Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A Writer's Freedom - Don't get sucked in

Writing should be fun. Yes, there will always be explorations of painful subjects and routine work associated with the job. But if a writing career doesn't bring joy, amusement, aha! experiences, excitement, and delight, why do it?

And yet, I see so many writers bind themselves to forms and tropes and beat sheets and page counts. I see them twist themselves to fit market "demands" or imagined editorial preferences. I have to talk them down when they panic about genre taboos or when they see articles that discuss changes to the publishing business.

The writer -- and not the editor or agent or publicist or crit group -- is the world builder.

There are no "shoulds" that matter more than what the story itself demands.

And the only draft that matters is the last one.

I'm not talking about finger paint freedom. Art usually is more than chaotic ramblings and self expression. To strive to communicate more clearly, to find balance, and to choose to fit the constrainted form of a haiku is honorable and valid. Discipline can free you to explore, create a conversation with the past, and bring elegance to your work. Any choices made can bring focus and relieve the writer the confusion of too many options.

This is not a plea to be an "artist" untainted by the marketplace either. Early in my career, I was offered a job that was completely devoid of fun, writing a request for proposal document. I only had to write the narration, but the research was tedious. And the required prose style was crazy-making, full of passive voice and devoid of wit. But the payment was good -- in current dollars $10,000 for about ten hours work. It was a good deal and paid a lot of bills. I had no regrets because this was just a job, not in any way MY writing. It didn't even have my name on it.

It is completely understandable and proper to take jobs that involve writing to pay bills. It might even be okay to do a job (script rewrite, novelization) to advance your career. But such work needs to be understood by you for what it is. It can't get in the way of the writing you call your own. Most of all, it can't be allowed to infect or take over the writing you call your own.

If you have a three-book contract to write a series that you have little attachment to and that is more torture than fun, what the heck are you up to? Stop it. If you must complete the work, try to infuse some spirit into it. Or do it after you do something for yourself first. And, once you have fulfilled your obligations, don't do that to yourself anymore. A career like that will take you away from the work you should be doing and kill your spirit. 

Sadder than contract slaves are writers who lurch from genre to genre and fashion to fashion in attempts to produce publishable work. No one is compelling them to work on projects that don't delight them. They are lost in imagined game playing, seeking prizes that will forever be beyond reach and missing the whole point of storytelling. If you are one of these people, mark a date on the calendar and promise yourself that on that date you will push aside your compromised manuscripts and get to work on one that is written just for yourself. Make sure that, in your life, you do that at least once. You deserve it, and you'll probably find a way to make writing with joy part of your life.

Do make good choices. Do know your craft. Feel free to make money writing as long as it doesn't take over. But also understand that you have freedom. You have the chance to experience everything that writing offers. You have permission to soar.

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