I wrote my first horror story in an old notebook when I was in seventh grade. It was terrible of course, but I had so much fun. I felt like a “real” writer scribbling away in pencil on those hot and humid summer afternoons. The desire to write fiction ebbed and flowed throughout the years and consisted mostly of the occasional but huge blocks of passionate writing time. When I found an audience in my children I devoted many of my free hours over the course of two summers to writing them campfire horror stories. Later on, I found a similar fan in my wife. Not the “okay I’ll smile politely while you tell your story” fan-dom, but a genuine interest and often persistent requests for “more.”
My wife gets the credit for my part-time publishing career. She was the one who insisted I build a website and post my short stories. It was a brilliant idea. It provided a destination for the work and thus an inspiration to write instead of watch television or to expend all of my creativity on my career. I discovered in retrospect that it was a magical combination because there lacked the key ingredients of successful publishing – no sales or reader data. It was just me and my stories and my website. I could imagine that people visited, that they read my stories and because it was free I didn’t measure my writing value by downloads or dollars. I, of course, was ranked number one on my website…because I was the only one. Writing was purely passion to tell the story.
A published novel or two becomes a business. A lot of effort begins the day after a writer publishes his or her work. A measurement requirement begins or perhaps several begin. How many people downloaded it? How many reviews did I get? Should I continue to spend time on this? Why do so many people have it on a To-Read list but none have moved to reading it? How come that author has a thousand downloads a month and I have one or two every three months?
I can’t think of any thing that might rob me of my passion to write stories. I have far more story ideas than time to ever write them or money to ever publish them. But a passion is not an action and the business end often creeps into the equation. Sometimes I wonder what liberation might come if I deleted it all and never spoke of writing again. These are mostly the thought by-products of the doubt and despondency that whispers “you’re wasting your time” and “you should be doing something more important.” I think middle age writers can often reach a point where they consider that authorship is a young man or young woman’s dream. In the same way the young men and women decide it’s time to do something “real” with their efforts.
Perhaps that is the result of living in a society where value is defined in dollars. I have occasionally lamented over the investment of time and money I put into my “hobby.” I have asked the responsible questions of “shouldn’t I be using those funds in a better manner?” “Should I be buying a book cover instead of taking my wife away for the weekend?” “Is it fair to my family that I spent Sunday writing?” I believe most writers, at least those with children or significant others, try to manage that guilt through scheduling. They wait until the wee hours to write so as to not rob the time from others. They skimp on services to ensure the kids have something new or they give up others things they might buy for themselves to afford the hobby -well to justify it really. They try to ensure their passion comes after everyone else and everything of practical importance.
I can’t imagine holding on to the dream without the support around me. My website was fun, but sooner or later it would have gone forgotten. But even those things really aren’t enough when a writer is ready to quit. It’s too easy to not quit, but to simply forget to write until you forget to remember it was your dream. A writer needs tenacity to continue and a firm commitment to a goal larger than dollars and downloads…well I do anyway. The most successful things I have ever done be it career advancement from entry level to executive, or weight loss (thirty pounds and counting) or child rearing (children every action good and bad has consequences and there is no better lesson than owning your choices), or winning the New England Scholar award (while working sixty hours a week and raising kids) – every one of those things I approached in the same way that I approach writing – they are for me, they are the things I do so I never have to see regret in the mirror. But still there are moments…
And in the moments that I don’t think I should go on, when I don’t think I want to go on, or when I feel foolish for trying to go on, I grab on to that passion. I remember what I love about the story telling and I remind myself that in many ways the story is just for me and nothing else matters about the process. Such thoughts are often a thin branch when life demands so much and so many things…but I’ve found that branch is stronger than it looks. It has held me long enough each time to allow me to get my feet firmly planted.
When I’m ready to quit I simply grab that branch with a commitment to hold on until it breaks or until I’m again ready to climb.