I recently attended a meeting of my writing group, which includes a range of authors, from beginners to successful ones. These meetings tend to shift into the format when the beginners ask questions and the established authors share their opinions and experiences. Many of those revolve around a few common topics: “how to overcome my anxiety and actually start my first-ever writing project”, “how to deal with the writer’s block”, and — naturally — “how do I get my work published”.
At this recent meeting, the discussion touched up on another subject: “why do we write in the first place?” or “why do you want to be an author?”. The answers to that ranged, but one piece of information, coming from the established authors in the group, caught my attention. If you write for the purpose of being successful, you are setting yourself up for constant disappointment. In terms of external rewards, a writer’s life never gets easier. First, you struggle with finishing a publishable piece. Then, you struggle with publishing it. After it is published the anxiety starts on whether you will be successful. And then… it just goes on. “So, I got on the New York Times bestsellers list and stayed there for 8 weeks! Yay! But… why 12 weeks? Why not six months?… Will my next book get there? Will it stay as long? Will it sell better than the first?…”
In the end, this discussion reinforced what I have known about myself for a very long time. Yes, sure, I do want to be successful. Probably not as successful as Stephen King or J. K. Rowling, when your whole lifestyle must change to match this success. My measure of success is to be certain every book I write will get published (which means that every previous book should sell enough copies to make this worthwhile). But… this is only a small part of it.
I would never have wanted to be a writer if I did not enjoy the writing itself, more than anything else. In the end, I write for myself, and when I immerse myself in the book I am working on, I am not thinking of success, or of what will become it it once it is finished. My major reward is when the book works exactly as I want it to be. When my prose starts singing on the page, when the characters come alive, when the pictures become dimensional and everything mixes in just the right proportions, I experience a joy that cannot compare to anything else. This is the reason I will never stop writing. This is also the reason why I cannot purposely write something that fits into any external frame. Yes, I do care about the readers’ opinions, I do suffer when I see negative or hostile reviews, and I do get depressed if the sales are not as high as I hoped. But in a bigger sense all these things are secondary.
I love writing (and reading) secondary world fantasy, but even within the genre I am very picky. In addition to loving good stories and good worlds, I am also restrictive to certain things. I cannot take excessive gore or violence. I don’t like depressive themes and massive deaths, especially those of main characters. I read to lose myself in a better reality than my own. All this inevitably seeps into my writing as I try to recreate all my favorite things in my own work.I tried many times to follow the trends and write an urban fantasy (when those were “the thing” a few years ago) or a post-apocalyptic dystopian fantasy, or at least a traditional fantasy with a large measure of gore, despair, and violence. It did not work. All these are just not my things. In the end I am happy in the knowledge that I write what I love. For any author, it could not (should not?) be any other way.