“If I haven’t made you smile, or cry, or think, or laugh, then I haven’t done my job as a write.”
This is the note I have pinned to my wall just above my computer where I write. I see it each time I open my laptop and fire it up. I put it there to remind me of what I believe my job as a writer to be. I still believe it’s true, but like holding three nines, in a hand of poker, often a good bet, but sometimes you lose even if you have a decent hand of cards. The point I’m attempting to make is to not only to figure out what I want as a writer but also what I enjoy as a writer. And what am I willing to bet on to achieve my writing goals, and what hand do I throw away and say the odds are too great?
“What is your goal?” is a question I’ve asked many people who are or who want to be a writer. It is also a question I’ve asked myself many times. It’s probably not a fair question to ask of some people. Many folks have not asked it of themselves, and those who have may be too embarrassed to reveal what their secret goal may be. I’ve yet to hear anyone say without jest, I want to write a best seller, make a zillion dollars, be famous and hobnob with Kim Kardashian. And yet, deep inside, every writer has secretly coveted at least part of that dream. I’d take any part of it except maybe the last two words.
I wrote a friend of mine a note asking how she came to develop and understand her personal brand as a writer. I wanted to know because she seems to have found a level of comfort and success in hers. She gave me a well thought out response that was honest and made perfect sense. Secretly, maybe I wanted to be given a sure-fire cookbook recipe that would tell me I need a teaspoon of this, a pinch of that, and add a half cup of something else, and out would come a perfectly baked brand to be savored. What she said and asked was (paraphrased) “What am I passionate about? What has already been successful? Or maybe I could look at something completely new.
This note followed a discussion with another writing friend. A question was asked another way – “Who do you write for?” And also something to the effect of, “What do you take as validation of your efforts, and who gives you that validation?” That’s a tricky one for sure. From one side of our mouth comes, “I want honest feedback, especially if it’s negative. It will make me a better writer” and from the other side, “I judge my work, and that’s what matters most.” BS! We all want the approval of others. We want to be told we are worthy of our efforts. But that comes only after being honest with ourselves. We know when we’ve skated through something, showed up, but not put in the training miles. We also know when we have given our best effort, and as imperfect as it might be, it is still the best we could do. Oddly enough, most of the time, that’s enough. As I once read, and now believe, the goal of writing is not perfection, its progress.
So I circle back to where I started. What do I hope to accomplish as a writer? I want to evoke some honest emotion from a reader. I don’t write mysteries, cozy or not so cozy. I don’t write about studly men with six-pack abs and women with flowing blond hair. I don’t know how to create a space alien that takes over this planet, and my humor is not that of David Sedaris. The closest I’ve come to understanding what I write about is the Human Condition. Obscure as that sounds, to me it means to understand and put onto paper stories that help us share and accept this thing called life. A wise colleague of mine who had been an aeronautical engineer and then earned his Ph D in clinical psychology, once said something like this to me–“Anyone can build an airplane, it’s much harder to understand the human brain.” Although I might not wish to fly on any airplane I designed, I agree that the mind, the heart, the soul of a human is much more fascinating than most of everything else in this life.
So I think I will keep writing about our species, wonderful and flawed as we are. I may not make Oprah’s list, I may never have to worry that my book royalties will put me in a higher tax bracket, or meet Kim Kardashian, but I have wise, kind, and talented writing friends, I have a framed $10.00 royalty check I never cashed for a published short story, and what the hell would Kim and I talk about, anyway?
I’ve added a new sign to my wall. “Read without limits – Write with honesty – Live without regrets.”
I came upon this quote and somehow it seems to fit just as well with writing as it does with music.
“If you hit a wrong note, it’s the next note you play that determines if it’s good or bad.” Miles Davis
Go well. David