Love or Money

Several years ago, I was faced with a difficult decision of whether or not to accept a new job that didn’t exactly line up with some of my beliefs and ethics.  We were struggling for money and the pay offered by the new employer was great. Beyond great, actually. Sort of an answer to our prayers.

But something about it didn’t feel right.

I asked my then-husband what he thought. “They aren’t breaking any laws,” I told him. “Technically, they aren’t really doing anything wrong. Would it be wrong to work for them?”

“If you have to ask that question, then you already know the answer,” he said.

We may be divorced now, but I’ll always be the first to admit that he can be a very wise man. I turned down the job offer and we went back to struggling financially and cursing my minimum-wage job. But I’ve never regretted that decision.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about his words of wisdom because of something going on in the writing community. Specifically, within the self-publishing area of the writing community.

Before I dive into that, I want to explain to some of my non-writer friends out there that most writers engage in a never-ending debate about “writing for love” versus “writing for money.”  Those in the “love” camp are the kind of artistes who can be heard saying things like, “I write what I love, what’s in my heart, and if no one ever reads it … well, at least I’ll die knowing I was true to myself.”

Those in the “money” camp are quick to counter with, “I want to earn a living with this, no matter what it takes.”

For the record, I’ve always considered myself pretty firmly lodged halfway between the two camps, where I want to write what I love, but I also really want to make a living with it. I’ve never believed the two are mutually exclusive, and so I’ve been bumping along with a sale here and an award there, just hoping to earn a little more than I spend each month on marketing. Hoping that soon, I’m finally going to write that book that pushes me up to the next level.

In the meantime, I fritter away far too much time at a place called KBoards Writers’ Cafe. It’s a forum where my fellow writers gather to share ideas about writing and publishing. Most of the authors there are way out of my league; they are the type of professionals who have reached a level I don’t even dare dream of. And yet the majority of them are the type of professionals who are also willing to share a little of what they’ve learned, constantly reaching out to offer advice and guidance to piddly little nobodies like me.

In recent days, there have been some really eye-opening conversations at the ol’ Writers’ Cafe. And I’ve come away feeling depressed, overwhelmed, and … well, doomed to obscurity.

A man came into the forum and freely admitted that he publishes under a number of pen names and uses ghostwriters to churn out multiple books each month. Okay, nothing too bad so far. I find it a bit distasteful, but not horrible.

But the kicker is that he uses female pen-names and then pretends to be a woman in order to connect with his female readers. On a personal level. As in, discussing things like sex, orgasms, virginity, etc. with his fans, encouraging them to open up because he is, after all, one of them. Just one of the girls.

Under another pen name, he pretends to be a gay man so fans of his homosexual romances will trust him and chat with him.

Under yet another, he is a black woman gleaning information from trusting readers who enjoy his multicultural novels.

The list goes on and on. And although the majority of KBoards authors were quick to denounce him, a significant number stepped up to say that they see nothing wrong with what he is doing. After all, they argued, he’s not breaking any laws. He’s not hurting anyone. Besides, his readers and fans should know better than to share personal information with someone on the internet, right?

He’s successful, and isn’t that all that matters?

Well, yeah, but …

It’s paying off for him, and for others like him, to the tune of thousands of dollars. Tens of thousands. Hundreds of thousands, if he is to be believed. He and his group of friends have books that dominate the bestseller lists, so obviously it’s working.

I’ve learned a lot since I started self-publishing four years ago, but I think these past few days have been the most educational of all. His posts have inspired some intense discussions that have left my mind reeling. In addition to his creepy deception (yup, I’m gonna go there and call it creepy), he’s also shared information about  buying circles and mega-marketing groups that work together to push each other’s books up the charts by throwing huge sums of money around in order make even more money.

In the debate between writing for love or writing for money, these people are leaving the “love” writers in the dust.

It’s becoming clear to me that one little ol’ writer, sitting at my computer in a tiny town in Michigan, is never going to be able to compete with that.

I’ve got to admit, I haven’t done much writing over the past few days.  I’ve been terribly discouraged, and I’ve wondered if maybe I’ve just been fooling myself this whole time. Yeah, I thought about giving up.

And then I thought about that age-old debate between writing for love versus writing for money, and I realized that I’m no longer lodged halfway between the two camps. I finally know what kind of writer I am: I write for love. Plain and simple.

I write because I want to tell stories and entertain people. I write because I’ve always written; I write because I’m a writer. It’s not who I am. It’s what I am.

I write because I’m not happy if I don’t write.

I’m not giving up; I’m just shifting my goals a little bit. Changing my focus. I’ll keep on writing my books — and enjoying myself — and I’ll keep publishing them because it’s fun. It makes me happy, and it makes a little bit of money. And I accept that it’s probably never going to earn me a fortune.

I’m okay with that now.

Because, basically, it all comes down to this: If I think about being the other kind of writer, a writer like the man who challenged my viewpoint this week, I’d have to ask myself, “Is it really wrong?”

And if I have to ask that question, I already know the answer.

 

 

 

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Of Quests and Walmart

Not too long ago, in the midst of an online discussion among writers, someone asked the question: “How do you define success as a writer?”

People came up with all kinds of wonderfully artsy-fartsy answers that ranged from heartfelt (“when I get my first nice review from a complete stranger”) to the practical (“when I can pay my rent on what I earn from writing”) to the downright silly (“When I can buy my own jet”).

My answer? “When I can see one of my books on the shelf at Walmart.”

Yeah, they gave me a hard time about that. What can I say? I live in the middle of nowhere, and WalMart is about the only place around to buy books. We may be rednecks and hillbillies out here, but some of us are well read rednecks and hillbillies, and there just aren’t a lot of places around here to shop.

For anything.

Well, we have a Mr. Grocery and a Pick-A-Liquor nearby, but I strongly doubt I’m going to find any good reading material at either of those.

A great bottle of cheap wine, yes. The newest treasure from Shanna Hatfield? Not so much.

So now that I have a story appearing in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Angels and Miracles®, I am on a quest.  It is my new goal in life to take a selfie standing in front of the bookshelves at the local Walmart with my edition of Chicken Soup for the Soul on the shelf beside me. Doesn’t seem like that should be such a difficult task, now does it?

But my local Walmart doesn’t have it.

Neither does the Walmart in Paw Paw. Or the Walmart on 9th Street in Kalamazoo. I’ve even expanded my quest a bit to the local Meijer’s, but no luck.  They all carry Chicken Soup for the Soul in all kinds of varieties, but none of my edition.

Think about it for a moment. What could possibly be more ridiculous than having a major quest in life that involves Walmart?

Not being able to fulfill that quest at Walmart.

I can see it now. I have a long future ahead of me as some sort of crazed creeper in book departments of Walmarts of the world. I’ll devote my days to searching out a copy of my edition of Chicken Soup for the Soul so I can take a selfie with it. By the time it finally happens (and it will happen eventually), I’ll be a gray-haired old crazy woman who runs around Walmart with my cell phone in hand, murmuring to myself about selfies and chicken soup.

Of course, since it’s Walmart, no one will notice.

On second thought, it might just be easier to find a different way of defining success for myself.

Then again, I’ve never been one to do anything the easy way.

 

 

 

A Question of Why

“Why do I write?”

That’s a great question, especially since I’ve already been focusing so much on self-doubts when it comes to expressing myself with the written word.

When most people think of being a writer, they picture one of two extremes. At one end, there are the James Pattersons and Danielle Steeles, writers who are ultra-famous and wealthy beyond our wildest dreams. The J.K. Rowlings and Nora Robertses of the world. Successful, well-known, respected writers.

And at the other end, there is the stereotypical artiste. The artsy-fart who wears black and chain-smokes European cigarettes while drinking too much and moaning about pouring his soul onto the page for an audience who can’t yet comprehend his brilliance. He is the starving artist who would never dream of “selling out” or betraying his artistic soul by allowing his work to be chewed up and spit out by the unwashed masses who just aren’t ready for him.

The truth is, I think most writers are just like me. Normal, ordinary people who like to tell stories and just hope that a handful of people out there want to read what we write.

Why do I write?

I like to entertain people. I like to make you laugh. I like to spin a tale that catches your attention and pulls you in, that makes you forget to blink and then breathlessly ask, “and then? What happens next?”

I like talking. Telling stories. I get a kick out of taking everyday occurrences and looking at them upside-down and sideways to find a story to tell. I like to look at the world around me and ask “what if?”

What if those old people over there were actually long-lost lovers?

What if that handsome man over there is actually a killer on the run?

What if (insert random situation) had ended differently?

What if . . . what if . . . what if . . 

Try it sometime. It’s fun.

People have always told me that I should write a book. Okay, I think a lot of those people were probably just trying to find a polite way of telling me to shut up, but I can still find encouragement in their words.

Why do I write?

I write because it gives me pleasure.

Some folks get really dramatic and talk about “bleeding on the keys” or writing because they must. Oh, there are plenty of powerful memes and inspirational posters about having a story within that must find its way out.

Yeah, okay, all that shit’s pretty cool.

But writing — real writing — isn’t just about those bursts of inspiration and manic late-night sessions at the keyboard when the ideas and words are flowing like streams of uncontrollable vomit. It’s not just about waking up with a gasp at 3:28 in the morning because a sudden idea has hit right now and hit HARD and you’ve got to jot it down NOW before it is gone forever.  It’s not just about those days when you zone out in the middle of a crowd because there’s a scene from your newest story playing out in your mind like a movie and you’ve got to watch it so you don’t forget.

Writing can be all of that. And when those things are happening, the best thing you can do is grab the safety rails and hang on for the ride of your life.

But most of the time, writing is hard work. It’s getting up before dawn to scratch out a few words before the day starts. It’s taking classes and studying the greats and attending workshops. It’s reading books and honing your skills. It’s practicing, practicing, and practicing some more. It’s starting out with a tiny germ of something and doing your damnedest to turn it into something better.

It’s about writing when you’d rather watch TV or play on Facebook. It’s about editing and re-writing and editing some more. It’s about accepting that you are not perfect. It’s about swallowing your pride and learning from experience when someone is brave enough to tell you that what you’ve written really isn’t very good. It’s about being willing to “kill your darlings” if that’s what it takes to create a better story.

[Note: if you don’t know what it means to “kill your darlings” please don’t worry about my children at this point. Trust me, it’s a Faulkner thing.]

It’s about knowing when to listen to a critic and when to trust your own judgement and maybe, if you’re smart and very very lucky, ending up at that perfect place between the two.

Why do I write?

Sometimes, I read back over something I’ve written, and I cringe. Yikes, did I actually write that self-important bit of crap called “Had I But Time” back in the ’80’s, complete with a nod to Shakespeare in the title? Worse, did I really send that out to publishers? Oh, dear Lord, may the universe forgive me . . .

But just as I’m ready to haul my mortified self under the kitchen table to hide in utter embarrassment, I’ll read over something else I’ve written, and I think, “Hey, that’s not bad.” Of course, that thought is often followed rather quickly by, “It’s not exactly good, either.”

What can I say? Self-confidence is not one of my greatest strengths.

Why do I write?

I can’t give you one easy answer because there is no easy answer. I write because . . . I’m a writer. It’s not what I do; it’s what I am.

I may never make a living as a writer. I’m fairly sure I’ll never be among the ranks of the super-rich and mega-famous, although I would  be totally okay with being either one. Just saying.  But in the meantime, I’m totally okay with being exactly where I am as long as I am writing.

Why do I write?

Because I love it.

This has been part of the Finish the Sentence Friday blog hop, with the prompt “Why do I write?”  Your host is Kristi from Finding Ninee, so please check out her blog and some of the other fabulous writers who participate in this weekly writing exercise. 

 

 

 

 

Dare to Compare

IWSG

Back when I was in my late twenties, I went to a career counseling center and took a personality test that was supposed to tell me what career I was best suited for. When the results came back, I learned that I would make a great cosmetologist. Since I had three successful  cosmetologists n my family already at that time, I wasn’t really surprised.

What did surprise me, however, was the other end of the list, which showed the career that least suited my personality: Writer.

Well, crap. I’d wanted to be a writer since I was four years old. I got pretty upset with the whole  Meyers-Briggs testing people and decided that they knew nothing about me, despite their being pretty much on-target with the cosmetology recommendation.

Looking back, I have to say that I understand those results now. I am, after all, a social creature. I love being around people. Talking to people. Making people happy. This is why I thrive in customer service jobs. It’s why I am a fantastic retail salesperson but failed miserably as an office worker staring at a monitor in my solitary cubicle for forty hours per week.

Writing is not a social career. Sure, we can interact with each other in writing groups and online forums, but it’s not the same as that one-on-one personal interaction with others. The act of writing is a solitary, lonely activity that does not bring out the best in me. It brings out the urge to call my friends and tell them about what I’ve just written, or to go post a stupid question in an online forum just because I feel the need to talk to someone, anyone, about anything.

I’ve been lucky in recent months to find a couple of writing groups that seem to understand this need for human interaction. I even got to attend a four-week writing workshop this summer, where I got to meet other writers face-to-face and watch their eyes glaze over in person when I droned on too long about one of my projects.

Oh, yeah, I know it happens. I’m just able to deny it when it happens online.

As much as I love the interaction with other writers, there is a downside. And I’m not talking about things like internet trolls or spite reviews or any of those behaviors. Yeah, I know those things happen, too, but I do my best to stay firmly entrenched in my own denial when it comes to them. Denial is something else I’m very good at.

For me, the downside of all of this interaction with other authors is my tendency to compare myself to them.

For the most part, I can be pretty realistic about my expectations. I’m a slow writer, producing only one or two short romance novels per year. I’m an unknown, and I’m still learning as I go. I can’t afford any kind of extensive advertising campaigns to boost sales, either. I don’t expect to sell tens of thousands of books or hit any bestseller lists (not yet, anyway).. At this stage of my writing career, I have no delusions about supporting myself with the money I bring in from Amazon each month. I’ve had months in which I’ve made a couple hundred dollars, and months in which I’ve made a couple dollars.

True story. June and July of this year brought in almost enough to pay the rent. August and September sales barely paid for my coffee.

That’s to be expected at this point, however, and I’m okay with it.

Until, that is, I  encounter my fellow “newbies” asking questions about the 500+ sales made in the first two weeks. I’m happy for them, of course, but oh, wowza, does that just suck the confidence right out of me! I start comparing myself to them, wondering where I’ve gone wrong. Are my books too short? Too much sex or not enough? Should I have done more editing? Are the plots weak?

And the biggee: Am I really not any good at this at all? Is it time to give up and learn something less painful, like sword-juggling?

Then I start comparing myself to other writers who talk about writing ten or twelve novels in a year. Seriously?! I start doubting my commitment to my craft. I wake up early to write before my kids get up for school. I write during the half-hour between jobs, and I write in the evenings on the days my kids are with their dad. I write in ten-minute increments if that’s all I can squeeze in.

But is it enough?

Seeing the numbers and word counts tossed about by these prolific folks always  chips away at my confidence. Maybe I’m not trying hard enough, I tell myself. Maybe I’m wasting my precious writing time on things like blogging or going to writing forums. Maybe I should get up even earlier or  go to  bed a little later. Maybe I’m just not trying hard enough.

Those little nagging self-doubts creep in, and I don’t know how to fight them. All the reassurance, all the compliments and glowing reviews in the world can’t stop them. I am my own worst enemy, my own biggest critic, my own weakest link.

I am gradually learning that I have to stop comparing myself to other writers. I can –and should– learn from them, but the only way to restore my confidence is to compare myself to myself and no one else. Is this book selling better than the last one? Is it better than the last one? Am I still getting better at this every day?

Have I done the absolute best I can do at this time?

If I can answer yes to all of those, then it has to be enough.

How about the rest of you? What triggers your own self-doubts and chips away at your self-confidence? And how do you fight it?

This has been my monthly post for the Insecure Writers Support Group. If you are a writer struggling with insecurities or just in need of a little support, please check out this FABULOUS group of wonderful people!