Monday, September 3, 2012

Why Bother?

By today's special guest, Frank Dorchak.

Look, you’ve been writing your ass off. For years.

You’ve given up lots: sleep, time, movies, dates, workouts. Sometimes a relationship or two. Life. Gone to all the conferences, read all the How-Tos. Attended more ego-stripping, goal-stomping critique sessions than you care to relive. Maybe tried your hand at self-publishing. Blogging.

Then you get it, the question that surprisingly cuts to the oh-so-delicate-soft-pink-quick of your misery laden soul: why do you write? Sure, you answer it with typical public aplomb and cockiness with something like, because it’s in my blood, I’m not good at anything else, or I can’t stop the goddamned voices in my head.

But you know you, even if you don’t admit it to yourself.

Why do you write if you’re not getting published?

What is your major malfunction, soldier?

The sobering truth of it is this (let’s attack it head on, shall we?): Many of us will never get traditionally published. It’s just not gonna happen.


Now, self-publishing opens up whole new vistas to those of us in this boat, but that doesn’t always help, either. It’s just not the same thing. And, sure...some of us are good writers...yet for one reason or another, will still never land that coveted publishing contract. You’ve heard it all, over and over--publishing just ain’t what it used to be--and does traditional publishing even matter anymore? can’t silence those damned voices. You continue to write with nothing to show for it.

I began writing when I was six. I’ve been writing seriously (every day, up at 3-3:30 a.m. kinda thing) for over 25 years. Been to critique groups, did a Writer’s Digest correspondence course, attended conferences. Presented at a conference. Read books on the writing process. Was a one-time editor for a small-small, start-up magazine. Self-published a novel, done booksignings. Belong to a couple of writer groups. Been interviewed on Internet and local radio. Write two blogs, regularly comment on other blog sites. Have an agent. Have helped other writers, been helped by them. Have short stories published here and there, even one overseas.  Am currently working on a series idea with my agent.

Why bother?

I’ve given up much over the past 25 years, on the bet-with-myself that it all meant something. That with all the hard work I put in, something would pop, and I could finally devote myself to one thing, and one thing only...but it hasn’t happened. I have yet to sell an agented manuscript, and that began to weigh on me. I began having trouble starting new manuscripts. So I began working on already created material. Those done, still no sales. Again tried new work, because that’s what we do. Ehhhh, still not flowing like it used to. And by “flowing,” I mean completing a 100K first draft in a month on two hours a day (plus “whatever” on the weekends) effort. It used to be easy for me, doing a first draft (not that I sold them, I’m just talking pure mechanics). My agent says it’s harder now because my writing has grown, contains more depth.


A couple of years ago a weird thing--for me--happened. I hit a deep writing depression and I’m not one to get depressed. It didn’t last long, but it sure hit like atonnabricks. I remember it was in a November, but don’t remember the year. I’d been banging my head against that brick publishing wall for most of my life. I knew my work was good, readable, likeable--maybe not Pulitzer material--but it was legit. I’d been told so by third parties including my agent (heck, I had one, right?). I began to deeply question my efforts. WTF, was my major malfunction? And WhyTF was I doing all this? Killing myself with the crazy, driven hours I was putting in at the expense of other things (like sleep!), with nothing to show for it--at least what I was expecting to show for it?

But there was something else to the above incident:  I’d a portion of me had died.

Really up and died.

It literally felt like a portion of me had passed on, and took a portion of my soul with it. I’m not kidding. That’s how it felt. I felt a seriously deep, hollow feeling inside, like something had been ripped way. In my non-traditional belief systems, I believe in other, simultaneous lives, and this incident of mine actually felt like another version of me had literally passed away. Perhaps the “muse” parallel-writer of me? Maybe some other parallel-me with whom I was in deep, unconscious contact? I don’t know, but that was when I really began to wonder if all my lofty literary efforts had been worth it and WhyTF should I even continue, since in the near-second-half of my life, I had only a few short stories and one self-published novel.

The epiphany was devastating.

So, I blew it all off. Writing. For a spell. Quit my annual conference attendance. Let the issue stew (I love a good, meaty, stew). I knew it wasn’t the end of my life, but whatever had happened was surely a serious, huge impact to my life.

WhyTF bother?

Here’s what I figured out when I came back to claim my stew:

Dead parallel-self or not, I simply like writing.

Sure, I could do any number of other things, I have all kinds of interests, latent abilities, but writing is fun and utilizes aspects of me other things simply cannot. End of story. Dénouement still to be written. I also realized that just cause one is a writer, does not mean one will get published. Perhaps my life had other meaning, and being a writer was just part of the Grand Scheme. Not The Grand Scheme. But, if it happens, it happens, and I’m not gonna [figuratively] kill myself over trying to get there. Already “been there.”

So, I continue to write(and maybe my mechanics have become slightly less organic)...but I also continue to engage life. Recently got back into archery (not sure how long I’ll continue, but for now, it’s fun). Put more time into blogging (I’ve been tagged with the “F.P. Dorchak, Blogger,” descriptor; weird). If there’s something else I want to do, I go do it, if I run into a dry spell, I roll with it...but if I have a project, I write.

Make no mistake, I’m still a writer. And when I have a project, I’m in it 110% (thanks, Lou Ferrigno!). And I still want that publishing contract. But at this point in my life, I’ve made peace with myself and have widened my perspective; accepted that maybe now I have to write with a thought-out synopsis, rather than totally by the seat of my pants. Though I understand what others say when they tritely toss out such comments as “I have to be a writer” or “I’m not good at anything else,” I do not believe them for an instant. Sure, great sound bites and all, and easy to say once you’ve “hit it,” but damned untrue.

Humans are a highly adaptive organism, especially when forced into corners, usually (I’d wager a guess) of our own making. We’re all capable of a multitude of endeavors, whether or not we admit it to ourselves, and writing is only one.

Writing is one part of our lives, and if we do it--or anything else--we should ask ourselves why? Is it fun? Cathartic? Cheaper than drugs? Something to do while walking this Earth? But we also have to live life. And there’s only one way out of that, and it flies by fast, so put some serious consideration into it. Not being a writer is not going to kill anyone, no matter how much you think it might. It’s not the end of your life. It’s just simply not the case. And if you have to adapt to a new way of writing to write, do it. If it’s a little harder to write than when you were 25, so...just do it. If you truly love it. It’s not a race. The only end of your life is the end of your life. Between now and then there’s a lot to fill in. Everything between birth and death enriches those two milestones, and it’s up to each of us to find our own way.

Get involved. In something. Something else. Find other things to do. Take your mind off your writing for a spell, recharge...gain Expand your horizons. Not only will it do the aforementioned, but it’ll also fuel your writing. I love writing, but do have to step away from it every now and then.

Why bother?

Because it’s part of you.

Because you can.

Because you’re a writer.

Enjoy the journey.

You can learn more about Frank Dorchak and his writing on his website.


Margaret Yang said...

Yep, me too!

Whenever anyone asks why I write I always say, "Because I like to."

Really, that needs to be my #1 reason otherwise why do it?

Dean K Miller said...

Here's the sticky wicket: All those time's and things you "gave up" so you could write. Huge sacrifices, right?

Disagree. You weren't giving up all that life stuff, you were chosing to create life stuff, to be somewhere else, someone else, so others could enjoy them as well.

There are no sacrifices in chosing the writer's life. This is only the sheer bliss of being able to enjoy that which we've chosen.

Melissa Marsh said...

I was just asking myself this the other day: why do I bother? I write historical fiction and have been writing since the sixth grade. I am also a historian, so the research I do for my books is also a pleasure for me. But with that elusive traditional publishing contract (and agent) not yet on my horizon, and that having been my two goals for years and years, I sometimes get that "what's it all for" mentality. In the end, I think you're right - it's because it's fun. I like the challenge, I like the research, I like playing with words, and I love, love, love coming up with story ideas. I'm so used to doing it that I literally cannot imagine my life without it.

Anonymous said...

I do very few things just because I feel I "have" to. I live my life as I *want* to, and as Dean said, yes, nothing's "given up." But at that one time in my was SO weird...I didn't think straight, and the "WTF bother" issue reared it's head. I'm also goal driven, and when goals (as *I* understood them) weren't materializing, well, see above. I just traded one set of life experiences for another. That's all. No regrets. We all create our lives as they play out, but we're [most of us] human, and have difficult moments, and we have to figure our ways through them. I love my life and feel NOTHING'S wasted. But it was a interesting, growth, experience!

Patricia Stoltey said...

I saved my serious writing efforts for retirement after years of working in the real world in accounting and finance. You can't imagine how much I value the time and effort I now spend being creative.

Daven Anderson said...

Three years ago, I borrowed the four Twilight books from a friend. When I finished "Breaking Dawn", I thought "Even I could write something better than that".

How many people thought that?

Now, how many people actually did it?

I'm the one in a million who did it. Finished. It's on Amazon and Smashwords.

Everyone says they "could" write a book. So much so, that my co-workers never expected me to actually finish my novel. The silence at work is deafening, ie: "I can't believe he actually finished that thing and got it out."

Finishing = the ultimate way to "call b.s." >;^)

Teresa Funke said...

Here's a fun way to think of it . . . I was watching the Antiques Roadshow the other day, and they were appraising a violin made by a now-famous violin maker. In his day, he and his sons worked hard, all day, every day, for a pittance of money. Now, everyone who cares about violins knows his name and his violins sell for $70,000. We never know the impact our words are having on the world. You may never know if something you wrote in one of your blogs sparked an idea in someone else who went out and changed the world. Because of you. You'll never know the legacy of your good work. If you're doing what you were called to do, you just gotta believe there's a reason for it. And maybe the reason isn't fame and fortune, but something you can't even imagine. Art matters. It just does.

Ron at CM said...

Nicely done, sir!

However, it is certainly NOT cheaper than drugs -- even the really, really cheap generic ones that come in used condom packets.

What about the shakes when you haven't touched a keyboard for a week? The nausea and puking when in the morning you look at the screen and say --- I got squat! The times you'd sell a firstborn child for a NEW IDEA?

Ah, but then there are the days where you can't even see your fingers -- it's just a blur down there as the screen seems in a rush to fill itself.

And all of the new people you meet on the page every day - even the ones who NEVER do what you want them do because THEY THINK their destiny is in their own hands (and minds).

No matter how strongly you make your point, they refuse to accept you as their creator.......

Then, at the end of every day - productive or not - at least ONE thing exists on this planet that was nothing, a void, at most a vapor, when the sun rose.

Aaron M. R. said...

Gosh, I want to comment, but I'm not sure what to say. I've been writing literally all my life, seriously writing for six years, going on seven, I'm with a small press, I'm unagented, I'm shakin' my moneymaker to sell books.

I guess it's a grand spiritual quest, staying hopeful in the face of despair, fighting the good fight on the deck of the Titanic, lunch at the Alamo.

I'm given stories to write. I'll write them and hope for the best. I'll practice self-discipline.

There are many paths to enlightenment, writing is only one.

Anonymous said...

Wow, thanks for all the comments and EXCELLENT points! Enjoying the effort! It IS art and it DOES matter! Doing "it" and getting "it" done! Writing and grand spiritual quests!

And Ron--that's precisely WHY we don't have kids--I'd already sold our first born many, many years ago....


Thanks, everybody, for stopping by and taking the time to read and comment. These are all good words to live by--and I'm including all YOUR comments, too!

Claire L. Fishback said...

Great post! I went through that spell myself. And it is SO TRUE. I write because I love to write! Unlike a lot of my writer friends, I don't have aspirations to "make it big" as a writer. If I have to self publish my books so my friends and family can read them, I'm good with that. But that doesn't mean I'm not going to TRY to get published traditionally (though the whole process of doing that scares the *bleep* outta me).

I write because I love to write. ANd because I love to create new worlds and interesting people to populate those worlds.

I'm glad I'm not alone. THank you for sharing your story!

Claire L. Fishback said...

By the way, I've also been writing since I was 6. And writing horror since I was 11. ;-)