Maybe you’re like many aspiring writers. Maybe articles like this one by Amanda Hocking (or the revelation that she recently signed a publishing deal with St. Martin’s Press) simply inspire you. Perhaps this sort of news taps you on the shoulder, offers a sly smile and whispers, “you’re next.”
If so, you don’t need this post. Go write a bestseller. I don’t mean that sarcastically. I mean it sincerely. Be encouraged and write brilliantly and sell a squillion books (e- or otherwise).
The rest of you? Have a seat on the floor. I’d offer the couch, but it’s much too comfortable. You’re liable to enjoy sitting on the couch. The floor on the other hand is compressed carpet on petrified pad on cracking concrete.
I love success stories. I really do. But they also discourage me. I’m not talking about jealousy here. I’m truly happy when others succeed. I’m an editor. A writer’s success is an editor’s greatest reward. (Trust me, we don’t do it for the money.) But I’m a writer, too. And when I hear about seven-figure advances or million-selling e-books I find myself suddenly considering my own writerly mortality. The questions and doubts I’ve successfully hidden under the couch crawl out and stare up at me like hungry, sharp-toothed weasels:
- Is my writing any good?
- Do I have the confidence and persistence necessary to get published?
- Are my goals too lofty? Not lofty enough?
- Will people still be buying books by the time I’ve finished writing mine?
Hearing about someone else’s success acts as a pause button for my own writing journey. It forces me to reevaluate why I’m doing this. Do I write simply because I love telling stories? Or do I write because I hope someday to make a little (or a lot) of money selling those stories?
I usually conclude that answer to both questions is “yes,” and I have no trouble living in that tension. But in the midst of this pondering, I find myself face-to-face with a third and frighteningly more honest answer: I write because I want to matter.
This begs the question, how do you measure “mattering”? If I were to leave it up to the world (and even to well-meaning friends and relatives), it would mean selling a ton of books. It would mean getting a feature story about my writing success in the Wall Street Journal. It would mean securing a movie deal. It would mean being mentioned in the same breath as Amanda Hocking.
The odds of this happening are slim.
And that, my bone-weary friends, can be discouraging.
Thankfully, there’s a “but” to this story. (You knew there would be, didn’t you. Good for you. Here it is.)
But…if it’s true that I write because I love telling stories, I’ll sit down at the computer again sooner or later. Probably sooner. And if it’s true that I want to sell those stories, I’ll continue pursuing that goal, patiently and diligently. As I do these things I’ll remember who I am: a writer. And in that moment of clarity I’ll realize…this is why I matter.
You can move to the couch now.