Bear with me today. This is one of those posts that is going to spiral a bit, but I think (given the topic) it's important that I write it as it comes naturally to me. This is neither a whining post, nor an advice post, though it may seem like both. I would love any feedback, comments, questions, pointers, sarcasm, or anything else you'd like to offer, though. I love that Nevets.QST has, over the past year, become more interactive. I love the exchange of ideas and conversation in the comments almost more than I like the posts themselves. So hang in there and then voice back!
Let me start with the part that will, at first, sound like whining. Like many writers, and indeed like many others in this world, I am working a day job that I don't particular care for. In fact, as of last Wednesday, I was already sick to my stomach at the thought of returning to my job today (Monday). I realize how pathetic that is. I'm not asking for pity, though. Because here's the thing -- my job isn't that onerous. I don't do grueling labor, I don't have a monstrous boss, and for the most part I don't have to engage with venomous clients. The job is no big deal, really.
So why do I struggle with it?
Because it's a poor fit.
Many of you have probably gathered enough about my personality to understand that I'm not geared for a workroom-type job. When I first took my present job, there was a large portion of time spent with clients and amidst the urgency of people's immediate needs. Over time, the job has transformed into one that keeps me in the workroom most of the time and focusing on long-term projects and technology. I'm good enough at it, and it's not horrible work.
But it's a poor fit.
I thrive in chaos and I get my energy from interaction with other people. I work in a realm of ideas and emotions. Long, step-by-step work literally makes me car sick (seriously). Facts and figures, mechanics and measurements are a foreign language to me. (I was a history major who couldn't do names and dates. Go figure.)
Now here's the part that might sound like advice: the only reason I'm writing about this is because I've realized increasingly just how important this is in writing, too. It's not enough to be good at what you're writing. It needs to be a good fit. It's not enough to write properly and in a productive way. You need to write in a way that is a good fit. It's not enough to find an agent who represents books like yours or a publisher that sells books like yours or a blog that posts stories like yours -- it has to be a good fit.
No matter how good the stories are, if they're not really a good fit for you, it's not going to click, and in the end you're going to feel like writing is a burden and a struggle. You're going to be struggling with all sorts of ancillary questions about genre and voice and tone and structure and marketability. Sometimes you're struggling with those questions because your subconscious is looking for an excuse to not write that story in the first place.
So here's the kicker, if you want advice: write something that's a good fit for you, and stop worrying about everything and everyone else.
It's not even about about what you like. I like a lot of things that aren't a good fit for me. I loved what I was doing when I was doing forensic anthropology. But it wasn't a good fit. I loved the wilderness of Alaska, but as a place to live, it wasn't a good fit. I love this suit that's hanging in my closet, but it doesn't fit.
When it fits, you not only like it, but you excel at it, you're comfortable in it, the challenges feel like opportunities, and the upsides make up for the downsides. When it doesn't fit some of those may be true, but others may have to be forced, and at the end of the day you're going to be sick to your stomach about it.
And yet so many of my writing friends try to write things that don't fit them. Because they're afraid of the consequences if they let it all hang out. Or because they're afraid no one will like it. Or because they don't think it's up to snuff. Or because they think a grown-up shouldn't be writing Young Indiana Jones fan fiction. Or because no one reads Westerns anymore. Or because everyone in their crit group tells them that they really are a paranormal romance writer at heart.
If it doesn't fit, you must quit.
But I said this was neither about whining or about giving advice. And it's not. What's it about then?
It's about the dang struggle.
Because it's all well and good to say fit is important. But when you have to pay bills in a down economy, you keep the job that doesn't fit. And when you're writing, you don't always know what's a good fit. And sometimes, when you do know what fits, the implications are too crazy to deal with.
Writer of that which is-not-but-perhaps-might-be-or-should-be, Tara Maya advised me recently to write for a world of me's, or to write for a Japanese audience, to write the crazy surreal, wu xia-influenced fiction that I like. And she was pretty much right. That would be a pretty great fit in a lot of ways.
But, at the end of the day, I face a pretty mercenary question. As screenwriter and novelist Ryne Pearson put it: do you want to write about peach pie or do you want to sell books?
But (yes, there's another but) that's a trap, because you're not going to write your best books unless you're writing something that's a good fit. And if you're not writing your best books, you're not as likely to sell them. (And, in case you're unfamiliar with Pearson's work, I don't think peach pie would be a good fit for him.)
So what does that mean? For me, I think it means stop screwing around with all the other stuff and just write a good story. Check out the conversation that Domey Malasarn started in the Literary Lab blog today. As he suggested in the initial post, a book does not need to be perfect in its individual elements to be a great book.
Domey talked about plot, character, and prose. The same goes for everything else. The word perfect means complete. What makes a story perfect is that it's everything it can be.
That doesn't happen without fit.
Someday I'll take that advice to heart and write something that truly fits. But in the mean time, I have a novel to finish.
If you're still with me, I appreciate your endurance. And I would absolutely love to hear from you in the comments.
Blue October provided the soundtrack for this post.