Wednesday, February 18, 2015

What is your goal?

What is your writing goal, and how does that affect your writing? What is your motivation?

In an old writing group years ago, there was a member who was very clear about his goal: to write something that made him rich. His motivation was clearly money. I often wonder if that motivation is why he never finished the project he was working on. There's nothing wrong with that goal, really. It's very rarely achieved by writers, but it is sometimes.

I don't think it would keep me going, though. I used to say my motivation, my goal, was to have a book on the shelf and maybe someday have somebody tell me it's their favorite book. But is that really a goal? First of all, the second part of that is completely out of my control, so it's not something I can purposely work toward. Publication is a more realistic goal, and it's something we're probably all working toward.

But why is that the goal, and is it really enough to keep us motivated?

These days, publication means different things. Is it enough to just want to have a book out there on the market? Maybe it is. A lot of people are publishing their own books to meet that goal, and many of us spend a lot of energy researching agents and publishers and submitting to them.

What I've come to realize is that the prospect of publishing a book with my name on it is not what keeps me writing. It's not the thing that keeps me churning away at the difficult process of writing multiple novels.

So if it's not money, and it's not recognition, what is that keeps me going? I think that's an age-old question. Why do artists make art? When you read the comments on blog posts that ask, "Why do you write?" you see several answers that people do it because they go nuts if they don't do it, or that there are characters in their heads who demand to tell their stories, and other similar responses.

If those are the reasons, what are the goals?

It seems to me that the ultimate goal is to tell the best story you can because you love the process, as painful as it can be sometimes. Publication is not really the goal. it's validation of the goal. Whether you publish traditionally and receive the feedback and validation that provides, or you self-publish and use reviews and comments as your validation, publication (hopefully) validates that you did your job well and that people like your work, and by extension, they like you.

But the real goal was to write something, to perform at the best of your ability. That's probably the reason why you spent so many hours writing, and even more hours revising, then a good chunk of time marketing. Maybe that explains all the hours you spent thinking and planning and rethinking and researching and worrying.

Writing is different than the other arts because of the amount of time it takes to write a novel. I'm only marginally familiar with other art forms, but I think a painting or a piece of music or almost any other art form short of being an architect for a cathedral that won't be finished before you die doesn't take anywhere near as long. I've noodled with a poem for weeks or a short story for months, but it's not the same thing as trying to write a good novel.

The thing is, I'm not even sure I'm right about this goal. I just know I keep plugging away, trying to get better with every effort, challenging myself to tackle increasingly more difficult stories, even though it often feels like I have a love/hate relationship with the process. I like knowing I'm doing the best work I can. I still want to publish somebody's favorite book, but I find myself being less motivated by that as I grow as a writer, If I knew I'd never be published, I'd still write.

Maybe there's not really a goal. Maybe there is no clear motivation. Maybe, like so many other artists, we're just loonies.

I'm OK with that.

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