I spent this past holiday weekend in North Carolina for a maternal-side family reunion. My aunt passed away a few months ago and we firmly decided that we really did need to see each other at times that aren’t just weddings and funerals, so we made it happen. We’re awesome like that. It was a great time (aside from some airport fiascos that I’m trying not to think about any more), and I was sad that we couldn’t stay longer. I felt like there, surrounded by loved ones, having fun and relaxing… that is real life. Not this (I’m writing from my cubicle at my day job while I’m on hold on the phone). This office job, this working for someone else doing things I don’t care about… that’s not life. But it does no good to dwell on how much I’d rather not be here, so let’s move on to the other thoughts I had this weekend. We’ll get back to this, kind of.
I was able to work on my upcoming winter book release, The Hierophant, a lot while I was there. I’m in the process of some heavy revisions, but I’m so excited about it again that I can’t stand the time apart from it. It’s all I think about–well, that and it’s sequel, The Tower. And also, I think a lot about how I’m going to publish this one, where I’m going to get cover art, how it’s different from The Poppet and the Lune, what I learned from publishing the first time. And then sometimes I step back and look at myself, and I see how happy I am, how I enjoy sorting these things out, solving these problems, brainstorming ideas, breaking apart my draft and putting it back together again, experiencing these great epiphanies about parts that just “didn’t fit” before. And every time, I know without a doubt, even when those epiphanies aren’t coming, and things aren’t getting sorted, and the draft doesn’t want to fit back together… this is my career. This is what I love to do, what fills me with passion, what consumes my thoughts at all hours of the day and night. I am meant to do this. And even before I decided to self publish, I knew that. It pained me to go out and get a crap job after college because I knew my writing was good enough, and I knew I should be doing nothing but getting my writing out there and publishing some how, some way.
My family is full of creative people. Several of us are active artists, educated for our paths, aggressively pursuing our dreams (and if you’re not pursuing your dreams: why not?). Most of us don’t really consider that we’ve “made it” yet. Most of us are working other jobs so that we don’t starve, working on our craft on the side. And that’s good, and fine. But we get restless after a while. After a while, we wonder: if we haven’t made it by now, when will we?
I reached that point again and again until finally I couldn’t take standing on the precipice of a spiraling depression. Something wasn’t working, wasn’t right with my equations. So I looked more closely at what it is I really wanted. Did I want to sell the rights to my work for money, but lose autonomy and creative control? Did I want to risk a terrible cover that would completely misrepresent my story? Did I want to be a part of the game of Publishing? Is that what I need to be happy with my writing?
The answers aren’t cut an dry. Yes, I’d like an agent. No, I don’t want to lose creative control. Yes, I want someone to invest in me with their money. No, I don’t want to become a brand. But the fundamental answer is this: I want to tell stories. Then it expands to this: I want to make a living from telling stories. And I think most artists feel that way. “I want to [art form], and I want to make a living [doing art form].”
The thing is, the world is a very complicated, byzantine mess of interconnectedness that is swayed way too much by money. I won’t get into the politics of that, but things are huge messy mess. The Way It Is Done (creating a career in [art form]) has been established and agreed upon by those already living that life for many years, but things have changed dramatically in my lifetime alone (and I’m just over a quarter of a century-years-old). So, staring in the face of a system that is not working for you, and doesn’t appear to be working for a lot of talented people, sometimes you have to look at The Way It Is Done and say ways change. You can do it with a shrug or a shout or a whisper, but once you recognize it and know it… get ready for the rest of your life begin.
When I realized that my thoughts about the publishing industry and self publishing were not just my ego telling me “they don’t know what they’re missin’!” it was like being re-born. The day I really stepped forward and confirmed my plans to begin self-publishing, I was on a cloud. I was there for weeks, gleeful as all the straggling rejection letters filed in, laughing at each one. And I am still absolutely thrilled with the path I am on.
Now, I’m not much of a poster child for self-publishing. I published one book, and one short story, neither of which are mainstream enough or niche enough to gather readers quickly. I knew that at the outset. I know that my success is going to have to come from a slow-build, and lots of work on my part to figure out inexpensive ways to get people to know about my book. But that’s okay. Because when you’re following your heart, the work on your path doesn’t seem like work, it seems like play, like an adventure, like baking a cake or climbing a mountain. No one loves stirring batter until their wrists ache, or skinning their knee, but these things don’t hurt so much when you’re on your way to living your dream. In fact, you’ll probably find yourself bragging about those things later. “I got this sweet scar doing this thing I love.” Then the pain becomes much more than just an inconvenience or a means to an end, it becomes a reminder: you’re not working hard because you want to “make it.” You’re working hard because you love the work you do.
Look, I’m not saying that following your dream is easy. It’s not. Finding a crap job and working 9-5 for a steady paycheck is easy. Coming home every day and parking it in front of the television is easy. And if that’s what you want, then enjoy that ease. But if you want more, if you want to make a living doing the thing you love, then you have to get creative. Stop looking at how it was done, or how it is done. Do it the way that makes sense to you, and see what follows. See what you’re inspired to do next. But above all, don’t do anything just because someone else has told you that’s how it must be done.
Anyway, that’s what I’m doing, and it seems so be working out so far. I’ll keep you posted on how things turns out.