Monday, November 15, 2010

Falling behind

As of right now, I am 8,641 words behind to make today's word-count goal. How did I fall so far behind? How did a strong start, consistently making more than goal every day, turn into being almost 10,000 words behind?

I could say life got in the way. It would be true. As I mentioned in my last entry, life has been quite chaotic in our household for the past two years.

I could say I lost motivation. Also true. Most people do in their first two weeks of NaNo. Writing a book in a month sounds like an exciting challenge, and it is... until you realize just how much work it is to write a book, and begin to understand the enormity of the task you've set yourself to accomplish in just thirty days.

I could say a lot of things, but the honest-to-God truth is... I took a break to write some very boring articles for a content provider. Articles that needed several revisions to meet their standards. Articles that I felt nothing for, no passion, no fire, not even an inkling of interest. Why, then, did I write them? Because I needed the money. In short, I sold out, and I'll do it again.

In the first, heady freedom of writing, of putting pen to paper and setting the soul free to soar to new heights of imagination and creativity, I never dreamed I would sink so low. In my fantasies, Writing meant producing brilliant books, reams of precise, witty prose that would have readers smiling and nodding or gasping in pleasant shock, and editors flocking to my door, checkbooks in hand. I imagined life as a wildly successful writer and never considered mundane issues like buying groceries or paying a mortgage. Surely those things would take care of themselves. I'd have an Agent, and she would wave her wand, magically increasing my bank balance, far outstripping the creditors with their grasping demands.

I would live the dream, ascend to the Ivory Tower, live upon bonbons and hot chocolate while I did nothing all day but create. Life, in my dreams of being a Writer when I grew up, looked good. Too good to be true, in fact, and it was.

Any working writer reading this is grinning by now, if not rolling their eyes and chuckling. The Ivory Tower is a myth. There are no fairy-tale endings, dear Writer, save perhaps for the rarefied few who reach truly dizzying heights with their profession, like JK Rowling and Stephen King, and even they put in their time toiling in the fields before being invited into the fairy castle world of success.

It is important, Writer, to decide early on where your journey will take you. Certainly you should be aware that Adventure might find you along the way, and always be willing to change course if the occasion arises, but having a plan, and knowing your destination helps avert disappointment and regret down the road.

First, decide, is your aim to make a living at writing, or to make a difference? Essentially, there are two kinds of writers: The kind who write what suits their fancy, who are willing to consider, and sometimes actively pursuing, publication, but who balk at writing anything but what they want to write. Those are the writers who write little stories for their children, perhaps write an opinion column for a local newspaper, who keep a blog or write novels which then sit in a drawer. Often these writers find small, local publishing success. They aim to make a difference with in the circle of individuals touched by their own lives. They find writing satisfying, fulfilling and necessary. They fill a niche, answer a need, and are content.

The second breed of writer views their writing as a business and their words as a product. They read the Writer's Digest Market Guides over breakfast and spend the afternoons preparing submissions. Their days are balanced between actual writing, and the sale of their writing. They are constantly seeking new markets, new avenues, new revenue streams. They attend conferences, talk to editors, and read magazines with an eye for style and word counts, always considering the new spin they could put on a topic, a new angle that might spark an editor's interest. They are working writers, writing as much to make a living as to create meaningful content. They find writing satisfying, fulfilling and necessary. They fill a niche, answer a need, and are content.

It is possible, even desirable, Writer, to fall between the two categories. Most writers are not in the business strictly for money. We are a strange breed, pursuing a craft that neither pays well nor garners great recognition. Chances are good, a hundred years, or even a year from now, that what we've produced will have been recycled into mulch, long read, digested, tossed aside and forgotten. The articles I wrote this week will be used on a website that might last a month, or six. When it disappears into the digital ether, so will the words I worked so hard to produce.

Why, then, do I write? Why do I keep toiling away here in the foothills, knowing that the Tower among the clouds is beyond my reach, knowing the submissions I send out might never return to me with a golden invitation marked "Acceptance", my ticket into the fairy-tale land of Advances and Royalties?

I write because I enjoy writing. I write because constant submissions haven't yet gained me entry into the royal ball, but I've been invited to other, smaller gatherings. I've made a total of $480 writing for Seed.com, AOL's content provider. Not bad for the 12 articles they've purchased from me. 61,273 people have seen those 12 articles. For a writer who'd like to Make a Difference with my writing, those are impressive numbers. By writing articles for Seed, my circle has gotten that much bigger. For a writer trying to make a living, Seed pays reasonably well for the work I do.

I've made a bit less writing for Pure Content. The work is sporadic, but when Seed has been slow, sometimes Pure Content picks up some of the slack. I also write for a small, hometown newspaper, the Tioga County Courier. The pay is abysmal, but I get the satisfaction of seeing my byline in print and writing about issues that affect my hometown, my neighbors, my circle.

Writer, first decide your dreams, then pursue them. If you would be a novelist, attend classes, join a critique group, go to conferences and schmooze with editors and agents who can help you along your way. Children's author? Join SCBWI. If you would be a journalist, join a professional organization like The Society for Professional Journalists. Learn to read magazines and newspapers and analyze their content. Write articles and submit them. Find your niche.

Second, don't let your niche become your rut. Branch out. Write novels. Write articles. Write short stories, write poems. Just write, and write something new every single day. Writers, dear Writer, write. They find writing satisfying, fulfilling and necessary. Do you want to achieve success as a writer? It's simple: Fill a niche, answer a need, and most importantly; be content.

Rejoicing in the day,
-Mary

PS Two days after writing this post, I committed to a writing marathon, completing 10,374 words in a single day and catching up with the daily goal. That was two days ago, and today I am 3,264 words behind again because yesterday was cluttered with children's birthday parties and taking my daughter to a musical. Once again, life has stalled my writing, but I am unconcerned: I will catch up. This is the writing life. I live my life, I fill a niche, answer a need... and I am content.

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