Writing for Peanuts

I would imagine that you could write an entire book about, well, why you write. And, chances are, you’d have different reasons than me or any other author.

But it’s a given that there are reasons in common. Of course, I can’t speak for anyone else. All I can do is tell you why I write, what my deep-down reasons are. Most of em, anyway, since some of them I can’t quite put into words—one of the ironies of being a writer.

First off, I enjoy it, especially when it’s going good. Sitting there watching the words spring into being across my monitor is a distinct joy I’ve rarely known in any other endeavor. And, unlike running heavy equipment—a job I always thoroughly enjoyed—writing isn’t postponed due to weather (unless your electricity goes out, of course). And when I go back and edit, I can see which sections went well and which didn’t—to the point I’m pretty sure I can see it in other people’s writing. Not often, of course. I think a good author—and I’m not sure if I qualify as being that good, yet—edits these less-than-stellar runs out, makes them fit with the good writing. I’m getting there, but sometimes I look at the bad runs and wonder just exactly what’s wrong with them and how the hell I’m gonna bring them up to code.

I like the idea of other people enjoying my writing. I can’t tell you how good it feels to go to writing group and having people go, “You’re reading more of Lyle tonight, right?” So far, it hasn’t gone to my head (I don’t think, anyway). It’s more like I’m stuck in a state of wonder at it, thinking, They really like my writing. Yeah, that’s kinda disgusting, like the actress (whose name I can’t remember right now) who got the Oscar and stood at the podium crying and saying, “You really like me!” No, not so much disgusting as pathetic. But here’s how I look at it: I read my stuff, and I think, without ego, that it’s pretty good. But deep inside I always have to wonder just how objective I’m being about it. So having a fan club of sorts—or at least Lyle has a fan club—validates my thinking, and that feels good.

One of my biggest dreams is to be able to walk into a bookstore and see my book on the shelf. Or, these days, to see it for sale on Amazon. At the rate things are going, I may not see publication of a physical book, but I’m coming to reconcile myself with that. Sure, it’s Old School, and that’s cool as far as I’m concerned. I grew up with physical books, and I don’t have to worry about my ereader crashing and losing everything when I have physical books around. On the other hand, they take up so damn much room.

But, speaking of ebooks brings me to the penultimate reason for writing: money.

Sure, it sounds crass to bring it out that way. Make me sound like a mercenary, or a hack: You’re just writing for the money!

Look, all the good points aside, writing isn’t easy. There are days when it seems the blank page is taunting me, telling me I’m not good enough to fill it up. And, even if I do, there’ll always be more unused memory to fill up. The old double-edged sword of writing: there’s always so much more of it to do, and that’s both exciting and daunting. The age-old question of, I finished this one, but can I do it again?

And you wanna do this for free?

Well…considering how much I like the creative act, as long as friends would read and enjoy my work, I’d like to think I’d keep doing it. That that much fandom would be enough to keep me going, keep me telling stories.

But, if my back was against the wall, if someone came along and could tell me with absolute certainty that I’d never be published unless I paid for it myself, would I be able to keep going?

Good question.

I’d like to think so. And, now that I’ve really got the creative fires burning, I’m not sure if I could shut it off. I’d have to write in order to sleep at night, because my creativity gives me insomnia. And I know I’m not alone in that.

But would I write with as much enthusiasm? Hard to say. I mean, writing as a sleep aid isn’t exactly the same as getting on the New York Times Bestseller List, is it? Hardly. When you’re only doing it so you can sleep at night, a lot of the joy goes out of it. I’ve gone through times of self-doubt (we writers have tough-yet-fragile egos) where I absolutely hated the idea of writing. There are other times when I put it off because I can’t stand the idea of the mechanics of it: deciding when to break for paragraphs and where and when to put dialogue tags—or even whether to—is just too much for me. Screw it. Beat me up instead. Better than firing up the torture machine my computer has become and subjecting myself to all that self-doubt and decision-making.

I make myself do it anyway, because deep down, I know that I’ll enjoy the hell out of it once I get started, that those mechanics will go from being a chore to a challenge, go from being a case of Oh, God, I have to decide if that paragraph’s too long to How can I format this scene so it has the best effect?

All well and good, but there’s still that money thing.

Writers know that writing is hard work, even when it’s going good. Sure, you don’t finish a good writing session with aching muscles—except perhaps for you lower back and tailbone from sitting so long—but you do end up with a good case of mental fatigue. It’s just as satisfying as a well-done physical job, though it does have a different feel to it.

How many people do you know who go to their job only because they enjoy it? I’m putting in time here, dedicating hours of my life to this craft, and I’ll not deny that I’d like to see some monetary compensation come out of it. Why not? It’s work, and if it entertains someone else, what the heck’s wrong with getting paid for it? Even better, getting well paid? What’s wrong with dreaming of having a Stephen King-sized bank account?

I say: nothing.

Actors are well-paid for their work, and some of them folks should be paying us to watch their drek (as a side-note, Paris Hilton starred in an episode of Supernatural and, when I saw her name pop up I thought, Oh, no. But she’s an astoundingly good actor. I was shocked. And she made fun of herself to boot). Why shouldn’t we get the same for our efforts?

Will I continue to write if I never make it to bestseller status? Sure. Like I said, I gotta sleep at night, and I don’t think I can turn it off the way you turn off water to your kitchen sink. Creativity is more like surfing: you don’t control the wave, you ride it out and try to enjoy the power. But you don’t regulate the waves the ocean sends you.

I have to take a cue from programmers: they think of things in small steps. Programmers, while they keep the destination in mind, don’t look up at that destination. They look at the steps it will take to get there, and no step is too small to look at closely. All are integral to the process.

So, I do my best to continue to improve my craft. One of the things I need to work on more is subplot. It’s a little harder to do when you’re writing first person, but I gotta work on it. Another is convincingly writing opinions that I don’t share so the characters that believe them are, well, believable. I can’t have someone who’s, say, anti-gun rights (I’m very much pro-gun rights) sounding off the party line. I gotta figure out why these, um, people have their beliefs and I gotta write that character as if I believe what he’s saying. In fact, I have to believe it for the time period I’m writing his POV or it’ll sound fake.

But the big step I’m shooting for right now is a publishing deal. I think I’m ready for that, that I’m at a point where I’m good enough for it while still improving and building a bigger fan base with that improvement. If I can do that, I’ll make it to the bestseller list. Take care of the little things and the big things will take care of themselves.

So, whaddaya think? Am I being reasonable? Or is it crass to admit I want to make money at this? Let me know.

Later,

Gil

1 Comment

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One response to “Writing for Peanuts

  1. Russell

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want to make money writing. Who wouldn’t like to get paid for doing what you love to do?

    One person I know who does make money writing is Jeannie Horn. She does this by writing articles for magazines (most farm & rural articles). She told me she averages from $250 to $1,000 a month–not enough to live, but still money.She also writes other stuff and this puts a little jingle in her pocket, plus gives her some name recognition when dealing with editors & agents.

    That kind of writing requires research, which I don’t have time for, but might work for you.

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