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?


Callie James said...

It's both a joy and a job. Even though I'm unpublished, when I'm in the process of writing a book, I make myself write whether I have energy, writer's block, or whatever. Still, I can take a small break when I finish writing a book. I know when I publish some day that may not be the case.

You're an inspiration, Paula. I still find it difficult to believe you do all of that AND have a day job.

Lisa D. said...

Right now, it's just a joy. But honestly, for someone like me who likes to be busy and over-scheduled, the job part of it sounds pretty good too :)

Heather said...

Paula, I'm exhausted after reading your blog post. You must have an endless supply of energy! The glass half-full side of me says that the stress and burdens associated with deadlines and promotions are fantastic complaints to have because they are the sign of a job well done. When you can find a job that brings you joy, it is a rare thing!

Amy DeTrempe said...

It is a job, but there is still that magic when new characters start talking to you and telling their story. Just like the beginnings of a new relationship when everything is wonderful. They are not always so wonderful at edit time, or when they don't want to cooperate on my schedule.

Paula said...

I still enjoy writing. I can't imagine doing anything else. But it's also something I have to force myself to do sometimes, even when I'm feeling sick or exhausted from work or involved in other things that occupy my attention.

I think that's the difference between when I wasn't published and now. Back then, I didn't have to write if I wasn't in the mood. But oddly enough, I seemed to be in the mood to write a lot more before I was published. Go figure.

pensees said...

This is a timely post. I have been seeing a lot of tweets about "who cares about your muse? get your butt in the chair and write!" that made me thankful I'm not a published writer with all that pressure.

I think that unpublished writers can dream about the highs of seeing that book on the shelf and forget that once you're in, it's a job and the deadlines don't wait for you to be in the mood.

Glad to see you're able to find joy amongst the deadlines. :)

Christine said...

Every job or career has its downsides. And as much as I love to write, there are aspects that I probably won't ever love. I'm trying to build up a tough skin before I get published by giving myself deadlines, practicing networking, learning more technology and how to use it, and truly revising after receiving constructive critique.

To me the greatest reward is to start the next book--I imagine that will change after I get the call. Then I'll have to make sure the editor likes the idea as much as I do. That's one I will have to learn to roll with after the fact.

I can only plan for the days after I get the call pretty much as I planned for my baby to arrive. I had all the equipment and the books about raising a child, but until I brought her home I had no idea what was really involved in becoming a parent.


Cari Hislop said...

I take my hat off to you Paula because I couldn't do what you do. I wouldn't do it. I'd end up in a mental institution.

It makes me angry to know there are so many publishing companies that treat writers (particularly romance writers) like Spinning Jennies. Are we all now mechanized story-churners? Paula, it makes perfect sense that you seemed to be in the mood to write more before you were published. Deep down your inner artist must resent the literary shackles of being told to write X,Y, or Z when it wants to write P's and Q's. Mine would go into a coma or hitch hike to the next galaxy!

Personally, I don't believe we should force ourselves to try to write when we're not in the mood/ zone. What ends up on the page (in my case when I've tried) is utter rubbish which I have to delete. My time would have been better spent listening to music and day dreaming about my story rather than trying to force it. It's been two years since I finished a book (I didn't know I've had a thyroid problem till recently which was like someone slowly switching off all my mental lights). I have lots of paid up readers waiting, hoping I'll finish something soon, but as I'm self published I can spin my yarns as slow or as fast as the characters or my health dictates.