Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What’s My Motivation? A Response to a Response to Pre-Writing Schme-Writing Pt. 2

Not as “mañana” as I had planned, but… in continuation from my last post:

The Money Thing

While there is writing advice that focuses on salability, I think that you can find plenty of writing advice out there that isn’t just about making bank but rather about how to hone the craft. This is especially true in an age in which a) you can find and order books – even those out of print – without ever leaving your computer, and b) anyone with access to the internet can put their writerly opinions out into the world for all to read (bloggers unite!). Another consideration is that for one writer, honing their craft may mean one thing, but for another writer it may mean something else.

That difference comes out of what a writer likes to read and/or what they want to write. An abstract painter and an illustrator are both looking to be great artists, even if their work is vastly different from one another—and despite one category being more commercial than the other. Both artists must still learn to prep surfaces, use paintbrushes, mix colors and all that, but after a certain point the abstract painter may focus more on experimenting with his medium while the illustrator may focus more on visual communication. Either way, they've both - in theory at least - worked hard to understand their chosen school of art.

Yet, I’m sure in either school you’ll find folks who are considered “sellouts” by their peers. I sometimes wonder how much of that is perception. Not that there isn't such a thing as selling out, but - to paraphrase the creators of South Park - can you call someone a sellout if "to make money" was a part of the plan from the beginning? It's a joke, but also speaks to a certain mentality. Why is it that there's this pervading belief that artists have to be broke and starving to prove that they're real artists?

“Money is the root of all evil” has to be one of the most often misquoted proverbs of all time. The scripture, plucked from the Bible, actually reads: “The love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). Meaning it's okay to have money, just don't get too carried away in the pursuit of it. If three little words can shift the entire understanding of that saying, can the sometimes negative connotation of “saleable fiction” be shifted too? After all, some of my favorite books continue to sale to this day, years and decades after their initial publication.

I’ll admit though, the last book I couldn’t get to end of (for me, that doesn’t happen very often because I seem to have a high tolerance for “bad” writing) was one whose creation seemed motivated, in large part, by a huge money-making strategy. I still hiss at that book when I see it at the bookstore, not because it was a part of a big – not to mention successful – money-making endeavor, but because it was a really cool idea and could have been an amazing book if more time, thought, and rewrites had been put into it. So I’m not going to lie and say I don’t think that less-than-awesome work gets put out there based on potential profitability . But I do have a counter-argument.

A writer can want to make money and still have integrity as a writer. I for one am pursuing writing as a career. I’d really like to make a living doing the thing I love to do more than anything in world, but I’m not looking for a magic formula to make that happen and I understand that the reality of the writer’s life is that it is hard to make a living off of it. Many (or should that be “most”?) published authors do not get to quit their day jobs, at least not until years further into their careers.

I am not primarily driven by a desire to make money, and people who think writing a novel is way to get rich quick probably need to re-evaluate their understanding of how publishing works. But it’s not wrong to want to make a living doing something you love. If I don’t have to have a day job, that’s all the more time I get to spend writing until 5 o’clock in the morning. I would love it if readers decide they want to buy my books – actually, what’s a stronger word than love? – but that’s not what motivates me to want to become as good as possible at something that has been my passion since I was nine.

Why, why, why. More, more, more. Deeper, deeper, deeper

I want to tell a good story to the best of my ability. I want to create something that readers will pick up and not want to put down even after they’ve read the last page. Something that can be read over and over. Something that may affect… (effect? I really never know which is which and avoid using either if I can help it– a-hem, anyway...) Something that will grab hold of someone the way my favorite books have grabbed a hold off me.

So I’m going to study my craft, learn as much as I can from the writers who have come before me, and from the writers who are in the trenches with me trying to polish their craft as well. I’m going to actively learn more about my craft because I think I have the potential to be a better writer than I am right now. I’m going to continue to actively learn about my craft for as long as I think I have the potential to be better. So in all likelihood – even if I’ve published a hundred award-wining, bestselling books and I can’t got outside for fear of being run down by a mob of screaming fans – I’ll always be looking to learn more about my craft. In five, ten, twenty years, I might not be concerned with the same things I’m concerned with now, but I’m sure there will still be ways for me to continue to grow as a writer. Because when we stop trying to improve upon what we’ve already done, isn’t that when our work becomes stale, boring and – ultimately – irrelevant?

Or am I wrong? Is there a point at which the writer has perfected the craft of writing?


  1. I totally agree with the fact that making money shouldn't be the main reason you write, and also that there's absolutely nothing wrong with making money. I've never understood why making money is such a problem - we need money to live!

    However, when it comes to writing, because it's such hard work and can be an incredibly tough industry to break into, it's important that we write what's important to us becasue we'll be spending so much time doing it.

    I was offered representation last year but the catch was that I'd have to compromise everything that I had planned for the book. Now as any writer knows, getting an offer of rep is like a record deal to a singer - you want it. However, I didn't want it that badly. Unfortunately, the agent didn't share the vision I had for the book and would have changed it so much that it wouldn't have been my book anymore.

    So yeah, I could have gotten an agent and a book deal and had some money - but i would have been miserable! What's the point? Better to wait and get what you really want. Money is important, but not to the extent of compromising what I believe.

  2. Wow. I'd imagine that would be a hard decision to come to, but you have the make the right decision for yourself. Especially considering you're supposed to choose an agent you feel you could work with for your entire career. If you couldn't reach common ground on the first book, it could have made for a horrible relationship.

    I hope you find your perfect match soon!