Warning: this is a no-edit zone…
During the course of a given day, I’m asked an average of thirty questions. Most come from other writers, but others regularly come from agents, editors, reviewers, booksellers and others in the industry. Then there are friends and family and those from strangers who might or might not be writers. People who’ve read my blog and just want to talk over something important to them.
I welcome all these exchanges. I stay invested and interested and I am and always have been fascinated by people. I really like them. So it’s from that perspective that I say the things I’m about to say.
Questions come in clusters. Maybe it’s collective focus. The cycle of the moon and/or planets. The state of the economy or any of a million other factors. I’m not sure, but in the past decade, it’s very common to get a group of questions on the same topic at the same time. Yet in that same decade, this is the first time I recall being asked so often why I do the things I do. This has been a BIG cluster. 🙂
For the most part, these questions have been on two things:
1. Why do I write so many articles, do so much teaching, and not charge money for it?
2. Why do I invest so much time in trying to help other writers instead of focusing solely on my own career?
The core reason I teach and do the articles and the podcasts and lectures and seminars and workshops goes back to when I started writing. There was no Internet. There were two main writers’ magazines and little else. There were no writers’ groups in my area, and in fact, I didn’t know another writer.
Many hours of many days were spent in frustration, trying to learn craft and the business. I had no one to ask questions and no one to go to when I was lost and grappling and confused. More often than not, I learned the right way by doing something the wrong way. That’s why when asked about education, I seldom cite the MFA in Creative Writing or the Ph.D. in Theocentric Business and Ethics. I generally cite The School of Hard Knocks. It is most accurate (I had four or five books published before getting my MFA).
It was, simply put, difficult. Frustrating. Irritating. Disheartening. Annoying. A royal pain in the ass. And I have not forgotten. I promised myself then that if I ever learned anything I would share it. It’s a promise I’ve tried to keep and will continue to try to keep so long as I draw breath.
In the last two weeks, as well as the general why do you do this, I’ve received warm and generous remarks about the worth and value of what I do. I’ve also received one note that declared my motives couldn’t be good because “nobody does something for nothing.”
I took exception to that comment, and then discovered the author of it was right. We don’t do something for nothing. We do what we do for purpose. Said author was totally off-base in the purpose cited, but the truth is, there is a purpose. There are purposes, I should say.
My Aids4Writers program got started as the result of my annual self-improvement program. I wanted to do something “good for goodness’ sake.” I couldn’t ask or expect anything in return. I posted writing-related insights every day for a year. Toward the end of the year, I mentioned that it’d be time to work on a new improvement and the members of the group asked me to continue. I did. For several years, I posted at least 3 or 4 times a week. Now, a decade later, I answer questions, post lecture notes, articles and that type thing. Most of the responses are private (rather than to the group) because they are so person-specific). Any can ask, and while I freely admit I by no means know it all, I share what I can.
So my purpose was to do good for goodness’ sake. It still is. And on the general teaching and sharing front, too, there is purpose: to know I’ve done what I could to keep other writers from being frustrated, annoyed, irritated, disheartened and suffering royal pains in their asses because they don’t know and have no idea where to go to find out. They have someone to go to who gets the challenge.
That might not sound like a lot, or worthy of purpose to some, but to me it’s more than enough. And to one in the challenge it’s something. That person isn’t alone, isn’t the only person to have faced this challenge and someone’s walked the path before them and is willing to walk it again with them. Often there is solace in that and just knowing it gives a person the push to keep seeking. What’s the value of a push? Depends on how stuck you are in the muck or mired down you are, I’d say.
I don’t charge money for teaching because that is at odds with my purposes for doing it. It’s that simple. I’ve trudged through a lot of mud puddles. If I can help someone else avoid them, I will. And I trust that my financial needs will be met in other ways, namely, through my books. So far it’s worked out.
As to the 2nd question….
I don’t focus solely on my career because that’s not how I choose to live. I’m building a career, yes. But I’m also building a life. Some authors do have that beam focus and it works well for them. I do what works for me. People matter to me.
Readers aren’t just people who buy my books. Booksellers aren’t just people who sell my books. Editors don’t just buy and publish. Reviewers don’t just review. People are not just what they do for me. They have lives and dreams and interests and fears. They worry, they struggle, they deal with problems and they love. People matter and I’m interested in them and in what interests them.
Yes, I want my books to do well. I want them to do very well. But I don’t want to sacrifice caring about the people involved to attain that–yet it doesn’t have to be an either/or choice. And that is the point of this post.
You decide on your purpose. Often this is more recognition than decision. Regardless, you identify it. And then you work toward it. Balance is a beautiful thing, and in my experience, when one lacks it, s/he forfeits inner peace and fulfillment. When one finds the right balance for him/her, then there’s peace.
There will always be those who question your motives and who opt for cynical views on why others do the things they do. We can’t change others. We can offer them a glimpse inside us as an opportunity–that they might see a different way or thought or idea or perspective. But they must choose their purpose and path. They must find their balance and their fulfillment and determine the value of these things to them.
And that is as it should be. We all have our pets and our pet peeves. We all have our own issues. And how we deal with them is our personal choice.
I choose my purposes and my teaching and doing what I can in ways I can. While that might not work well for others, it works well for me. As for financial needs, they’ll be met. I believe it. As for my books doing well, they’ll be fine. I believe that, too. As for why I’m certain, well, that’s where grace comes in.
Perpetual Student, School of Hard Knocks