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January 16, 2020

Writing and Publishing Are Full of Contradictions

Crosswalk sign with both Walk and Don't Walk symbols illuminated with text: Writing, Stress, and Contradictions

My last few posts about the problems, potential fixes, and community issues within the Romance Writers of America organization were important, but they also took a lot out of me. And when I say a “lot,” I mean that my last three posts took me until 4:30 a.m. to finish. Ugh.

So today I’m limiting myself to a shorter post by highlighting an article by Kali Wallace that really spoke to me. *smile*

I’ve posted before about the many ways we might struggle to find balance—from our character development and writing style to how we prioritize our life. Kali’s article explores why balance can be so hard to find within the writing industry and how that can lead to frustration and burnout. Hint: Our publishing life is full of contradictions.

Contradictions of Writing

Most of us came to writing because we had story ideas we wanted to capture and share. Simple, right? But the contradictions in writing dig in right from the start.

Every aspect of writing, from drafting to marketing, is filled with contradictions that can get in the way of success Click To TweetEven the act of writing is filled with contradictions, a balance between our subconscious imagination spurring us into the writing flow and our conscious internal editor telling us we’re doing it all wrong. That pressure can lead to writers’ block, leaving us unable to write a word.

The contradictions increase once we talk about the publishing stage. As Kali says, there’s a “wide disconnect between the mental space needed to tell the stories we want to tell, and the persistent knowledge that both the publishing community and the publishing industry are really good at completely eradicating that mental space for writers.”

Unless we’re self-publishing and don’t care about sales, publishing forces us to balance artistry and business. We want to write stories that we’re passionate about telling, but we also have to think of how (or if) we can market them. And marketing requires a platform that takes time and energy away from our ability to write—or even get into the mental space we need to think about our story ideas.

Contradictions of Expectations

I’ve often talked about knowing our goals and how we’ll struggle to reach the kind of success we want if we don’t know where we want to go. Yet it can also be hard to know what we want when so many contradictions are built into the publishing industry.

We constantly hear voices of others’ expectations and goals for us. We feel the pressure of countless things we “should” do, many of which contradict each other.

Kali’s post includes several brilliant (and/or depressing) stream-of-consciousness style paragraphs encompassing many of these contradictory expectations:

“Trends change—keep up. Write something fresh. Write another book. Like the last one, but different. No, not that different.”

Contradictions of Possibility

As Kali mentions in her article, the only writers who truly get to explore whatever stories they want without pressure are those with some type of privilege, such as those who have the money or health insurance or other support (often from a spouse or good-paying-yet-flexible day job).

Everyone else has to worry about sales and appealing to publishers or how to fund self-publishing with quality editing and cover art. Obviously, that system narrows the field of possible stories readers are exposed to, as writers and publishers too often feel the need to stick with the “sure thing” for sales reasons.

The limitations follow us throughout our publishing journey. As Kali ponders in her article:

“I wonder what people could write if they didn’t have to interrupt their writing constantly to promote themselves… I wonder what incredible, rich stories are being set aside because they can’t be easily described in a tagline or tweet…”

Or going back to the RWA issue, I wonder how many thousands of wonderful stories we’re missing in the world because discriminatory gatekeeping kept out so many writers. I want more stories like those that have sneaked past the gates and become my recent favorites.

Contradictions of Goals

The pressure to accomplish, to publish, to do something tangible can warp our priorities as well. We might focus on what awards or validation we get. Or we might focus on the number of books we manage to put out.

But is that really what we want for our writing? If it weren’t for the pressure, what would we want? Would we just want to share stories that mean something to us?

Do we know what we *really* want? Or are others' expectations getting in the way? Click To TweetNow, maybe we’re fine with how things are in our life. Maybe we don’t feel the pressure. Or maybe we can ignore it.

But maybe not. Maybe these contradictions keep us distracted from doing our best. Maybe they prevent us from finding a “healthy balance” or the right mental space to explore our story ideas. And maybe it would help to realize it’s not our fault.

So if you’re frustrated or burned out or sick of all the should‘s, this article might speak to you as well. *smile*

Your Heart Is a Moving Target by Kali Wallace

Have you noticed the many contradictions of the industry? Do they affect you or cause stress, and if so, how? What types of pressure do you feel? Does that pressure affect your ability to write? Does it make it harder to get into the right kind of mental space to explore the possibilities of your storytelling?

 

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Pauline Baird Jones

Thank you for such a thoughtful and important blog post. I don’t often comment, but I always read your posts! And thank for the link to Kali’s post. Wow, just wow. This business is chock full of contradictions–you nailed it.

Deborah Makarios

I’ve reached the proofreading stage on my latest WIP (my husband points out the problems – spelling, formatting etc – and I fix them as we go along), and it’s amazing how much more I feel I can do when there’s an objective answer to each problem.

I don’t think I’d realized before how enervating it is to have to constantly make decisions that are subjective and therefore never objectively ‘right’ – and isn’t that so much of what we do? Writing, rewriting, marketing, publicity – there’s no definite right choice, but there are hundreds of complex and subjective decisions that need to be made, and that can be exhausting.

Dawn

Here’s a contradiction for you. I love writing and I want my writing to be noticed but 1) I don’t want to promote myself because I don’t want to be another ad out there shouting for attention, and 2) I’m afraid of being noticed because I’m afraid of getting bad reviews. I’m afraid of the trolls who say bad stuff just because they like to be mean, and I’m afraid of the honest reviews that legitimately think my book sucks. :o(

Diane Dahli

My major pressure comes from me. It’s a ‘time-pressure’ thing—I just want to finish the book! I guess that’s a sign of burn-out too!

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