by Johnny B. Truant
You know … this writing thing can be a real pain in the ass. It beats you up and is sometimes a serious downer. I used to be so loud and proud in my early days online that I never really let those home truths settle, but they’re no joke.
When I wrote this post (with a sweary title) back in 2012, it went mega-viral. People read the tone of it and acted like I must eat bullets. When I was co-hosting the Self-Publishing Podcast and the Smarter Artist Summit here in Austin, I used to say things like, “Writers are too sensitive. Plumbers don't get plumber’s block, so why do writers get writer’s block? Just do the work, people!”
I bragged about writing 1.5 million words (the Harry Potter series and a half) per year. People heard me and seemed to decide that I either had it all figured out and/or I was a serious jerk.
Neither was entirely true. Neither was entirely false.
Maybe it’s because I’m older now — or maybe all the anger in the world has pushed me to be helpful rather than angry — but these days all the “pain-in-the-ass, beats-you-up, serious-downer” aspects of writing have started to rear their heads for me in ways I couldn’t previously imagine.
I’ve always had bad days, no matter what my big mouth used to say. Some are epic-level bad. If you’re reading this, then I’m sure you can relate. People who say they can’t are just putting up a front, the way I used to.
I’ve been very fortunate in this business. For ten years, writing books has been my only gig, so I haven’t had to punch a clock and fit novels in on the side. I even had one of my book series made into a TV show. But that makes no difference when life rears back and kicks you right in the jimmies. It’s no consolation on the days when things are hard, and trying and failing to write only makes it worse.
I decided to take two coaching clients last month — a little experiment I wasn’t sure I’d like, but that I ended up absolutely loving. I like feeling like I am part of the solution.
When one client apologized for having had a difficult few days and “not getting work done that he’d promised me,” I found myself typing this in reply:
Try to think of your fiction — if worries, emotional stuff, or “life in general” is in the way — as a way OUT of the crap rather than more crap to pile atop the other crap. Work on it in a way that makes you feel better, not worse, in whatever that “way” ends up being … and it might not be writing words on a page.
There was more to that email, but the above was the most important point. I found myself copying that section into a recurring task so that I, not he, would be forced to read it, and hopefully to believe it.
But giving that advice was only the beginning. The whole “writing is supposed to make us better, not worse” dilemma wouldn’t leave my mind.
So, I wrote this post on my blog (which I hope you hop over and read in its entirety because it’s absolutely a “sister post” to this one).
The post above (The Best Reason to Write (or Make Any Art) is For Free) is downright contrarian, and maybe even offensive to the WITS audience. That was not my intention. The point of it is this:
Although writers deserve some recognition and income from what we do, the universe doesn’t owe us those things. Even if the world answers our work with crickets — and even though it really, really sucks when nobody cares — real artists have no choice but to keep creating anyway.
My point was that if writing is an art to you, rather than a business (and zero judgment if it’s the latter), that means you will always write for the love or the deep-down necessity of the writing itself.
But then I asked: WHY do I do what I do? Is my purpose external: so that people will read what I write? Or is it instead internal: to write, period, and for me to take something positive from the process?
I’d ask you the same:
And if you’re creative in other ways, why do you do those things, too?
The internet isn’t doing us any favors in the comparisonitis department. We’ve all ended up with too many metrics to check … and because we check those metrics compulsively, it feels like we’re failing whenever the numbers don’t change.
Additionally, we see how well other creators are doing thanks to social media, and often infer from their updates that we’re failures by comparison. It’s a case of, “I thought I was happy, but it turns out I’m wrong.”
What are your goals and purposes? What do you actually want to get from telling all your stories? The default answer that most of us end up with is: I want to sell as many books and be as widely read as [insert your favorite big-name author here].
But the more I think on it, the more I realize that’s not true for me. That’s not what I actually want at all.
I know you’re all dying to hear about my personal needs and desires as a writer (don’t pretend you’re not), so let’s dive into that. In addition to “just wanting to write and make my art,” if I may be so bold as to ask for more, I would very much also like to:
This is Numero Uno by far. Setting aside my responsibility to my family, the only thing I care about is to be happy. Don’t try to pull any tricks here, like saying that happiness is secondary to being healthy. It’s not. If I wasn’t healthy, health and happiness would probably decline together, but it’s happiness I’d want back most.
Assuming I’m happy, it would be super rad if I could also have a core group of ardent fans. This group will — and maybe should — be small relative to that “whole wide world” thing.
Big fame comes with a spotlight, pressure, and usually some degree of artistic compromise. If I could have a thousand people who absolutely love what I do in its purest form, without compromise OR ten million who kind of like me, I’d choose the thousand with the accompanying relative poverty. Call me crazy.
To be clear, I’m saying that I only truly want this much money— enough to make ends meet. It is true that having Taylor Swift style fame can earn you billions, whereas Rob Schneider fame will “only” earn you a good living. I wouldn’t turn my nose up at riches, but they’re far from essential.
Ouch on this one. I’ve recently come face-to-face with the fact that I have an extraordinarily small community these days. It used to be much bigger. I guess that’s one reason I’m glad I’m guest posting here — because maybe you’re my people. That would be awesome.
That last one feels tricky, but it’s not. “Being constantly inspired” is akin to having real-life magic, and magic makes everything better across the board.
It’s one thing to create, but another thing entirely to live inside an aura of creation, where everything inspires you. Maybe you won’t be able to ride broomsticks or use spells that don’t really make much sense once you think about them (like Alohomora), but it’s magic just the same.
As for me, the magic of inspiration is enough. That’s why I started my Art of Noticing podcast (on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and others), which keeps me in that “aura of creation” pretty much all the time.
The other goals the world tries to force on me? Nah. I’ll make my own magic, thanks.
Why do YOU write? What are you real goals, once you get comparisonitis and other people’s expectations out of the way?
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Johnny B. Truant is the bestselling author of Fat Vampire, adapted by SyFy as Reginald the Vampire starring Spider-Man's Jacob Batalon. His site at JohnnyBTruant.com publishes his 10-minute Art of Noticing podcast and the accompanying “Noticings” post series, both for writers and other artists.
Johnny's other books include Pretty Killer, Pattern Black, Invasion, The Beam, Dead City, and over 100 other titles across many genres. Originally from Ohio, Johnny and his family now live in Austin, Texas, where he’s finally surrounded by creative types as weird as he is.
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