I’ve been thinking a lot about my “career” as a writer (it’s probably telling that I put that in quotation marks), probably because I’ve been dipping my toe in some new things this past year — joining RWA, launching a website, submitting my first query to an agent, getting my first rejection, etc.
There are plenty of options for writers today, and so much advice floating around. I’ve found it distressing at times, comparing myself to others who seem to have it all together, and wondering if a socially-anxious, introvert like me has what it takes to find readers.
I’ve also been (over)thinking the concept of publishing, and whether pursuing traditional publishing makes sense for me (see my last blog post).
All of this has made me start to question whether it’s even worth writing at all. After all, who wants to feel insecure all the time?
But, I don’t want to give up writing. So, I need to figure out how to pursue it without stressing myself out. I need to figure out what really matters to me as a writer.
Remembering my writing dreams
I recently watched a timely seminar, given by Katie O’Connor for my RWA chapter, that syncs well with what I’ve been pondering. At the start of the seminar, Katie asked, What does your fantasy life as a writer look like?
When I was a child, I think I imagined myself moving from conference presentation to press interview to glass-walled mansion on a cliff overlooking the ocean, all while dressed in a figure-hugging white suit. (Note that I was a child in the 80’s.)
More recently, while shopping at Walmart, I’d dream about seeing one of my books on the shelf. I’d imagine taking it to the checkout and shyly telling the clerk, “You know, I wrote this.” (And then she’d look at me blankly and ask if I need any bags.)
But I rarely think about extrinsic rewards like that these days. Those moments wouldn’t last, right? I’m certain I’d quickly stop appreciating my success, and would start worrying about how I was going to top it.
And never have I ever imagined making a bestsellers list (though I do somehow feel resentful when RWA sends me lists of “this week’s bestselling authors”). And I don’t dream of replacing my day job with full-time fiction writing (I think I’d learn to hate romance writing if I had to make a living doing it).
And going on a book tour or speaking at a conference? While I don’t hate public speaking, I’m kind of a homebody and I think I’d learn to despise those things. (Plus, gotta think of my carbon footprint.)
So what do I dream about now?
I have a high motivation threshold — that’s what I call it anyway. It means I struggle to maintain regular routines (routine is boring!), and am often dependent on my intermittent high-energy moods and bouts of hyperfocus to get things done.
What does that have to do with writing dreams? A lot. Writing is easier if you can work at it regularly. Plus, my world is often a bit chaotic, which doesn’t help with making writing progress.
So, if the fairy godmother of writers appeared offering me a wish, all I’d ask for is the ability to maintain routines. Then, I think, everything else would follow. Or anything else worth achieving, at least.
I do still dream of public success. I’d like people to someday view me as a real, legitimate writer, not just someone who could only ever self-publish. And it would be cool to see my books on store shelves. Plus, I would like to sell a few books.
I certainly dream of my books being published, but that dream isn’t really about making sales and finding readers. I think it just represents a culmination of the work, making my books real and tangible and complete.
Defining my writing values
In addition to my dreams, I need to remember my values, so I don’t get caught up in aspirations that contradict them.
So here are some of my values, that relate to writing:
- Freedom to write what I feel like, at my own pace
- Being the final judge of my own work
- Maintaining a stable and predictable income while writing
- Quality over quantity
- Novelty and creativity
- Working on things that challenge me
- Learning and improving
- Finding a happy balance between writing and the rest of my life
Discerning my purpose
In her presentation, Katie O’Connor suggested we writers should figure out what our purpose is when we write, to help us set career goals.
It’s funny that I was surprised when some participants in the seminar mentioned their goal is to provide entertainment to readers.
I — perhaps weirdly — am much more focussed on myself when I think about my writing purpose. I want to write books I enjoy writing. Playing with a story, thinking through the possibilities, aiming for more and more tension or wit or drama… I find that far more thrilling than reading or watching tv or any other source of entertainment.
I guess I’m a bit egocentric, since I really only care about my own experience and opinion. I’d certainly like readers to enjoy my books, but for me that’s a bit of an after-thought.
Identifying my writing goals
So, keeping my writerly values and purpose in mind, I’ve assembled the following list of romance writing goals! Though, this list may be viewed as part mission statement, since I’m not defining many outcomes.
- To always write what I enjoy writing and what I think is good, even if it isn’t market-friendly.
- To write at least 20 minutes a day, or at least one page, 6 days a week
- To finish and publish 12+ well-written, creative, unique, and effective romances that I’m proud of.
- To publish my first book within 1 year (By Sept 2022).
- To work on actively addressing my writing weaknesses.
- To learn more about the publishing industry, to find where my books might fit.
- To maintain this website, and blog at least once every 2 months, for 5+ years.
- To learn more about romance novel marketing strategies, and carry out targeted marketing of my books.
What’s not on my goal list
You’ll notice I haven’t included many extrinsic goals, like these ones, on my list:
- To be traditionally published.
- To be broadly read.
- To make X amount of money.
- To make a bestsellers list.
- To sign a multi-book contract with a publisher.
That’s because those aren’t my priorities, but also because I don’t like goals I have little control over, that are dependent on someone else’s opinion.
I think putting any of those goals on my list would be like putting “win the lottery” on the list. I wouldn’t turn down the prize, but I’m not dreaming about it either.
Actually, I don’t even play the lottery, because it makes me dream about things I wouldn’t otherwise think about, and makes my real life seem worse in comparison.
NB: Extrinsic goals are not bad or wrong!!
When I say I’m de-emphasizing extrinsic goals, I’m not trying to imply that those kinds of goals are bad. It’s possible to pursue both extrinsic and intrinsic goals, and I’m sure many highly successful writers still love writing.
And writing fiction for profit is a brave endeavour. I would try it if I thought I could still write whatever I felt like and maintain a stable income over time.
And being a traditionally-published author who’s able to reliably produce something that readers want to buy, on a tight schedule? That takes skill and discipline. And I respect that.
I’m not putting down extrinsic goals, and I might even submit to agents/publishers at some point. But, I don’t want to let those types of aspirations influence what I write. Focussing on a faraway dream I may never achieve makes me unhappy, and freedom and authenticity matter more to me than extrinsic success, anyway.
Am I just afraid?
I imagine that some people would view this de-prioritizing of extrinsic goals as pure cowardice.
I’m sure there’s something to that.
Everything I’ve written in this article is true, but I’ve ignored one important motivator. Or demotivator.
Fear of missing out. Fear of trying and failing.
I know I fear those things. I especially fear not being good enough.
One thing I’ve learned in the past year is that it’s best to try things you fear, rather than wondering if you could have done them. Who wants to lie on their deathbed thinking, “Oh, I could have been a great dancer, if only I’d learned”. When, in reality, you’re pigeon-toed and have no rhythm, and would have gone nowhere as a dancer.
How tragic to die in a deathbed of lies!!
Ok, I’m joking, kinda. It wouldn’t be “tragic”. A little bit of self-deception is normal, and I’m not sure people actually think about things like that when they’re dying.
I know that I might be limiting myself out of fear, which is why I’m not ruling out submitting my books to agents/publishers in the future.
But, I also know that first I have to feel satisfied with my writing, and remember that, for me, joy has to come first.
Introducing Winter, the hobby writer
If a tree falls in the forest, does anybody hear?
In the past, I might have said, no. Nobody hears.
But, today, I don’t think it matters so much whether or not anybody hears. The tree still falls.
And my writing still matters, whatever I do with it.
I love writing and I love my books. And I think writing is worth pursuing, even if no one reads my books but me.
Since I’m not prioritizing finding readers and making money, I guess that makes me a hobby writer. There’s some stigma around that term, but I don’t think there should be. Most writers are hobby writers, in the end. And it doesn’t have to imply low quality.
It just means putting the process above the outcome. It means celebrating each small success, and each step forward, rather than setting a distant goal and worrying about how far you are from achieving it.