Writing Anxieties: Remembering Why You Do This

Why do I write?

I haven’t asked myself that question for a little while now. Or, more to the point, given it serious thought. If you were to ask me directly, I might say something like:

“Because I have to.”
“Because it’s a compulsion I can’t shake.”
“Because the alternative is unthinkable.”

Pretty dramatic answers, when put down on the page like that. But true. So very, very true.

The trouble is, lately, I’ve been forgetting that reason when I approach my writing.

I made a New Year’s resolution to submit at least one thing for publication per month. And you know, I’ve kept it thus far. I should be over the moon about this. And yet. And yet. A friend, another writer, was over for the weekend, and we were talking, and I said to her I was feeling like I wasn’t meeting the goals I should. My friend – very wise about these things – reminded me that there isn’t one specific goal and boxes to tick in the journey towards having a writing career, and that if I’d set these goals it was good that I was meeting them. I had to agree. After all, who keeps New Year’s resolutions? Go me for my persistence!

And yet. Something still niggled. I spent a good deal of time on Monday pondering this. Until it hit me, and made me go ‘Oh. Yes. That’s it.’ Here’s the answer:

I’ve become so focused on publication that it has almost excluded the true reasons for why I write. I’ve been so focused on hitting certain marks in the erotica genre, in the writing game – as laid out by the social-media-driven, platform-obsessed, writers-can-do-it-all-themselves conversations that keep circling around us – that I’d forgotten to ask myself what I was really getting out of this. I have written pieces and submitted them this year, and yes, I have managed to stick to the resolution, and that really is an achievement in itself, and yet… and yet something isn’t working for me. In my keenness to keep on submitting, my focus has wandered from projects that I truly love to seeking submission calls with concrete deadlines just for the sake of hitting my goal. That may not be a bad thing in and of itself, but I can’t keep working like that in the long run. Ultimately, the projects I really want to work on are going to keep rearing their heads, butting themselves against the front of my skull… while my energy is being directed at pieces almost written just to get the publication record up.

(I say almost, because it is not as if I don’t give a toss about the pieces – am in fact quite fond of them; just that they are not the ones I adore and love as much as the ones that keep screaming in my head.)

My energy had been directed at projects far too short, really, for how I write. I can manage a 3000-4000 word short story. It’s certainly doable, and I hope I’ve produced some decent ones (and I do have a couple coming out in future – so it’s not like they weren’t liked by editors). I can do it better if it’s fanfiction (ask me in private and I can tell you about that side of my life, though I haven’t written fanfic for a little while now) and all I need is a single line to convey to the audience volumes about a character, which is possible in original work, but takes skill and craft of years of work that I don’t yet have. Give me room to manoeuvre, time to draw you into the characters, give you a sense of the world they occupy… I’m far better if I know I can work at a higher word count. It isn’t as this year so hasn’t been productive – it really has in terms of how much I’ve written, and trying to instil in me the habit of finishing stories. But trying to make myself fit into something because it is more marketable or easier to sell is really not going to make me a satisfied writer.

Story is where I find deep pleasure and meaning and magic. Story is what makes me feel so very alive. Story is what drives through my mind all the time and does. not. let. up.. The mental energy it would take to not think about story would be… utterly unthinkable.

Story is my world. I need to start writing the projects that keep on raising themselves up and saying ‘write me, damnit!’ I need to remember I do this because of my passion for fiction, for story telling, for invention of character, for emotional journeys, for dialogue that sings and stings, for the desire to express what’s in here, in this mucky, crazy head of mine, with even just one other person who gets it.

Now, to remind myself of that when I sit down to write…

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I feel almost churlish after last week’s post ‘The Fear of the Bookstore.’ Why? Because a few days after, my piece Body & Bow was released. With my name on the cover. And here I was having a natter about how sad it feels not to see your name out there!

That said, I think the post still stands true for the beginner writer. Or any writer out there. The timing of it just was kind of striking. 😉