Writers are an insecure bunch. Even when we’ve achieved a modicum of success, we worry that it’s not enough, or that it won’t last or that we must work harder to get to that next level. Don’t believe me? Check out this despairing letter to New York Magazine advice columnist Ask Polly—and her response: http://nymag.com/thecut/2015/09/ask-polly-should-i-just-give-up-on-my-writing.html?mid=facebook_nymag#
The writer has fought the constant uphill battle that is the professional writer’s life and finally established herself at the respectable midlist level, but feels she is slipping. She wonders whether she should just give up. It takes too much work and emotional energy to maintain her place, much less make any progress. She feels the pressure of the hordes at her back, eager to overrun her. She’s of a certain age and not sure she can keep running this race.
Let’s face it, we’ve all been there, no matter whether we are raw newbies, newly published or established authors. We’ve all hit that cliff on the path up the mountain that dares us to scale it or go home. A spate of rejections. A resounding no from that agent or publisher we’d really counted on. A stinging contest loss or review. Failing or nonexistent sales. Bankrupt publishers. And sometimes just the pure accumulation of time and effort that seems to lead nowhere, like a soft fall of snow that eventually causes the roof to cave in.
Polly’s answer is that the writer should somehow regain her lost joy in writing and work without concern for what the response of the market might be. Find your passion and forget the fear. Do the work because you love it, and be grateful for the opportunity to do what you love.
I agree with Polly’s advice wholeheartedly. I also think it doesn’t go far enough. The problem is that almost every writer craves affirmation. We don’t write to entertain ourselves; we write to communicate something to others. We want to connect to others through our writing. Some of us are better at this connection than others, and it is a cruel, unfair reality of our world that the number of people we can connect with (readers) is not only dependent on the quality of our writing, but also on the quality of our promotion (and a great deal of luck).
It’s just not true that if you show your passion, readers will automatically beat a path to your door. You have to pave the path and put up signs and give them a map and leave brochures at the local diner.
And if they still don’t find you? Then you have to redefine success. This is where many of us in the indie publishing world find ourselves. When is it okay to admit we will never see the results Joe Konrath, Hugh Howey and others keep promising us? When is it okay to say we can only spend so much time and money on promotion when we’d really rather be writing. What are we doing this for, anyway? Good questions to ask, and they should be asked of ourselves often. The answers will no doubt change as we go along.
The great science fiction writer Harlan Ellison (who is “of a certain age” and must surely be feeling the pressure) once said that “writers write because they can’t not write.” That means no matter whether anyone else is reading—or buying—most of us will keep writing. We just have to find that balance between eternal hope, flaming ambition and crushing despair. And be grateful to be doing what we love.