Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Worth In All Of Our Words

"The Letter" Acrylic on canvas by February Grace

It’s no secret that for a long time, there has been a feeling going around in the writing community I have been a part of (and in publishing perhaps, forever) that you’re not a ‘serious’ writer unless you are extremely prolific… for your entire lifetime. 

It seems like folks have to try harder and harder these days to earn and keep the title of ‘author’ or even the ‘right’ to apply the term ‘writer’ to themselves.

Those who aren’t turning out a book every three to six months run the risk of being labeled “hobbyists” or worse: “quitters”.

This really bothers me.

It’s bothered me more since I made the announcement over the summer that I didn’t plan to seek publication for future works I may write. The post detailed a long list of health and personal reasons I won’t rehash here: you can read it at this link if you’d like.

Maybe it’s because I’m not constantly writing now as I did before my Bipolar Disorder 1 was correctly diagnosed and treated (… more words than I can count in my 44 year lifetime) that I take those mentions of “quitting” more to heart than I did when I couldn’t imagine a time when I wouldn’t just keep doing what I was doing: churning out story after story after essay after poem after co-written project and on and on and on forever as fast as my fingers could type. 

Because at the time, that was all my brain knew how to do.

And as far as being a dedicated writer, I don’t feel I have anything to prove to anyone.

I mean, I wrote a book over two years during which I was blind a lot of the time. I typed without seeing, when I couldn’t do that I dictated short notes into my iPod or wrote with huge sharpies on notebooks I’d only be able to read later on after my surgeries.

I have always been dedicated to my craft. Driven by it, obsessed with it. I long for words like an absent soul mate when I’m unable to write, and when I’m able there’s nothing better in the world.

So after giving too much attention to other people’s interpretations of what makes a writer and what doesn’t, I’ve decided I will not let anyone else's opinion make the work I have published feel less important to me.

My heart and soul is in those books, and while I know they’re not everyone’s cup of tea (what book is?) and cover a broad spectrum (from the doctor ahead of his time, to Gus the modern-day Fairy Godfather, to a fairy tale retelling and then a time travel tragedy) the words, the people that exist between the covers of those books matter to me.

I won’t let anyone make me feel less relevant as a writer or as a human being because I am not forcing myself to churn out books just for the sake of saying I did it.

I’m searching for the story to fall in love with once again. The one that keeps me up (even if my doctors would wholeheartedly reject that idea in chorus) and keeps me dreaming and engaged and fascinated.

Whether that story ever comes or where it ends up (most likely would be online now either on my blog or on Wattpad) has no impact on the meaning or value of the works I’ve already published. Or at least, it shouldn’t.

A writer should be judged by, if anything, a body of work in my opinion; whether or not that body consists of one masterpiece work in their lifetime or a library shelf full of books, each of which they wrote with love and care for the characters and the story. Quality and effort should still matter over quantity.

No, I’m not trying to make a living from writing, and I never went into publishing with the idea that I could, so this is not about money for me. My health prevents me from working at anything to make money; if I could I'd have a day job, too. 

Still, I do not look upon writing as a hobby, though, I never did, even in the time before I imagined I’d ever get published. It’s a calling.

I know there are folks who only want to be “professional writers” in that they can make a living wage from it and to do that you have to keep making more books. I’m not stupid, I get that. More power to you.

The part I don’t get is the berating of other artists for the way that they go about their craft. And the negative connotations are there in those discussions, even if prefaced by saying you’re only talking to writers who are specifically writing to make a living at it.

So I say, please don’t judge another writer’s path. In any way or for any reason. Every one of us is different and will find our way in our own way and time.

Sometimes art in itself is still important, even if not a commercial blockbuster. How many paintings did Van Gogh sell in his lifetime? (Note: I’m in no way comparing any of my works in words to his art, but YOUR book might be that Van Gogh. It really could be!)

There are so many reasons for which a writer could be degraded by the term "hobbyist". All of them are valid, and the term would still hurt.

Maybe the person who only writes one book in five years is a working parent (is there any other kind?) and has to steal time to write from sleep and other things to be able to work on their novel at all.

Maybe someone struggles with their health, physically, mentally, both; maybe they write at the pace their limitations dictate and that is the best they can do.

Maybe their day job is completely exhausting. Maybe they're parenting while also caring for aged parents.

Maybe they haven’t found THE story that has compelled them to write the next book yet. Some artists work months or longer on one painting, some can paint a portrait in moments before your eyes. Again, why judge another artist’s path? What place is it of ours to do so?

So to the authors out there turning out work quickly and happily book after book and watching their star rise, I congratulate you. To those who have written surprise hits that have catapulted them into the stratosphere, I celebrate their good fortune along with them. Good for them.

To those, like me, who fight for the words and wrestle with them to make them just so and will not release them out into the world until they are just so, I understand you.

I look forward to a time when writing can be viewed as something akin perhaps to quilting. Now maybe I’m ignorant but I am unaware of any big rivalry that exists between “hobby” quilters and those who sell their wares for their living. (Maybe it exists. If it does, I’d rather not know.)

Perhaps, again, the difference is the speed at which they must create their work but in the end, the quality will show and it will matter. Some naturally create faster than others. Sometimes you can tell, in stories and in anything else in life, when corners have been cut.

So at the end of all this, I guess I’m just asking for kindness and understanding on behalf of all who are ruled by the muse. 

Some write faster than others. Some have people who help them write books and never get credited. 

Some pour their heart and soul into every word on every page of every work they create, whether anyone else will see it or not. Those are my writing heroes.

I celebrate you, fellow writers, whatever path, however fast or slow, you may be traveling and whatever way you decide to share your work with the world, if you do. Trad published, Hybrid, Indie, all of us have more in common than we have differences. 

If we could work together to harness the power of that connection through words and build each other up, how much stronger and more encouraging a world-of-writers could 
it be?

How much more successful could ALL our work be out in the world if we spent more time building each other up than we did trying to put each other into boxes with neat little labels?