Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Catharsis of Writing

One of the reasons I write is that it's cathartic. Much like reading, writing allows me to escape into another world, to go places in my mind that I can't or wouldn't in real life. It doesn't matter if my hero is forging a sword on top of a mountain or dangling from a San Francisco skyscraper, it's an escape. We don't all take the same approach but I think this is true for most writers.

One of the dangers of taking something we love and turning it into a full time job is that we risk losing that catharsis. It's inevitable that at some point, the thing we love most will become work, and that's when it ceases to be fun. Those are the moments when we look at the blank screen (or worse, tens of thousands of words that we have no idea what to do with) and ask ourselves if this is really what we want to do. I know in my case, the answer to that question has always been "yes." But I must admit, I've been asking that question more often this year than before. And it's my own fault.

At the end of 2012, I set myself a goal. I wanted to write four novels this year. By June, I'd finished three. I know some people will read that and scoff, like Dean Wesley Smith who can write that many novels in a week -or so it seems, sometimes. Others might raise an eyebrow and point out that many successful novelists take multiple years to complete just one title, so how good could my books be if I write four in a year? I'm somewhere in the middle. I know Steven King writes dozens of books and stories he doesn't publish (or at least that used to be the case) because his publishers didn't want to over-saturate their market. Many pulp fiction writers started their careers pumping out a book every month or two. James Patterson writes -partially- what, 30 or 40 a year? 

So I guess what I'm really talking about here is my comfort zone. I must admit that while writing those first three novels, I didn't like it. I felt pressured, even though that pressure was my own doing. I felt a massive obligation looming over me like some sort of dark cloud, and I wouldn't be able to stop working or enjoy anything else until I'd lived up to that expectation.

Well, here I am. It's the end of June and I've finished three novels. I'm now re-writing the first novel, which I finished back in February. I did my major editing during the first revision and now I'm working through the minor stuff like fleshing out scenes and adding description. And I'm kind of having fun. Maybe that's because I know I only have one more book to write this year, and it's already outlined. Maybe it's because I've almost accomplished my goal ahead of schedule and now the pressure is off. The funny thing is that, in retrospect, it wasn't that hard. It wasn't a grueling pace and even if I hadn't made a public declaration of my intentions, I still would have probably done the same amount of work. The only difference is that I put the pressure on myself to do it, and in doing so, I took some of the fun out of it.

So here's what I've learned:

I will continue to write books at a good pace, probably several a year, as long as it remains enjoyable. If I feel like I need more time, or I need to take a break, I will do so.The one thing that I'm going to keep in mind either way, is that I do this for the love of it. I've learned that I can write four books in a year and probably more. But I'm in this for the long haul, and I won't force myself to keep up a pace that will make me burn out. I don't have to. I'm in the enviable position of being a self-published writer with no deadlines other than the ones I set for myself. Why should I make this more work than it would be if I was traditionally published? I don't want it to be that way. I want writing to continue to be cathartic for me. I get enough stress from the real world.

Thanks for reading, and for those of us in the states, have a great 4th of July!