About a decade ago I found myself at a fair in New Orleans with my wife and her family. We decided to ride one of the roller coasters there, a decision that changed my perspective on amusement parks from that point on.
No, I wasn’t flung from the coaster or suffered any similar haunting incidents. I simply found myself rattling along the track with my head thumping back and forth against the protective guards when the thought suddenly struck me:
Why do I keep doing this to myself?
The thrill had run its course, you see. Whatever enjoyment I’d experienced at being whisked along steep peaks and valleys, stomach-churning twists, and massive loops had ended. It just didn’t register like it had before.
I haven’t been back to an amusement park since. There are many other ways to experience thrills, and the fact is I’d simply rather focus on those.
Writing and publishing can be a roller coaster ride as well. You soar high on the thrill of the story coming together, taking shape through writing and revising until it finally is complete. At the very summit of your ride you hit the PUBLISH button. Or you get that notice you’ve been waiting for from your agent or publisher.
Then gravity yanks at you with a sudden vengeance.
You anxiously pull up your sales numbers after the first week of release. (If you haven’t been checking them every day, that is.) Your eyes widen.
One can only understand the work of writing a novel if one has accomplished that achievement. It’s hard for an outsider to comprehend the force of will it takes to clear one’s mind of distractions and pull that story from the mind to written page. It takes a certain amount of clarity and stubbornness to pound out that first draft.
Then come the the revisions.
The endless revisions. Showing not telling. Eliminating passive voice. Strengthening that dialogue. Giving those characters more personality. Connecting the dots. Making the entire manuscript more cohesive.
But the final moment is so worth it. When you know you’ve done all you can for the story, when you’re finally satisfied with the completed product, that’s a feeling unlike any other. You’ve invested time and hard work into getting to that moment. You’ve invested money into getting to that moment. You have faith in your work, and you know it’s good.
Unfortunately the sales numbers don’t always live up to your expectations. It’s one of those ironies of life: just because you work hard at something doesn’t mean you will succeed. And writing is a funny thing. It’s a mostly solitary occupation, meaning that both success and failure strike directly at you as an individual. And in those disappointing moments, those vulnerable, isolated, rainy-day moments, you might find yourself asking that immortal query:
Why do I keep doing this to myself?
Indeed, why? Why set yourself up for disappointment? Why keep bashing your head against the brick wall of inevitable failure? Why do you persist?
I’ve asked myself that sometimes. After all, I’m not exactly a runaway success that’s touted in blogs and articles as the epitome of self-publishing success. I work hard at my craft, write on a semi-regular basis, and deliver the best I can to an enormous populace of whom most are unaware of my literary existence. Might be I’m terrible at promoting my work. Might be the market is overcrowded and nearly impossible to attract attention in a heaving sea of similar genres and titles. Might be I’m just not all that great of a writer, and my audience is just too polite to let me know.
Or it might be simply timing and luck. I just might be in the right place at the right time if I simply continue to work hard and keep writing. Might be I need to remember why I started doing this in the first place. Why I chose to begin this journey into the wild world of publishing.
Because I love to write.
Because I have a head that churns with plots, characters, and endless possibilities. I have an imagination on overdrive with no way to override the controls or shut it down. Writing allows me the opportunity to exorcise those ideas, make them cohesive, bring them to life. Writing allows me a level of peace I would not otherwise experience. Writing is my passion.
It’s what I do best.
And I’m not alone. It doesn’t matter if you’re a writer like me, a singer posting songs on YouTube, an artist looking for work, or an actor looking for your big break. We struggle. It often doesn’t have anything to do with talent. It often doesn’t have anything to do with knowledge. But we find ourselves in that dark place, teetering on the edge of quitting because our investments haven’t paid off. Because our hard work hasn’t equated with the success we dreamed of achieving. We let those nagging doubts devour us, choke our dreams, derail our game plans.
Or we keep going. Because it’s what we love to do. And when you’re doing what you love, the payoff isn’t money. Sure, you want it. But if that’s the end-all, you’re in the wrong business.
I get a kick out of hearing from my readers. I get a kick out of seeing my books picked up by readers overseas. I get a kick out of reading a thoughtful review by someone who enjoyed my work. Those are the things the keep me going. Keep me grinding. I don’t stress the numbers. I’d rather work on expanding my library so I’m prepared if things take off. Whether they do or not, I know where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing.
Because in the end, I have to believe in myself. For me, this roller coaster ride is one I don’t want to quit.
If you’re a creative person, how do you deal with nagging doubts? I’d love to hear from you!
My name is Bard Constantine, and if you’re reading this you already know that Bard Writes Books.