One of the questions I’ve seen floating through this group roughly boils down to “What inspires you?” I think it has equal parts to it of “What pushes your imagination’s boundaries?” and “What are you hoping to achieve?” Together, this triumvirate of questions should be part of the mental background that percolates through a writer’s life to help them determine what makes all the effort worth it.
Because committing to a regular practice of putting words on paper (or screen), improving story-telling skills, and learning the arcane rules of grammar, structure, and good writing means there are hours of days, weeks, and months that don’t get the author’s attention. Times when phone calls go unanswered, furbabies don’t get their pets and walks, children and spouses suffer absent-minded neglect. What is so great about writing (and improving as a writer) that makes this worth it?
There will never be a one-size-fits-all answer to these questions because the trade-offs are real. Time is a zero-sum game and the clock is a harsh mistress. For myself, I tend to try to squeeze the most number of hours out of a day as possible, and consequently spend most of my time some level of tired. I’ve been having to clean up small protest messes from my dogs because between the weather and my recent writing spurt, they haven’t been getting the longer walks they crave.
Of course, that means I’ve been sitting for longer stretches than is entirely healthy for me, too.
My problem is: My imagination takes off at the slightest hint of something interesting. And everything is interesting. Snippets of conversation overheard in the check-out line. Headlines proclaiming scientific breakthroughs and accompanying stories that speculate the sky might fall because researchers are stretching the boundaries uncomfortably far. Even my dreams, which variously involve strange aliens or colleagues, have brought me story inspirations by the bucket load.
The challenge, and the skill, comes in balancing inspiration with the commitment to sit still and commit it to paper with as much skill as you can muster. First draft, revisions galore, editorial passes, I’ve discovered that even after you’ve blessed a manuscript and sent it out into the world, there can be a strong temptation to call it home and make additional revisions.
My reward: I get to see my name in print. I get to claim a completed creative work. Sometimes, I even get to earn some money for having invested all that time and effort (and money to pay for editors and cover artists).
There was a blog post recently in which an author had set herself the goal of becoming a New York Times bestselling author. She made it onto the USA Today list of top sellers, but fell short of the other goal. In the process she learned about the simultaneously mercurial and seemingly capricious process that goal requires enduring. It made me realize that while I’m in my writing career for the long haul, I have no interest in submitting to a system so arbitrary.
So while you’re furiously pounding on the keyboard, and quietly ignoring the rest of your life, think about the trade-offs. Think about what your goals are and what it is about them that makes you happy. Because for as many sacrifices as you make to reach your word count or publication goals, it would be a shame to reach what you thought was the culmination only to face a crisis of self—understanding that the reward you thought you wanted wasn’t what was actually going to satisfy you.