Sex. It has nothing to do with anything in this column but I’m certain that just mentioning sex ensures at least a quick glance by a reader. You’ve gotten this far, so it must have worked. Golf does actually figure into the point I want to make (so I wasn’t completely lying to you with the title.) But first, since this is my first column, some perfunctory background.
Like most Indie Authors, I recall writing being an interest as far back as I remember. In fact, I write this article with my 6th Grade Colorado Young Author’s Forum manuscript staring at me from my bookshelf. (THE AMULET, 45 pages – rights available). Beyond what I thought was the obvious fact that authors were cool and probably got all the girls, I was hooked on the magic of creation. I loved it the first time my friends had a conversation among themselves about characters from one of my stories as if they were real, live people. I enjoyed the god-like power of creating new worlds. I knew exactly what I was going to be in my adult future. I was going to be an author.
Then high school arrived and I realized football quarterbacks actually got most of the girls, causing me to spend a lot more time throwing spiral passes than figuring out character arcs. Then college happened, I started a business, got married and then grew that business into a national brand with thousands of employees. I was sucked into board meetings, financial reviews, lawyers and all that good stuff. And somehow I suddenly found myself the father of five kids. (My wife would disagree with my characterization of it happening “suddenly” since she did all the heavy lifting on that last bit.)
Yet, through all of that, I managed to write four non-fiction books, six novels and eight screenplays. But while Hyperion was nice enough to pay the down payment on my first house with the advance for my first non-fiction book, a motivational career guide for college students, that’s the only thing I’ve sold to a traditional publisher.
Looking back, it would have made sense for me to focus on writing career books, build a platform, and become a guru for recent college grads the world over. The problem was that telling stories was the thing that drove my original passion for writing and there wasn’t a ton of story in creating exercises for young people to choose their career. I woke up one day and realized that I was in danger of taking the hobby I loved and turning it into a second job.
I remember telling my agent at the time that I wasn’t going to write any more non-fiction. I was going to write novels instead. Maybe screenplays (I was living in LA, after all.) She used all kinds of supportive words, but the tone of her voice said it all. Good luck, chump.
And she was right. It turned out that I wasn’t a very good writer.
OK, maybe I wasn’t the world’s worst writer, but I wasn’t the lyrical wordsmith the literary world had been desperately waiting for either. I was self-aware enough to realize this, but less sure what it meant. If I couldn’t be Michael Chabon or J.K. Rowling, should I just pack it in? How many novels and/or screenplays could I fit in my desk drawers before I had to admit I was just wasting my time? My answer to this question came, as I find answers to life often do, on the golf course. (See, I told you I’d get there.)
It occurred to me as I hacked away at that tiny ball, sharing lushly landscaped courses with dozens of grown men and women sporting ridiculously priced clubs and designer outfits, that I should approach writing with the same mindset I approached golf. I didn’t play golf with any expectation that I would wake up one morning and find myself to be the new Tiger Woods, out on tour, making buckets of money. It also never occurred to me that because I would never be Tiger Woods (or even a remotely good player) that I should just not play. Or feel like my time was wasted when I did play but didn’t score well. I just played because I enjoyed the game (or at least the drinks that came after.)
So, that was the question I asked myself. If no one ever read my writing, if it was unpublishable, would I still want to do it? The answer for me was simple: Yes, indeed, I would.
Perhaps this is all a self-evident truth to you, but I found it totally liberating. This isn’t to say I let myself off the hook for trying to improve my performance. In golf, I took lessons, bought the best equipment, practiced for hours and hours, all to improve my score. Not because I was hoping to turn pro, but because doing something well is just always more fun. I did the same with writing. I took classes, read books on craft, and, most importantly, practiced, practiced, practiced. Because writing well is just more fun.
As indie writers with so many outlets for self-publishing, there are no longer “unpublishable” books. We get to see our books online or in paperback in a way that was unavailable ten years ago without a publisher or a major cash-investment. But we can still get caught up in our sales numbers, our reviews and our social media stats. We can still wonder if we’re wasting our time.
I believe the greatest gift we can give ourselves is to remember to write for the joy of it and remind ourselves that the joy is there whether our work is a bestseller or gets put in a desk drawer.
Would you continue to write if no one would ever read your work? If yes, then just enjoy the ride. Write every day without fail. Get all those words and stories out of you. And know with certainly that it is never a waste of time.
And, ironically, you might find the moment you remember the joy of writing and stop trying to find readers is the very moment that readers will begin to find you. And who knows, maybe you are Michael Chabon or J.K. Rowling. But you don’t need to be to enjoy the ride!
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