We need practice
Ok, deep dive eh? I’ll share an extended metaphor that might be helpful.
Being a writer, for me, is like being a sculptor. The sculptor takes an idea, bare stone, and chips away at it. In the beginning she gets rough, awkward shapes that seem abstract or alien. As she progresses, she begins to make sculpture that looks more like an imitation of the masters, but still wonky. Perspectives are off, one eye bigger than the other, huge thumbs and tiny fingers, etc.
After years of work, a number of things may happen. The first is that she may decide that sculpture is something she’d rather set aside for evenings and weekends. She may come to love her wonky half alien pieces and decorate her home with them, maybe even sell one or two to a friend.
The second is that she may, in her years of chipping away at the stone, find that she likes the wonkyness so much that she really leans into it, making the strangest hybrid alien human machine cyborg sculptures yet. She may come to find that these works don’t really sell at all, and nobody cares for years, until one day out of nowhere a patron contacts her and offers to buy all of her works and fund her next year of work.
The third thing that may happen is that she may progress through her wonky phase and begin to make beautiful and graceful works that showcase the human form in movement with a stunning degree of realism. Reviews praise her work and she goes viral, shared by millions. She may also find that nobody cares to purchase her sculpture because 3D printers can now do what she does in a fraction of the time. They rip her work off left and right.
I used to think of writing like this, chipping away at something, waiting for a form to emerge and guide me.
Now, I realize I’m chipping away at myself, finding out what sort of man I am through the process. And I write accordingly. The difficult part is balancing what I want to write about with what people want to pay me to write. That classic struggle...it’s where it gets fun!
In all three of these scenarios, the sculptor leads a full and happy life. In all three, she learns to express herself and feels fulfilled in that expression.
It’s about the process and what it does to you that makes it worthwhile. If that process turns you into a bitter person, follow that further, ask what you’re really looking for.
I’m looking for legit community. Writers who will tell me that what I’m writing sucks. Writers who will tell me how to make what sucks better. People whose opinions I can take or leave because I know them personally and deeply as writers. Sometimes one persons critique is garbage, while another’s is dead on.
Online, this sort of working relationship rarely happens. True writing happens in conversation and exchange. I share this story to evoke a response. I’d share a different story if I wanted likes. I’d share a different one if I wanted followers. Or money. I’d share a course of stories if I wanted money...
We cast words into an echo chamber hoping to hear ourselves reflected back through others. Writing is dialogue. It’s the exchange that makes it worthwhile. With yourself. With the page. With the reader. And with us, the other writers.
Also, I’ll humbly disagree - ALL the work pays off, just often in forms and realms that are mysterious and often non-monetary. Have faith.