Monday, November 22, 2010
A Job or a Joy?
When I first started writing fiction, it was like a game for me. There was an element of pure elation in sitting down in front of a keyboard (a typewriter, when I first started), and tapping out characters, scenes and stories that seemed to come from the very ether. I easily entered what I came to call "the zone" and stayed there, sometimes for hours, cocooned in storytelling bliss.
Then I started writing for publication. The zone was still there, and I could still enter it pretty regularly, but things like page count, hooks, chapter cliffhangers and turning points began intruding on the transportive pleasure of writing just for myself.
I soon came across a nightmare called "the synopsis." I learned about preferred fonts, double-spacing, query letters and the difference between ordinary rejections and the much-coveted "revise and resubmit" letter.
And then I sold.
The veil was lifted. I was no longer writing for the fun of it. It was now an endeavor that involved deadlines and edits, proposals and proofs. I was supposed to pitch new ideas regularly to my editor, even when I had unfinished projects already on my agenda. Editors wanted me to produce three or four books a year. More, if I could make it happen. They wanted back-to-back trilogies and, oh, by the way, the line is putting together a six-book miniseries and we'd like you to write one of the books. It would look good to the higher-ups in the company if you're seen as a team player.
Suddenly, I'm writing blog posts, trying to remember to update my Facebook status and take time to tweet my latest release. I have galley edits due in two weeks and a book due in two months. My editor wants me to come up with a new multi-book proposal ASAP to get on the 2012 schedule, and on my own, I'm working with two other authors on a Christmas 2012 anthology.
Now it's crystal clear: writing is a job. I have to work every day, plan to write when I'm not actually writing, track my receipts and expenses for tax season and figure out the best way to promote a book (or three) that will be on most book shelves a maximum of two weeks.
Yup, definitely a job.
But can it still be a joy?
Yes, it can. There are still times when I find myself transported to that beautiful place called the zone, when the story in my head plays out in vivid color like a great movie, pouring from my soul to my fingertips almost effortlessly.
But there are also plenty of times when I can't find my way anywhere near the zone. Yet the book must still be written.
That's where the job comes in. I wish I had formed better work habits earlier in my career. I managed only four books in my first four years as a published author. But I managed to navigate that steep learning curve to get to a more prolific place in my career. I persevered—as all writers do, sooner or later—because the joy in writing was still worth it.
Everything worth doing requires effort. Even something we love.
Maybe especially something we love.
So is writing still pure joy for you? Or have you also come to see it as a job? How do you keep the job part of writing from stealing your joy in the process?