Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Writing Journeys and Destinations

by Deren Hansen

I often hear people talk about the writer's journey or their own writing journey.

At first I thought it was a nice metaphor implying the zen of traveling well; the value of stopping to smell the proverbial roses; the importance of enjoying the process over the product. It's also a concise (and gentle way) to help aspiring writers understand that the endeavor upon which they've embarked is likely to take a long time.

But metaphors are at least a two (and sometimes three) edged sword. I think one of the nastiest edges is the fact that a journey implies a destination.

The problem with publishing is that there's no destination. There are certainly milestones, but in this industry there's no place to reach that signals the end of the journey. Remember, breaking in only means that you're a player.

A cynical wit might suggest one's coffin represents the certain end of one's writing journey. While often true, there are some writers who are much bigger dead than they ever were alive.

Part of the problem is simply structural: remember, novel means new. In the market that is commercial publishing, like Hollywood, it doesn't matter what you did yesterday. The only question people care about is, what have you done for me today?

"Wait," you may protest, "when people talk about their writing journey, they mean their personal development as a writer."

Fine. But can one ever reach a point where they have completed their personal development as a writer? Are there authors who have mastered their craft and truly have nothing left to learn?

I thought not.

Now I'm not arguing that you don't measure up as a writer if you're not constantly producing new material. Quite the opposite: you should write because you want to write, not because you've got to undertake a journey.

My critique, however is more fundamental: the very notion of a writing journey does more harm than good because it encourages aspiring writers to look forward to the day when they reach their destination. In other words, it's the writer's equivalent of saying, "I'll be happy when I [win the lottery; get a better job; lose some weight; etc.]

It's much better to live, and learn, and love in the present. Write your current project so that if you write nothing else you can still proudly say, at the final accounting, "I am a writer."

And if you must have a travel-related metaphor, writing is like being a nomad in the desert: it's not about getting to any place in particular, it's about living well each day.

Deren blogs at The Laws of Making.


Joseph Ramirez said...

Hmm... I'd never thought of this before. It makes me wonder how focused I am on my 'destination', and it makes me want to discover what I really thought was my destination. Thanks.

Julie Daines said...

This reminds me of something Kirk Shaw said way back when I first met him at a writer's conference and we were getting started on critiquing each other's work: It doesn't matter how good of a writer you are, you can always get better.