So this week I actually got exercised enough at some guy pontificating on what writers need and how we’re essential to the republic (rolls eyes) not to mention the “censorship of the market” (that’s people not buying books they don’t like, yo. In case you don’t understand fancy prog-speech) that I wrote the world’s longest fisk.
For those interested, it’s here.
This led to a bunch of arguments all over the net, including on Brad Torgersen’s page, where a junior asshat came and lectured me about how if I’m not writing JUST for the lurv, I shouldn’t be writing. And when I pushed back on his nonsense, he started telling me to go copulate with myself.
Among his many insane statements was that most great writers never made a living from their work, and that’s why writers should write only for the lurv. The only great writers who didn’t make a living from their work were those who suffered from personality defects (or bad luck) that precluded marketing. The only ones of those we consider great were lucky enough to have their work fall into good marketeer’s hands when they died, because, think about it, if their work never got disseminated widely, we wouldn’t consider it great.
The myth of the great artist writing things “ahead of his time” is a pernicious one, and might very well (I haven’t researched) be part of the Marxist take over of art. If they can convince people the art they hate is just because the artist is “ahead of his time” they garner critical praise that would otherwise be lacking, and push incredibly bad world-built books (New England a theocratic state in modern times. SNORT. GIGGLE) into the reading lists in every school which then make the book a commercial success, of course.
Most great writers were admired not to say loved in their own time. Yes, some like Dumas ended up dead-ass broke, but that’s where the personality defects come in. It’s possible to make a ton of money and end up broke. To be fair, Dumas was probably the most stable of his quirky, insane family.
Note that when I say this I’m arguing against myself, since my work has failed to be astoundingly successful. Is it lack of push, wrong political color, or am I simply not both accessible enough and different enough to leave a footprint? Don’t know. Could, for all I know, be luck and also personality defect. Yesterday, watching a much more junior writer sell himself, I realized I couldn’t praise myself half so much without vomiting, because I AM aware in the long distance I am but an egg. Yet other people assure me that level of self-selling is what it takes. Fine. Personality defects. Unfortunately my work will after my death fall into the hands of two boys who frankly couldn’t give away gold nuggets at a cent a piece, so I am one of those who will be forgotten.
But after said asshat erased the thread (probably because I pointed out to him he wasn’t using logic in any way, shape or form) I was thinking about that. Is your best work done because you have to, or because you need a paycheck? I’ve had friends who are far more successful than I say “you should write only what you love.” Which is… interesting, even if that particular friend was under the impression I was writing tie-ins. (I never have because I don’t even GET media. I read for fun.)
It’s interesting because it’s not been my experience.
Look, in the course of a long career, under traditional publishing (and maybe indie, because you owe it to fans to finish series they love) all of us write things that are the last thing we want to write at that moment.
Take the Magical British Empire. When I sketched it out and started sending the proposal out it was 98, and I was an Internationalist Libertarian and also trying to write “literary fantasy.” I really, really, really wanted to write it. When this series was accepted in 2010 (?) I think, I was a chastised, far more realistic libertarian, who had realized through the Shakespeare series that while I can write lit fan, it’s not my thing. But they were paying me, and I needed the money. Two boys in middle and high school and…. I wrote it. It was hard as hell though, and a slog.
Now, it didn’t do markedly well, granted. But it did about as well as things I absolutely loved when I wrote them, like Draw One In The Dark, which also didn’t do markedly well.
Or take the shifters’s series. I still love it, and I’m aware I need to do a fourth book, but other stuff that must be written NOW because it’s under contract gets ahead of it.
Take the furniture refinishing mysteries. They were pushed at me because the musketeers were “failing” and so the last in the contract was turned to a furniture refinishing mystery. I wrote that thing in two weeks, and while I enjoyed it, it was almost devised as a way to make my then editor run screaming. To be honest she hated it, but the fans LOVED it. It still sells amazingly well.
Or take Plain Jane. I was invited to work on this series on the queens of Henry VIII. I wanted Kathryn Howard. I got Jane Seymour. I had not a clue what to write about her (most boring life till she died giving birth) so I put it off until I was literally getting daily phone calls, because the book needed to go to press.
Then I wrote 80k words in three days. As seems to be a theme of my life, no one had given me the guidelines, so I didn’t even know the concept was “life of a queen told by her best friend.” So no one even read it, because what I wrote was Jane Seymour, herself.
That d*mn thing still sells. It’s more than a decade old, and I still get royalties every quarter.
Now, was it written with love and interest? Are you kidding me? It was written with “I must deliver, it’s under a house name, just do something.” In this case I cast it in the mold of a Cinderella story and fit in the historical things we know. And it sells. Good Lord it sells.
Is there some intrinsic quality to the books I was compelled to write? Say A Few Good Men? A feel, a glow lacking in Plain Jane?
If there is the public doesn’t see it, and the humbling thought is that I might one day be remembered only for that paint-by-numbers work.
So, should you write for the love or for money?
Again, in the course of a long writing career, you’ll do both, at different times. I’d have quit the business in 2003 if we hadn’t been so stupid as to buy a house before selling the other, and weren’t therefore in the position of paying double mortgages. But even though my heart was broken at how they’d treated the Shakespeare trilogy, I couldn’t quit. We had to pay or lose the house. And so I wrote on, and somewhere along the line found my heart again.
But does it matter for “quality”? Define quality. If it’s for “critical acclaim” I’m not looking for it, and frankly nowadays books are mostly subjected to Marxist critique, (Whether it’s called that or not) so mine need not apply. If by quality you mean “more people will like it” all indications are my great work was written in three days, while concussed and strictly for the cash.
Yeah, but do writers have to write, whether they’re paid or not? I don’t know. I’ve met both varieties. I’ve met people who love writing (to an extent and most of time me) and people who write to have written/get paid. The success is uniform among both groups. I.e. same percentage make money from writing/are acclaimed.
Me? I’m broken. I have to write, and I have to write fiction. Failing everything else, I write endless Jane Austen Fanfic. (I’ve never fallen so low as to write Disney Ducks fanfic, but don’t quote me, that might be a project for my 90s.) In fact over the last decade I’ve come to realize if I don’t write fiction for a long period of time, it’s because I’m ill, and probably deathly ill.
What I write is often informed by what’s under contract/people love though. Except when something highjacks me and rides my brain without my permission.
So, it’s human, but is it art? I don’t know.
I’m grateful I can write. It gives me great pleasure. I’m gratified when it ALSO brings in money. The rest? Not mine to decide.
The thing isn’t exactly under the my control. Sometimes I think I am but the imperfect instrument of that which writes through me.
And the best I can hope for is that at the end, the Author will deem me worthy of having been written.