Motive and Opportunity

I’m currently reading a book about building your writing platform. A writing platform isn’t a physical structure per say – its your marketing base; your audience’s perception of you as a writer, how they find you, and how publishers evaluate your marketing base when you come to them with a book. It’s a lot of work to do build this platform, and do it well.  The author of the book points out that between 200000-400000 books are in print every year, and something like 73% of Americans want to write a book. Those are daunting numbers for a new author to face and then to overcome.

After reading those numbers, I asked myself a question as I got off the train.

Image: Surachai / FreeDigitalPhotos.netIf I never got published – never made a dime from writing – would I continue to write?

My immediate answer was yes. I love to write. I wrapped up my last project a week ago, and I promised myself I’d take the summer off. In the week I “haven’t been writing”, I’ve written four book reviews, and am now on my fifth ‘non-review’ blog entry (if you count the one I did for work). And they haven’t, in general, been short reviews or entries. While I was on my way home from work yesterday, I wrote down half a dozen ideas for more blog entries, and one idea for a short story.

Right now, I don’t think I can stop writing.

I love the clicks this keyboard makes when I write and I love to see the cursor move forward as I type. When I write on the train, I love how the time just disappears, and the thirty-five minute ride seems to go by all too fast. I’ve considered riding the train back home and coming back in on the next one, just so I can write more.

But how long could I really keep up this pace? Do I have enough story ideas in my head to write for the next five years, every day? Yes. I’ve got outlines for seven books either written down or deep in my brain, not counting the five I already have written that need ‘finishing’. That’s a minimum of six more years of work at the pace I normally write. And it’s not like I’ve stopped coming up with ideas.

What about ten years from now? If I never got anything published, would I still be writing? Let’s pretend for a moment that I’m not smart enough to figure out how to self publish. If there was no market at all for my books, would I be frustrated enough to quit? Maybe. But then what does that say about who I am writing for? Am I writing just for readers who may or may not like my stuff, or am I writing (in large part) for myself because the stories are just there and can’t be left alone? Am I writing because to not write would seem like a colossal waste of, dare I say it, talent? Do these stories in my head demand to be written, or is my brain demanding that they exist? How can I take a short, one word idea for a story, and turn it into 80000 words? Was the story always there just looking for me to turn the key and unlock the door, or did my brain say “there is a story behind that word, let’s see what it is”?

I think it’s a little of both. I started writing again in 2008 because I couldn’t waste my life, travelling back and forth to work on that train like some kind of automaton, doing the same thing over and over again, and not seeing anything good come out it. Staring out the window and looking at the same rail corridor every day would make me terminally sad. But there are days now where I go to work so I can write on the train, and the work day is just a byproduct of that trip.

It’s taken me quite a while to get from the point of measuring success by whether or not I get published, to measuring by how much each book is better than the last, to just enjoying the process. I didn’t think, a week ago, that I would honestly miss writing that much. I worried, just a little bit, that not writing for a couple of months would be the end of my career – that I would get lazy and not want to do it anymore.

Now I know that’s not an option. I’m looking for more opportunities to write. I was just talking to my wife about possibly freelancing some magazine articles or newspaper work in the future. I briefly entertained the thought today while I was in a bookstore, of writing a technical book on the stuff I do at work, or at the very least a whitepaper or two. Maybe that’s just crazy talk and I’d better get back into another novel before I commit myself to some technical book that will drain the life out of me.

But then again, maybe it wouldn’t be that bad… if I could get paid to do that… for a while… I could write all the time…

Somebody stop me.

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