I truly believe the absolute best way to have a writing career is to write what you love, and let the career follow. Maybe that career is publication and fandom and success, or maybe it’s self-publishing, or maybe it’s free fanfiction you share online, or maybe it’s just for yourself. The point is that the “career” comes from the writing, rather than the writing coming from the desire for the career. I’m still learning this truth myself.
But the problem I’m having is in figuring out what I love to write.
For so, so long, all I’ve thought about is the career. A lot of that has to do with the fact that I first fixated on writing for money when I was very young, and very desperate to “get out of” school by “making it big.” Thus, at such an early and fragile stage in my developing creativity, I welded the idea of writing with the idea of a career. The imagined “audience” for my writing became a voice in my process that grew stronger and louder and more demanding, until it completely swallowed up any voice of my own. Especially any voice which might speak against that audience.
A lot of writers talk about how difficult writing a sequel can be, when you know the audience is out there waiting. I think I found myself in that stage before even writing the first book, because I imagined that audience out there waiting. Whether or not anything I wrote could even find an audience at all wasn’t really the focus of my thoughts; it was entirely a question of what that audience would want.
In the last few months (and really years), I’ve been struggling with returning to that sense of self, of writing purely for myself. Though I still want to make a living as a writer, because there’s really nothing else I want to do, I know now that the writing has to come first. And that, truly, my best chance at “success” (whatever that might mean for me) is to write what I love.
Ah, and there’s the problem. You see, what I “love” is almost impossible to extract from the world around me, from the world of other people’s opinions. That book that everyone’s talking about, that’s being made into a series of films, with the huge and thriving fandom creating fanart and fanfiction for it? Yeah, I read it; I liked it. But did I love it? Would I really want to write something similar? Or do I love the fandom, the energy, the audience—and want that instead?
Today, in reading about another author’s promotion tour, I found myself struck with anxiety about that process. Though undiagnosed officially, I struggle with social anxiety, and the idea of speaking to a crowd or a camera terrifies me. The idea of a lot of people loving my work? I want it more than anything. But having to go out and promote my work? Um, can I do it from under my bed? (That might be an interesting video series.)
The point of this feeling is that I suddenly questioned the career I claimed to so desperately want. If I want to be a full-time writer, some promotion is inevitable; but only the big names have to do the big promotion. Maybe I’d be happier with a smaller and simpler career?
Now, obviously as anyone with half a brain could point out, I have no control over the size or scope of my career in any way, shape, or form—short of the control I have over not having a career at all because I never write. But something about freeing myself from the desire for popularity, from the high standards associated with demanding the quality (or something like it) of high-profile works, made me feel like I could write whatever I want.
But I still don’t know what I really want. The first step has been shedding the external voices as much as possible, and though it’s a bit of a struggle, I’m working towards that. Yet it leaves me with nothing concrete to go on—I could make a list of books I “really” love, but then I’d just have a list of things to copy. How do I figure out what I really want to write?
I’m still working on that, because my creativity is still so wrapped up in the world around me and not the world within. Because I’m still torn between embarrassment for certain things I like, as well as a desire for at least a minimal level of quality and originality (you’d be surprised how hard that is to come by in this crowded market). And because I’ve tried and failed, started and stopped, so many times now that I don’t trust myself, my instincts, or my creativity.
But I will not give up.
Because somewhere, buried beneath my doubts and neuroses, is love.