these people seem like they're just going through the motions, telling you what you want to hear. You can't give in to negative thoughts like that. It's important to remember how difficult you are to deal with while you're complaining about your lack of sales. Anyone who's still encouraging you either means it or is a masochist. (Maybe a little of both.)

Third, have the crises you need to have. We've all seen the movie or read the book about the struggling artist who hits bottom, produces something from the heart, and then makes a ton of money from it. That happens, but more often than not, we hit bottom, have a breakthrough, and still don't sell. Hitting bottom isn't a once in a lifetime experience. Nor is it a momentary, transitory thing. People spend months at "bottom", working through the issues that are preventing their progress. It's a necessary, if unpleasant process. Every now and then it'll net you a sale, but nearly every time it helps you improve and gets you that much closer to netting sales.

Obviously, I don't have all the answers. I guess the only other thing I can think of is that you always need to be honest with yourself about why you write. If you do it for yourself, then do you really need sales? Some people seem to get fulfillment from the act of writing, nevermind who reads it. I'm not in that category. Writing is the only job I've ever really wanted, even if it means bad contracts, hideous cover art, disappointing sales numbers, and little money at the end. All this makes me happier than working my way to partner at a law firm - something I would have achieved this year if I'd stayed on track. I don't and don't think I'll ever regret giving up law. I'd always regret not trying to make it as a writer, and in the end of the day, that's what I need. I need to know that I tried as hard as I could, that if I never make a living this way, it wasn't because I gave up on myself. As long as I do all I can, I can be content with who I am.

Anyhow, those are my random thoughts. Other people will have better, no doubt.


  1. Emily, you've got a great way of writing your blogs, I added you to my list. Now, to make a comment on this post....Here is why writers long to be published, even if it does mean bad contracts, covers, sales,etc...(ugh, bad covers are the absolute WORST)...because the process isn't complete unless we have readers, and that's what we hope the publisher will get for us.

    It really isn't having our words finally wrapped up in that lovely package called a book. We want people to actually read that book, and hopefully connect with us someway. Why do you think we're all out there blogging? We want to complete the writing process and connect with readers.

    Otherwise, what's the point?

  2. I think you nailed it, Karen. And thanks for your kind words. I call my blogging style "trying to string together coherent thoughts over the course of an hour while doing three other things at the same time".

    It's very nice to meet you, virtually!

  3. Same here, and from now on I'll comment on your more current posts instead of the third one down. But I couldn't resist this one.