A question I've been known to ask people who want to write is: What kind of writer do you want to be? A companion question, and one I think equally important is: Why do you write - because you love to write or because you want to be published?
It's only natural to want, having written, your words to reach a wider audience. And it would be downright nimrodic, given that I've had several books published, to claim that being published doesn't matter to me. Of course it does. But there's a distinction, I think, between wanting to be published after the work is done and having that be your driving force behind writing in the first place.
The Internet has been both a blessing and a curse to writers: a blessing, because it's provided a vast daily community for people who labor in what used to be an almost entirely solitary pursuit; a curse, because daily there's a bombardment of publishing information that becomes a distraction at its least corrosive, or at its worst, becomes a depressing discouragement from the task at hand. I'm not going to say a nickle, because it really would take a lot of nickles to add up to a useful sum these days, but if I had *something* for every time in the last year that I've heard a writer say something to the effect of, "The publishing industry is so messed up these days, the market so depressed, I don't know why I'm even bothering with this since I'm never going to get an agent or sell it to a publisher anyway" - well, let's just say that if I had *something* for every time I've heard that, I'd have a really big something!
A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, some say. I don't know as you'd ever catch me saying that, and I'm all for knowledge. The saying that writing is an art while publishing is a business is pretty accurate and there's nothing wrong with learning about the business side; indeed, gaining knowledge is one of the ways writers increase their talent and their own luck. But too much publishing noise, too much focus on getting published in moments when you should be focusing on the writing instead, becomes poisonous.
I think writers, in the case of those who were never in it strictly to be published, need to be reminded at times of why they started to write in the first place: because they loved to write, because an idea was so exciting they just had to tell it. It's probably too much to ask that people will turn off the Internet - I certainly couldn't do it at this point! - and since that's not going to happen, I think writers need to find a way to compartmentalize. It's fine to have an awareness of what's going on in the market, but when you sit down to write, you've got to shake that off.
Back when I used to shoot pool, one of the best pieces of advice I ever got, from a player far better than myself, involved the need to shrink the universe down to the size of a dime while taking a shot. That doesn't mean ignoring the bigger picture - i.e., the whole table - completely. On the contrary, the highest form of playing I know, and one I discuss in Crazy Beautiful - how's that for a shameless product plug! - is to start by thinking what you want to do with the 8 ball and then mentally backtracking from it through each ball and what you'll need to do with those balls until you know what to do with the first in order to start you on the path to clearing the table. And then - then! - once you know what you want to do with that first ball, you shrink your universe down to the size of one thin dime, you block out the noise of the bar, you mentally turn down the volume of the drunk who's leaning in front of the pocket you're aiming for saying, "Can you believe this chick? She thinks she's going to take me?" and you make your shot. I've got four trophies kicking around here somewhere from playing like that.
OK, so maybe the dime/pool analogy isn't strictly, well, analogous, but I love talking pool.
The bottom line is, when you're writing, you've got to get inside that dime. You've got to ignore, as the Grinch would say, "All the noise! Noise! Noise!" You've got to forget about that drunk guy leaning against your pocket saying you're worthless and you can never do this thing you've set out to do. You've got to ignore it all and just do the work.
Oh, and here's another thing: you've got to enjoy the work. That doesn't mean it's not hard to write, because it is and sometimes it's even drudgery, but there's little point for me if there's no joy. And that's another thing that the poisonous air of focusing too much on being published does: It not only corrodes the process, it also steals the joy.
Writers need to find a way to steal the joy back.
So how *do* I write a book and manage to hold onto the joy?
It's the same method I've used for the 20 books I've sold to publishers and the many others I haven't. I get an idea. That idea excites me. I start to write. The first draft is strictly to please me, so that if my tree falls in the forest and there's never anyone else to hear it, it's somehow OK. It's only after the first draft is in the can, that the audience comes into view, the noise of the market, and I begin the process of revising what I've done to the point where hopefully it will please a few other people besides me. But whatever the outcome, whether the book gets sold or not - and I still do write books that go unpublished - there will have been joy.
So what do you think? Feel free to tell me I'm all wet with my ideas about writing/publishing. Or talk to me about pool. Hey, I'm easy.
Be well. Don't forget to write.