I was going to write something else today, but a good friend sent me this email request first thing this morning:
Give us an inspiring blog about writing. Give us a reason to keep going.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ve never been accused of being the most inspirational guy on the block. I don’t see myself delivering a stem-winder of a speech like Mel Gibson in “Braveheart” or George C. Scott in “Patton.” I’m more of a lead-by-example person. But I’m nothing if not responsive to my small but enthusiastic band of followers, so here goes . . .
Reasons to keep going:
- Because you need to
- Because you have no choice
- Because it’s what you do
- Because you have lots to say
- Because it feels good (even on days it feels bad)
- Because it’s who you are
If I can play amateur psychological sleuth for a second, implied in my friend’s plea is a sense of despair (hope that’s not too strong a word) born of frustration. If that’s true, I can say with confidence that we’ve all been there. And I believe it’s because there’s so much of the process that’s out of our hands. Once we’ve written something, we naturally want people to read it and respond to it. The more folks the better. But there’s a whole antiquated system of publishers and acquisition editors and other gatekeepers standing in our way, most of whom have no idea what they’re doing. Judging us. Deciding not only if we can write but if we can make them money.
It’s a crapshoot at best. You may as well have monkeys throwing darts at manuscripts. Publishing mistakes are legendary; look at all the houses that passed on Harry Potter. Figuring out the “next big thing” is nearly impossible. That’s why we have so many titles representing the “last big thing.”
For the sake of our own sanity, we all have to reach some kind of accommodation with the unfairness of it all. It’s a very personal process, and what works for you may not work for anyone else. Speaking only for myself, I’ve decided that writing is its own reward. My goal is to become the best writer I can be, to push what talent I have to the limit. I’m good at it and it makes me happy. If others respond in a positive way, that’s a bonus. But it’s not the reason I write.
Letting others decide if we deserve to be read is a losing proposition. We wind up giving away our personal power. I know many writers, including my friend who requested this blog, who are gifted artists but have nothing but rejection slips to show for their efforts. They keep plugging away, and that’s a good thing. But not if it leads to hopelessness. After a suitable period of time (and if they ask for my advice), I always recommend alternate routes, such as e-books or self-publishing. Writers like Robert Kiyosaki of “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” fame started out this way before breaking through. So it can happen, and it happens more all the time.
But it’s still not the reason to do it. If you’re writing to get rich and famous, odds are you’re setting yourself up for big disappointment. Those things are by-products of writing for its own sake. And there’s never a guarantee.
Instead, as my friend and colleague Alex Raffi always says, “Shut up and do the work.” That might be the best advice I’ve ever heard, not to mention inspirational in its own way. Because the work is the only thing under our control. The only thing that matters.
And that’s good enough for me.