I remember visiting a friend a year ago and seeing on their shelves a book by someone we went to school with. It was a beautiful hardcover from a top publishing house and my friend said that the author had earned out the advance on their book and had signed a two-book deal. (Earning out your advance, for those who don’t know, isn’t automatic and many people have had successful careers without earning out the advance on most of their books, so earning out an advance is a very good thing.)
So, this mutual friend had started off great. But they never wrote the second book. My friend said they’d gotten married and had kids and had just never gotten around to writing it. For those of us wishing for a book contract with one of the top publishers that seems insane. This person made it to a level most of us would die to achieve. (Okay, maybe not die, but at least give up something valuable to achieve.)
What happened? Maybe they didn’t love it enough. Maybe they didn’t want to be a writer. Maybe they just wanted to publish with a top publishing house.
What about the author who wrote twenty-five books in five years and then four in four years? What happened? They signed a multi-million-dollar contract and suddenly the pressure to make a living was gone and the actual writing wasn’t interesting enough to them to keep writing that much.
It happens more often than we realize. People burn bright and disappear.
I know on this blog I’ve mentioned before that I’m not one of those people who feels a driving need to write. I tell stories to myself all the time, but I spent many years of my life not writing those stories down. So I frowned on those comments about “if you can do anything other than write, you should” or “you have to be driven to write or you’ll never succeed.”
But I’m beginning to see those comments in a new light. I think as a writer you can start with a strong work ethic and force yourself to write consistently and achieve success (especially with self-publishing and if you’re willing to write what sells). But I don’t think you can sustain it if it’s a daily struggle.
Because if you don’t love what you’re doing, you will likely stop either because the reward won’t be enough to compensate you for doing something you hate or because once you do make enough money you won’t feel the least bit inspired to continue.
There was one story I remember reading. The author started writing in a genre they didn’t particularly like and they found success in it. Month 1 they made close to $100, month two more than twice that, and by month seven they were making over $5,000/month.
By the time I read their story they really weren’t producing new work, because their heart had never been in it in the first place. They were trying to write other things that did engage them, but found themselves just stuck and unable to write anything.
That happens more times than we probably realize. Once an author is making enough money to live very comfortably, what keeps them going?
Writing what they love. When the writing isn’t a struggle, when it’s a joy to sit down every day and the words flow fast and there is no such thing as writer’s block, it’s easy to keep writing and producing new work.
Or, sheer, stubborn inability to quit. They’ll keep writing that stuff because that’s what sells and by Jove they’re not going to let something like hatred of the story or too much money in the bank stop them.
Most of us do not fall into that second category, which is why so many who force themselves to write what they don’t love eventually fall to the side.
(Believe it or not, there is a level of income for most people where the money just doesn’t matter. Especially if you grew up without it. My family didn’t have retirement savings or emergency savings accounts, so the minute I have more than three months’ of expenses in the bank I start thinking about what I can do with it. Even though, as someone who is self-employed I KNOW that it’s better for me to have six months or even more in the bank, once I have three months’ expenses saved I stop stressing and lose the urgent need to make more money, because anything beyond that is so far ahead of my personal frame of reference that it becomes like fun money. It’s not logical, but it happens. It’s why I was able to walk away from my full-time job five years ago without flinching. Because there was no reward to me in getting a promotion or raise. At that point, earning more was a complication for me. It was one step farther away from everyone I knew and loved.)
But I digress. Someday I’ll probably write about all of that, but today is not the day.
So, bottom line: If you don’t love this, if you don’t do what you do for the sheer enjoyment of doing it, success may destroy you where failure never did.