The Aspirant’s Dilemma

There are many aspirations that this post could be about, but as this is a writing blog I intend to focus on the most pertinent one – that of the ambitous but unsuccessful writer. It’s an especially unique passion fraught with constant battles both external and internal, and the most frustrating part is that none of them feel more than tangentially related to writing. In fact, it’s one reason that I’m beginning to rethink the idea of submitting work regularly, even for the writer who wants that publication. But I’ll get to that.

Of course, there will always be those who read the latest smash hit novel and think, “I could do that!” Those people will tend to be in love with the idea of writing, with the imagined lifestyle of a successful author, but not with the act of creation itself. And there’s nothing wrong with that. If a mother of three, hot off the latest chapter of 50 Shades of Grey, wants to pound out a few thousand words of romance before bed a couple nights a week, there are worse ways for her to spend that time. Even if it’s just to dream big for a little while, it’s more valuable to her than buying a lottery ticket.

But I think that she will have an easier time than someone who legitimately craves that creative conception. After a few form letters from agents who have seen a thousand copies of the same derivative pabulum, she will realize that it’s not just a casual stroll to success and a new dream can take its place. Or perhaps she will hit it big find herself among the lucky few.
But either way, this kind of person was never struggling with the urge to write for its own sake, or doing it because of the thrill of creating something worth a few minutes of pride. So what’s the dilemma? If writing is its own reward (which it very much can and should be), what keeps this aspiring writer from doing what he or she loves and ignoring the rest? Well, the Real World, of course.

I think the writers who must manage the most frustration are those that are seeking success because it is the best way to be able to spend their lives doing what they love. It’s wildly frustrating to spend eight of your most productive, alert, and possibly creative hours at a day-job. It has nothing to do with job satisfaction. I happen to enjoy my work very much, but it takes a lot out of me by the end of the day.

So there is always that pull to take it to the next level, to make a career out of passion. But just like the casual writer learned, the landscape for professional writing is a mess. It all seems to be set up, understandably, to weed out the vast majority of work that is simply not of sufficient quality. But that makes it much harder to dig through for anyone. Simply getting your work read in the first place is a challenge, and generally requires a lot of waiting. Here’s what I see when I get into that: I lose the focus on what I enjoy, the real reason that it’s even a goal. I start down the path of watching my submissions, counting how many days it has been, checking forums for average response times from agents or magazines, getting unnecessarily excited when there is any positive movement – and correspondingly disheartened when there isn’t.

So the dilemma comes from the noble goal of using your passion to drive a career pitted against the reality of that process tearing away from the reason that it became a passion in the first place. It’s easy enough to tell aspiring writers that they should submit something and move on to the next thing. But it’s impractical to think that it’s really so easy for them. I argue that it’s more detrimental to submit constantly because it throws huge waves at the writer that get in the way of what’s important – writing because you ejoy it and honing your craft.

This doesn’t mean that there is no place for submitting work to publications outlets. But constant submission can be a major impediment rather than a benefit, so it needs to be tempered. Maybe that means writing for several months before choosing a few pieces to submit or query. You know that feeling when you look back on the stuff you were writing a year ago? That stuff that almost makes you cringe to read it again? Yeah, that’s the stuff that you were sending out at the time too. It’s a slow process either way, but it doesn’t have to feel like a bad breakup every few weeks.┬áSo give it some time, maybe a few more round of edits, and enjoy the lull when it’s just you and your words.

(And huge thanks to my amazing and supportive wife, who helped me realize what’s really important.

By the way, this doesn’t merit a separate post, but in reading this over again, I’m reminded of a discussion about a word with a very interesting history. I don’t need to add anything; it’s said well enough already. Read about it here.)