Friday, January 27, 2017

Writing for Writing's Sake

A popular post from August 2009

by Annette Lyon

How much should beginning writers be encouraged? I talked a bit about my stance on that here and here, but here's the nutshell version:

If you have the passion and fire to be published, go for it. Be prepared for setbacks and rejection.

If you don't have that drive, don't pretend that you do, and don't pretend you want to be published. Admit that it's a fun little fancy and move on.

But I do believe that everyone can benefit from the writing process. Everyone can benefit from being be a writer on some level, whether it's something as simple as writing letters, blogging, or journaling.

The other night, we had some friends over, one of which is a talented lawyer. Chatting over dessert, he expressed a secret wish to write but shrugged it off with, "I know it'll never get published, so what's the point?"

Since I'm so quiet with my opinions (*snort!*), I verbally tackled him on that one.

Did he care about getting published, I asked?

No, he said, not really, but he loved getting the stories in his head down. It was a stress release, a way to have fun. But he felt guilty writing when it seemed so pointless. When it wasn't an hour he could bill for the firm. When it wasn't productive.

I think that's the point where I launched into lecture mode.

First, I explained that the vast majority of published writers don't make a living off it, so "productive" is pretty much in the eye of the beholder there.

Second, if it's something that brings him joy and is a destressor, then DO IT. Who cares if no one but him ever sees his stories? Who cares how good a writer he is? (He says he's not good, but I'm doubting that.)

How many knitters out there stop knitting because the sweater they're making will be worn by only one person?

How many amateur photographers stop taking pictures because a good percentage of their photographs didn't turn out quite like they hoped?

How many people run marathons because there's a physical object they can point to afterward and say, "Look, there's the marathon I ran?" (Good luck with that one.)

Hobbies aren't supposed to be "productive." That's why they're hobbies. They're supposed to be fun.

If writing brings you joy and is a hobby, that is reason enough to do it. Writing for some people is a passion that transcends hobby. For some, it begins as hobby, and eventually goes somewhere else. I know writers who started writing as a hobby and eventually quit their day jobs to be full-time writers. It happens (rarely, but it does).

Then there are simple hobbyist writers. And that's just fine.

He worried about the productivity thing again. I pointed out that he needs to unwind. That every hour of his day can't be spent billing for the firm. That he needs some down time, or he'll snap.

I suggested setting a goal for himself: what if for every specific number of hours he bills, he gets to write for one hour (or a certain number of words or whatever specific limit he gives himself). Make writing a reward for a job well done. A treat. His wife jumped all over that idea.

You can bet I'll be on his case next time I see him, asking whether he's written more of his story and if not, why not. I'll be a pest about it if I have to. I'm passionate about these kinds of things if you can't tell.

In his case, I could see the need to write in his eyes. He needs it for different reasons than I do, I suspect (I've needed to since second grade; it's sort of in my blood). But the reasons are there, all the same.

If you have the need, whatever your reason, put your hands on the keyboard, and do it.


Kimberly said...

I love your take on this Annette. This is the sort of post that inspires much smiling, head nodding, and suppressed urges to punch the air. Well said!

Amber Lynae said...

I love this post, and your opinion. I write and create because I enjoy it. I study the craft because I like to do things well. At this point being published isn't my goal. It is enjoying it.
Brigham Young (at least a professor told me it was him) said he felt we should have 8 hours or sleep, 8 hours, or work, 8 hours of play in every day.

I never get my day worked out to that equation, but it would sure be nice.

MommyJ said...

I think even if I never, ever get published, I will still have to write. It's hardly an option at this point. It keeps me sane, it invigorates, it calms. It's necessary. :)

Karlene said...

Loved that! Thanks for reminding me that I write for the sheer joy of it.

Sue said...

I struggle with this actually. I think the reality for some of us is just different. I understand what you are saying as a general point, but I also sympathize with your friend.

I'm a self employed tech writer and a mom. (My husband works, but he works in social services and the reality is that my family really depends on the money I make.) I bill hourly - and I work a lot of hours at night.

If I spend three hours at night working on a manuscript that may or may not get published, that's three hours of income I've not generated for my family. So at the end of the month I might have a really fun manuscript happening, but we can't pay our mortgage. There is definitely a cost vs. benefit analysis going on every time I sit down to work on some kind of non-work-related writing activity. Yes, I want to finish my chick lit manuscript, but I could work on a user guide and get paid for it, so it makes me feel selfish to do otherwise.

I sometimes wish I didn't HAVE to weigh things in that manner, but that is our reality. (And I'm not complaining, I know how blessed I am to be able to earn a good living with my writing - from HOME even...)

I mean - I would love to write an LDS fiction manuscript, but there is no way that I could possibly justify spending so much time on something that would make so little money (if it was published at all, and that is a big if). I know that seems very calculating, but it's still true. I have to consider that reality when/if I write.

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

excellent post! the truth is, we all need downtime. We are all gonna find it some way or another. This lawyer is already using down time. Only next time, instead of watching a football game, going to play golf, or reading a magazine, maybe he'll remember that he wanted to add writing to his hobbies.

Annette Lyon said...

Very good point, Sue. I understand completely.

In this man's case, I know that his family's in a pretty good position. and that they're on the verge of paying off their student loan plus every debt but their house and so on. He doesn't have to work quite as hard billing as he did, say, five years ago.

For him, an hour on a manuscript that won't get published ISN'T taking food out of his children's mouths or not paying the mortgage or the gas bill. The fact that his wife was cheering me on was plenty testament to that. She's constantly trying to get him to stop finding ways to keep billing hours even at home or on vacation (making her drive so he can work on the laptop, say), because he doesn't need to get that many hours crammed in anymore.

But I totally hear ya. It's got to be a tough position to be in. Even so, I hope you find some way to relax and unwind, even if it's not working on the novel in your head. Everyone needs something like that.

Stephanie Humphreys said...

Great post Annette. Sometimes I feel just like Sue. Things get so tight it sometimes is hard to justify the time it takes to write. I also have a hard time justifying the cost of writing when I'm not making anything doing it. The cost of ink and paper and postage sure adds up after a while. On the other hand, finishing a manuscript is so satisfying. I guess like everything else it is just about finding the right balance.

Heather B. Moore said...

Great thoughts, Annette. I think sometimes there is a season for certain things. I couldn't have started writing until I had my oldest in school, the next one in preschool, and the third taking naps. When #4 came along, the 2 hour break in the afternoon went out the door. So I had to regroup. I took a lot of inspiration when I read "Kitchen Privileges" by Mary Higgins Clark. It's about her journey to becoming a published author. She was widowed with 5 young children and had to go back to work. When she decided to write her first book, she wrote from 5am to 7am each day before waking the kids and getting ready for work. I thought--I can do that. And I did for a couple of my books. I'd write from 4a.m.-7a.m. for about an 8 week time period to get a first draft.

There are things I'm behind on right now--scrapbooking, and I'd like to paint my house and redo the blinds. I've watched hardly any of the popular tv shows, so I'm probably a nerd that way. But then I realize that I'm always behind on something . . . My major crunch writing is done every fall, and the rest of the year consists of catching up on other projects, or some light writing.

Josi said...

He's lucky to have someone, or a couple someone's, giving him permission to do something he obviously enjoys. that can make all the difference some times. I think I need to read Kitchen Privleges. I'm in a 'season' where the writing is very hard to fit in. With school starting, I think I might be able to make a schedule--I'd sure like to have one.

PS--Heather, if you need new blinds, I know someone that can get you a great deal :-)

Danette said...

Love the hobby comparison! and for me it just summed it all up. Thanks. No more guilt for me.

Anonymous said...

Brigham Young Said this:

“Life is best enjoyed when time periods are evenly divided between labor, sleep, and recreation...all people should spend one-third of their time in recreation which is rebuilding, voluntary activity, never idleness."

He also said this (I didn't know Cola drinks were around back then):

“There was a direct and positive association between cola consumption and the risk of high blood pressure, ... It was present in sugared cola and diet cola, and it was absolutely a surprise to us.”

PS: You scare me Annette. I'm glad I don't have to eat dinner at your house.

Annette Lyon said...

Anon, I promise if you ever come to eat at my house, I'll be very nice. :)

Terresa said...

I like the sheer honesty of this post.

As N. Goldberg suggests, let writing teach us about life and life about writing. I'm working on both.

Eowyn said...

Awesome! Thanks for making me feel better about all the paper piling up around my feet.