Saturday, February 21, 2009

The writer in all of us

Bear with me on this one, it's a biggie.
We've been talking about how to give you guys, our faithful readers, *more* from our shared blog, and there's been a lot of back and forth about what MNaBC actually is. And the question boiled down to, at one point, ‘are we all really looking for contracts? ‘
My answer to that was no...well...yes. No. I should be. I’m not, but I am. Errr...
And it occurred to me that this, of all the things I’ve been thinking about lately, might actually be something important to share.
What does a contract – or contracts mean to me? (and the ‘me that is a writer’ in all of us)

The writer in me
A contract, for me, would be validation that I’ve not wasted my *life to date* that didn’t involve raising the kids, being a good friend, supporting other writers, learning my way as a bipolar and all of the other personality quirks I have and the myriad of adventures I’ve undergone because of the subtle blend of that list, which isn’t exhaustive.
It would be a reason to actually continue to finish, because I don’t do well with finishing and letting go. I can handle crits, but that’s because I get to go back and polish some more. I can handle writing, because I can always circumlocute the end of the story, or bury it somewhere so that I’m into the next book without noticing.
I’d be able to stop faking my joy at being unpublished, and I might – finally –get over my fear of success. I’m actually scared of being a success. I’m scared of the attention that writing might bring down on my family. I’m scared that people will think I’m just like my characters, and wonder how in the world I come up with such dark stuff without any real world experience. I’m scared I’ll discover that I don’t fit where I thought and be cast adrift again.
A contract, for me, doesn’t equal money or freedom, though I don’t doubt that they would bring some of that. And it’s true – had I chosen to deal with my fears before now, we might not be quite in *this* situation right now. We’d have been in another one, probably just as hard to work through. And I’d never be free – none of my books are singles ;).

The writer in all of us

Contracts, from what I can tell, are validation and a ‘get out of jail’ pass for those of us with people that don’t understand what it is to be a writer. It makes our work as real to others as it is to us, but at the same time, it makes the next one just as hard to get. There’s no such thing as an ‘established’ author until you have a huge following. Sure, you can show your publisher and agent that you can ‘do deadlines’, but no publisher will gamble on you – again – unless your sales have been something to write home about.
Contracts aren’t a badge that we’ve made it – instead, they’re a responsibility to do it right, and not let others in our band – fraternity – down. Because heaven forbid any of us give credence to people like James Frey – contracts ARE NOT tickets to fame.
Contracts aren’t what we are – though we go from writer, to author after publishing. Contracts might afford us that, but they aren’t what bring us there.
Our writing is.
Our writing is what should sustain us – should be what brings us our heart’s desire, and should be the all consuming passion that we thrive on. And even in our darkest times, contracts shouldn’t be our guiding light – writing should be.
So this mama says – ‘contracts are nice, but give me my writing, any day!’

(xposted to Work, back


Serenity Now! said...

Such a good post Kai!

I've honestly never considered a contract as a personal validation any more than I considered a promotion at my job or a new job or any accomplishment as a validation... I try very hard not to see "work" as validation of who I am. Because that's a slippery slope to judging others based on their work.

And I don't. I have met some great writers who, for whatever reason, are not published by anyone.

Like, has anyone ever doubted for a moment that Kira at is a beautiful writer? I mean she changed my life!

But as I read the post a second time, I wondered if I'm actually guilty of this... guilty of hanging my hat on a contract or two... because I'll tell you, there are days where writing is NOT fun at all.

Kai said...

See - that's the thing. I consider it personal validation, because that's how I was raised. I want something to show mom I guess ;)
And you're right - Kira is an amazing writer, as is Mir and a dozen others that don't - neccisarily have book contracts (or do and I missed it ;)) It's one of those non starters in my brain. Writers, to me, are writers. Whether they appear on their own blog, self publish, ghostwrite, or are on the NY times best seller list. I don't pool my writerly friends into 'published or unpublished' unless it's something seriously obvious (because I'm friends with a couple of really "famous" writers, it's sometimes hard to think of them as writers, and not friends, so I guess that's the same thing ;)), but I always feel I'm deficient, in myself, because I don't have that to offer back to the group. Which in itself is dumb. We're all worth something at some point.
I'm actually thinking more about our responsibilities as writers now than anything else, and what that means on a social level.
Thanks for commenting!

Linda Sherwood said...

I don't need a contract for validation, but I do know that it helps prove to others that I am working and not just playing especially when I am not bringing home a regular paycheck.

When I was actively freelancing, I kept a printout in my office that documented every query I sent, and I placed a colored happy face when one was accepted.

In an instance, anyone could see how much I had done that day and how successful I was. It helped my husband and other family to see "proof" that I worked. It was sort of my version of a time clock.

This documentation for others was very important when I first transitioned to freelancing.

Serenity Now! said...

Linda, I liked how you said "this documentation was important for others"... because that's something I think we all face.

I really started freelancing a single mom, so I didn't have anyone to prove anything to, I just needed to eat!

Carolyn Erickson said...

I probably wouldn't turn down a legitimate book contract :) but I am not actively seeking one.

Paychecks from non-fiction articles and business writing is pretty good validation for the "others" in my house.

I think they're actually validation for me, too--not of my worth as a person, but of my competence as a writer. But if I was writing fiction, it would be an entirely different matter. Fiction sales are based on a LOT of factors; competent writing is close to the bottom of the list.