Friday, September 4, 2009

How to Kill Your Own Creativity

Trying to make a liveable income from writing is a serious, gut-wrenching, everyday battle. A writer I knew but try not to anymore, once criticised me for writing for contests, saying it lessened my integrity as a writer. I suppose writing to earn money does the same in her eyes. There is this odd kind of thinking among writers that this work we do, must be done for the work only, the creative process and if we get paid in the end that's fine but it is not mandatory. If we write for pay, by default the work is less. Perhaps they have the luxury of that thinking, I don't. Writing is my job.

I've written for the process. I have two very long, unpublished novels as proof of the fact. I've sent them out to publishers and agents and I've got the pre-requisite rejections enough to paper walls if I was so inclined. I don't see myself as an accomplished writer having gone through that process. I don't think because those novels were written with no market in mind, just from the sheer force of my creativity needing to be expressed they are better for it. I look at those novels as failures. Nothing more than that.

Now I write efficiently. Why write novels that will sit in desk drawers? What is the point of that? Why write short stories to submit to literary magazines that don't pay? When a contest comes around why look at the guidelines and then go through your piles of work written for the process and find that nothing fits? I just don't get that anymore.

I'll admit, right now as I wait for a cheque that is not coming and think about jobs that will only begin in two months and wonder how I will get from here to there, yes, having to think about money when you write can kill your creativity at times. But investing so much of your time and thought on books that will never find a publisher also crushes creativity just as efficiently.

My goal is to make a living from my writing. Is that wrong?


Lyn said...

Not at all ... like any craft, there is no crime in wanting/needing compensation for your product - which just happens to be writing from your gut- the very essence of yourself. Becasue art is so personal and almost considered to be a part of the creator - some see it as a type of selling yourself. Writing just happens to be art - which has value - the creator of which deserves to be paid! Keep your chin up. I admire that you are persuing your life's ambition. It serves as an inspiration to many of us.

Sue Guiney said...

Well, your post is like the flip side of my last one. Of course, we all decide for ourselves, but I think what works for me is divorcing the writing from the money-making. I know I'm extremely lucky that I don't have to make money from my writing. If I was to make money, I know that I would (and have) work in a field that uses the writing skills without me being a "writer" for a job. Then, whatever creative writing I do - poems, fiction, plays - I do because I want to, can't stop myself from doing it. There's just no way to make money from it. I've never seen a dime from my published novel. No royalty checks at all. Now that's because of the problems with my publisher's business. But if I did, it probably would only have been a few thousand quid. Not much for nearly a decade's worth of work. And yet, I keep writing. And keep getting frustrated, but keep writing. Call me crazy, but I guess that comes with the personality type :-)

Lauri said...

Lyn- If I'm to be brutally honest (though I'm afraid it might chase you away) I write because I enjoy it.I love the life it gives me where my time is only owned by me. I sometimes write from my heart,other times I write from my head. I would be less than honest if I said writing has been my life's ambition. My life has been a circuitous journey which brought me to writing. Like I've said elsewhere, I am a generalist- I am good at many things but excellent at nothing, really. I work very hard.

Sue- You're right. You are absolutely right. We must all write for our own reasons. I guess we have both come to a decision, after much thought, that brought us to different places.

You have chosen, if I can put it this way, the isolation of seeing how far you can go (away from the outside influences) looking for the intrinsic value in that alone-exempt from money, public recognition, etc.

I have chosen to write taking into consideration the very things you have chosen to exempt yourself from. This is where I think perhaps an artist, someone who in actual fact is pushed from within,like yourself, differs from me, a writer, a working writer.Perhaps you are the artisan and I am the technician.

What I hope for us, Sue, is that I will occassionally, on that rare instance, write art and you will, as time passes,get outside recognition for your beautiful words- though neither of us will, of course, be searching for such things. :)

Unknown said...

Aboslutely not! And you should never have to feel so, Lauri.

Tamsyn Murray said...

Ummm...I write because I love it but I'd be lying if I said I didn't measure my success by whether or not I get paid. But then, I write my blog for love, and my Twitter posts for the same reason so maybe I'm not all bad :-)

Write for your own reasons, Lauri. It's the only way.

Karen said...

Writing is a lot like religion, we do it because there's something that makes us need to tell the stories.

And, like religion, there are different views as to what we should do with our gift. Personally, I'd like to earn a living with my writing. But, if I don't make any money, I'll still write. I tried not writing for several years.

That's when we discovered anti-depressants don't work for me. Writing does, though.

Lauri said...

Tam- You're right- I'm also writing my blog for free. Another piece of evidence that my strong opinions on anything can't be trusted. :) Though I can admit I've been compiling old posts in this blog trying to see if there are themes that might suggest a book.

Karen- So glad you're back to writing- you know I'm a big fan.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

I guess when the novels were being written, they held as much potential as anything else you do - I can't imagine you short changing any project. Its maybe a market factor that isnt working your way right now. But things have a habit of changing? And anyway, I think anyone who has finished a real live novel, let alone two, is fairly amazing!

Lauri said...

Thanks Vanessa, of course those novels also were some of the first things I'd written and are in places cringing-ly bad.

Helen Ginger said...

Some things we do for free. Some things we do to survive. Some things we do for money. The good news is that all three can be things that we love. If we're lucky. If we work hard. If we don't give up. If we're lucky.

No, I don't think you're wrong.

Straight From Hel

bonita said...

Well, I'm not sure that writing for money, per se, kills creativity. But then, I write to live—and it's non-fiction, so perhaps I have a different viewpoint. Early in my working career, I found I could write about a complicated topic and readers would say, "Oh! Now I get it!" So I had a skill. I was moderately good at it. And there was a small but constant market for it.
What kills creativity for me is second-guessing what the client really means when they send their sketchy guidelines. It's really hard to let fly, write what I think is best (and seems to match guidelines), and hope that my work will be approved. It's like term paper hell—always hoping for an A!

Lauri said...

Helen- I think you have an excellent perspective on this - thanks.

Bonita- so glad you found your niche. I can imagine trying to sort out what a client wants when the client can't articulate it would be a headache. Nothing I hate more than trial and error writing.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe that writing for comps lessens one's creativity in any way. In fact, if you really think about it, it has to heighten it. I mean, you're writing from a prompt of some kind which we all know is not that easy.

We have to earn money from our writing - otherwise it eventually becomes soul-destroying. I admire your tenacity and your integrity. You are a role model to me.

Lauri said...

Selma you're right that writing for a competition is a bit like a prompt. And thanks, I feel nervous being anyone's role model, now I must hid the dirty laundry. OOPS!