The question of whether to write at all (which is not exactly what Emily is talking about) is something close to my heart at the moment as I've been thinking about why I write. One thing's for certain: it's often so damned painful that you'd think we'd only do it if there was a huge reward.
In a recession which is hitting all forms of written word, and in which it's harder and harder to make a living, the question of why we write becomes more crucial and more practical. Because it's sure as hell the case that the reward is most unlikely to be financial. It never was a safe route to financial stability but I hardly know an author who's already small writing income hasn't fallen. Mine has and it's really getting to me and leading to some soul-searching.
Why do we write?
A mixture of things, of course, and different motives for different people. Different at different times of our careers, too. Which brings me to myself. I tell you about myself not because I think I'm interesting but because I'm the only person I'm fully qualified to talk about. Maybe some of these things will resonate with you. If you're at a different career stage from me, maybe you can look ahead [or back] and see if you're on the same road.
When I was struggling for years and years to get published, writing for money was no part of my motivation. Not that I was going to rip a cheque up, you understand, but I'd have done it for nothing. In fact, when I did get my first [unagented] contract I wept for joy while they walked all over me in pointy shoes.
What did I want from my writing then? Why did I wreck my mental state just to pursue the dream?
It couldn't have been simply that I loved writing, needed it to feed my soul, though both those were true. I was already writing, a lot, and easily - if it was just about writing, publication wouldn't have mattered so much.
Or was it simply seeing my name in print? Not exactly, because I could have self-published or gone down the vanity route.
It was two** things. First, I wanted to be able to say those words, "I am an author." Second, since I thought I was a good enough writer to be published, I needed to be publicly affirmed as that. I suppose, on my dreamy days, I was also attracted to the idea of a little bit of "fame", [really just a little bit - so I could still be grumpy and poorly dressed in Sainsbury's]. You could also say that since I'd been a very shy child who hated performing, but that I'd loved it when someone else read my words and was moved by them, then being published was my way of performing.
(** or three, as I just realised this morning, and added at the end of the post.)
But now? I've got all that - I got published; I wouldn't call myself famous, but in my own genre I'm sufficiently known, I think; people recognise me for my shoes, which was beyond my wildest dreams; I even love performing in public now and am established enough that I get as many invitations as I want; and I am proud enough of what you might call my "body of work" - apologies for pomposity but I'm being honest here. I have probably done better than I had ever thought I could, though I don't think I thought much beyond the first dreamed-of contract.
I could give up now, couldn't I? Recently, I've considered it. Because, you know what? Writing, writing novels, is damned hard. Sometimes I think it's too hard. "But it's what you do. You can't afford to give up now, can you?"
Can't afford to give up? God, if I only earned from my fiction writing, I couldn't afford to continue! The money for my kind of novel-writing is seriously rubbish. I'd tell you how rubbish, except that I'm ashamed. Yep, I earn a reasonable amount altogether, but that's from speaking, not writing, or it's from writing other things, not fiction.
I moaned about this to my long-suffering agent the other day. "But money isn't the only reward, is it?" she said. "If you imagine yourself not writing, does that conjure up a picture of a creatively satisfying life?"
No, but not being valued for what I write doesn't conjure up that picture either. How much does "creatively satisfying" have to cost in time, effort and money [because I could be earning sensible money doing something else]. And, like it or not, when someone pays you for something, they attach a value to it. I know that by saying that I risk undermining the work that wonderful people do for charity - and I do some myself actually - but this is about my living, my career, my profession. It feels like a pathetic one if I can't earn from it.
So, now, I guess you'd say I am motivated by money. I may not have cared before but now I do. Maybe it's one of the differences between being unpublished and published. We think we write for the glory of writing, the pleasure of being heard, but when we've got that we want something else.
Greedy bastards who spend our lives looking at the grass on the other side, aren't we, we humans?
But you know something? We're back to the excuses for not writing, which was the point of my last post and which I was still struggling with when I started writing this post.
My agent was right, as bloody usual: it's not about the money. The problem is that writing novels is damned difficult, no easier than it was when I started, possibly even harder, and I'm looking for an excuse not to do it. I want, in Emily's words, permission not to write novels. Because there are a load of other things I can write, like this blog, and non-fiction, and articles, and short stories. And I will write them, but if I run away from the difficult one then I'm letting myself down. How "creatively satisfying" would that be?
I do have one more let-out though, one more thing that could legitimately stop me writing the bloody novel. See, yesterday I steeled myself to send my agent the first two chapters of the new WIP. And I'm seriously more than half hoping that she'll say they're rubbish and that I've come up with an unsellable idea. That would be a truly fabulous reason not to write it, wouldn't it? Absolute permission not to write. Then instead of spending all my days struggling to write a novel and earning sod all I could spend all my days blogging for you lot and earning sod all.
Unfortunately, she's already said she loves the title, which was not meant to happen ...
Aghhhh! Nooooo! I'd forgotten the real reason I keep writing. How could I have forgotten? The real reason I write is because every time I get a new contract I get a new pair of boots.
Elizabeth? Are you still there? It's OK, really - you're allowed to say the first two chapters are completely brilliant and compelling and definitely worth continuing. As long as the advance is enough to cover a decent pair of boots, that's fine. I'll write, I'll wear my fingers to the bone, I'll burn the candle at both ends [how does that work?], I'll do anything, anything, anything for boots.
Good God, did I just say that???