Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Guaranteed writing success!

Everybody wants to be successful—why not you too? Well, you can. And it's guaranteed. Just send me five bucks (kidding). It really is guaranteed, and I think you'll agree that it will work too. The first question you need to ask yourself is, 'Why are you writing?' After that it all falls into place.

For some people, making book sales is everything. A long time ago a high school friend told me there were two kinds of doctors in the world—the ones that really cared about people and wanted to heal them, and the ones that would switch to selling kiddie porn if they thought they could make more money that way. I leave it to you to surmise the analogy to writing.

Writing is such an opportunity for everything. To think of it in only terms of making money is a waste. Is that all your life is about—making money? Don't get me wrong. I know to live requires money. And I know that all writers (including me) want to sell and be read. But to focus exclusively on that is to miss so much of all that writing offers.

Writing is a way to live life. It is a way to discover yourself, who you really are. It is a way to impact the world. It is a way to stretch yourself, a way to open up new worlds in your mind.

I believe there are basically two kinds of writers. The writers that are writing only to make money and the writers that are writing to live a full life.

Here's an example. A long time ago I took a writing class with a writer who is now wildly successful in the indie world. I was submitting query letters for a novel, and I asked him what happens if a literary agent requests a three month exclusive to read my entire novel? What should I tell other agents?

He said simply, "Lie."

I was really pretty surprised by his answer and not very surprised at all. The guy writes schlock mysteries, full of torturing psychopaths, written to market. All he thinks about is making money.

That wasn't the road I wanted to go down.

Hemingway was obsessed with writing success. He drew a 'writers as prizefighters' analogy and considered himself a "contender." Now Hemingway wrote a lot of great books, and I know his personal history was exceptionally complicated and he suffered various physical ailments and from depression, but the fact of the matter also was that he was distraught that his creativity had dried up and allegedly his final words before he put a shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger were, "It won't come."

Then there's the writers that once they find a touch of success become slaves to following that same path. They're into "branding." If you write one successful book, make sure to stay in the same genre. "Give them what they want/expect."

Well, you can learn about yourself writing a series, but you can learn much more writing different kinds of books. The latter type of writers really are more artists, always stretching themselves and delighting in discovering new creative outlets. The truly great writers are not satisfied with repeating themselves or copying others.

How do you want your writing to affect the world? What sort of writing "footprint" do you want to leave? Does it even matter to you?

It does to me. I'll admit I've been inconsistent about it. I've tried to write to market. I've tried to cash in. But ultimately it wore on me, and I had to admit to myself that that just wasn't me. It wasn't the message I wanted to send to the universe. I want to make the world a better place through my writing. Sure, my contribution to doing so might be slight, but it will nevertheless be my contribution. Not my subtraction.

I still seek success, but I seek it on my terms, and according to my definition of success. I want the rich full life that the writing life promises. I want to discover who I am, to discover the new worlds of creativity that lie within me. And I want my writing to make the world a better place.

The great thing about all those desires is that I am guaranteed of achieving them.

But what if no one reads what I write? The American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson answers this question elegantly:

'Work,' it saith to man, 'in every hour, paid or unpaid, see only that thou work, and thou canst not escape the reward: whether thy work be fine or coarse, planting corn, or writing epics, so only it be honest work, done to thine own approbation, it shall earn a reward to the senses as well as to the thought: no matter, how often defeated, you are born to victory. The reward of a thing well done, is to have done it.'


  1. This is a nice, thoughtful article, Gregg, but it reminds me of when people say, "I write for myself only." J.K. Rowlings apparently said that recently too.

    Here's the problem I have with that. If it was really true that a person wrote only for their self and was content with being a "personal" success, then wouldn't it suffice to finish a book and then put it on a shelf in the closet?

    I feel caught in the middle. Writing gives my life meaning, so I'm enjoying the personal success of it. And I'm breaking the rules that say to stick to a genre, establish a brand, don't confuse readers by writing different types of books, etc., because I'm writing what I'm inspired to write. And it's partly for the same reason you mentioned - to make a contribution to making the world a better place.

    The last thing anyone could accuse me of is being commercial. I've thought about it, and I may try it someday just because some commercially successful books of low quality give me the feeling that it really wouldn't be that hard to just write what the market wants. And after all, does it make sense to write something that the market needs instead of what it wants? lol

    For now, I'm writing what I want and need to write and it satisfies me. I think it would also be nice to have some positive feedback in the way of decent sales. It would communicate back to you that your work means something to people other than yourself. And if it was wildly successful on my own terms, that would be the ultimate satisfaction.

    I'd feel that my contribution was appreciated and it was good that I had made it. And of course, there would be the added benefit of not having to work in a mismanaged, soul-crushing, corporate torture chamber eight hours a day, then coming home and writing a few thousand words after dinner and before sleeping.

    Wouldn't that be great? :)

  2. Thanks, Ed. I don't know if you have a blog or not but you should. I agree with you wholeheartedly. And I want to be read too--big time. Right now I'm trying desperately to find a way to get people to read me. And yet that said, even if nobody ever read me, I'd still write. I'd write because it's fun. I'd write because I learn a lot about myself by writing. But here's the deal--the odds of nobody reading me, or you for that matter, are scant. How so? Well, right now I'm having a really hard time selling my novels. But I've got a few (and I mean a few!) readers that just love them. I'd like more but they're not coming. So what do I do? I write other stuff. I write blogposts here. I write book reviews on Goodreads. And wise, caring, talented people like you sometimes leave great comments that are so encouraging to me. And so I'm not setting my stuff on a shelf. I'm promoting it like crazy. But that of course doesn't mean I can't be true to my ideals.

    I too have abandoned the branding genre way of writing. I want to explore what's within me. It's a fantastic quest.

    And there ARE people being successful by writing what's in their hearts. Sure, it takes a lot longer for those people to catch on, but so what. The idea is that once you do catch on, the people reading you will be awesome, rather than the people reading the latest flashy fluff that the masses are reading. It will be SO gratifying.

    Let me tell you, one comment from somebody like you fills me up more than if I were writing some trash that was selling like crazy.

    They say there's so few people that like Beethoven because to appreciate Beethoven you have to have a mind similar to his. So the masses like "Clap along..." which is fine. But to be appreciated by people with higher sensibilities, that's the true reward.

    Your contribution is appreciated by me. Keep going. It'll be appreciated by more and more and more people as you go along.


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