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Why You Need to Know Why You Write

June 8, 2010

A guest post By Joyce Mason

I may be a writer, but I’m also a reader of signs and cosmic hints. That’s because I’m an astrologer, too. I have learned to play the symbols and interpret “coincidences” and daily dramas as well star cycles.

A few years back, I had a phone call with literary agent. Our conversation wasn’t just a sign; it was a message in flashing neon lights! Our talk enlightened me in 45 minutes flat about my future writing career. It sparked an epiphany that rocked my world.

Back then, I wasn’t interested in writing about astrology at all. (That changed dramatically three years later.) However, astrology was my talent Agent X wanted to talk about almost exclusively. There were lucrative opportunities to write horoscopes for a variety of sources including short ones for cell phones. There were ghostwriting assignments. All paid very well. She didn’t see the market for my memoir, even though she liked the writing.

I don’t like to write astrology for general audiences or as pure entertainment. Astrology is much richer and more complex than the version of it seen in the daily newspaper. Astrology suggests how to live in rhythm with the seasons and cycles of life, including when to plant specific seeds of inner growth at the right time. Each person’s chart is as unique as a fingerprint. There’s much more “to it” than your Sun sign in the horoscope column.

Long story short, Agent X, annoyed if not exasperated with my reticence, said I should be willing to “do whatever it takes” to realize my dream of becoming a famous author. I won’t bore you with the rest of the encounter except to say that she clearly felt I was walking away from an opportunity of epic proportions and made huge claims about her realm of influence.

I wondered for a couple of days afterwards if I was nuts, not jumping on a possible big break. Ultimately, I realized I was acting out of honest instincts and integrity. I had worked for others for 35 years, putting off the quality time I craved to write what I really wanted. I wasn’t going to be swayed by anyone or any amount of money to write what I did not feel was right for me or the best use of my talents.

When I could get past the wave of emotions the encounter brought up, the thing that stood out for me was the agent’s assumption that fame and fortune was the reason I wanted to be an author.

I had to ask myself if that was true … and now, I’m asking you to ask yourself.

Do You Write to Be Published—Or to Be Read?

I write to inspire, make life lighter, and share what I’ve learned in on the quest for wholeness. If I happen to get famous, I’d greet fame with gratitude and humility. If I don’t, I’ll be happy to make enough money beyond my retirement income to finance a great annual vacation to recharge my batteries so I can write more. Rich and famous would be nice, but they aren’t my motivation for writing. I write because I can’t not write. I write because I am a sharer and interpreter of life.

It took my husband to make a detached and astute observation. I told him it mystifies me to watch the different ways people approach getting their work out. I’m an avid blogger, and I have grown an audience in my niche market over the past few years. I love connecting with readers and getting their feedback on how my writing moves them and makes them think. These same people are buying my e-books. I believe they’ll buy books from me in whatever format I publish.

Others in my writing groups are happy to self-publish at nominal royalties or with small publishers where their books aren’t distributed to bookstores. In the depressed publishing industry, most “get” that the chance of scoring an agent on a first book are more miniscule than ever. After a few years of sending out queries with no takers, most sane people would take matters into their own hands in some form—unless they get masochistic pleasure out of beating their heads against brick walls.

I’m lucky to have had experience with self-publishing—an international astrology newsletter in the ‘90s. I had no idea how much it would prepare me to become a blogger! But I am perplexed when writers don’t understand the value of blogging and other modern writing and marketing platforms.

That’s when my husband said, “It’s more important to some people to be published than to be read.” Wow! I certainly never thought of it those terms. Blogging offers an instant potential to be read by people everywhere. But it doesn’t look like the original dream to many writers, and they want their byline in real ink on a bound book.

I was long past being a virgin in print. The thrill of the first time was so ancient; I forgot how important it could be to newer writers. One author I know self-published so her ailing father could see her in print before he passed. I thought it was touching and an excellent reason to jump into the do-it-yourself waters.

“You write to be read,” my smart spouse told me flat out.

Merry Marketeers?

Unless they’re comatose, writers have to know after the first year or two in the game that they must market their own books and other intellectual property in today’s fast changing world of multi-media publishing. That is, if they care about selling them or having a substantial readership. Marketing is mandatory, even if you score a traditional publisher. There’s only minimal help for marketing from publishers, even in the best of circumstances.

I’ve scratched my head when writers seem content to self-publish or decide to go with a small press and to leave it at that, barely promoting their book once they’ve bought their small author’s run to give to friends and family—or to sell to the occasional copy to a friend or colleague who expresses an interest. “They write to be published,” Oracular Husband declared. I thought I heard the faint sound of a gong in the background.

The advice I took to heart from another agent—I’ll call her Agent Y— was to start a blog first, to create a marketing platform, so I’d have an audience in place to buy my books. I thought, Y not? It’s the best advice I ever took. It has actually worked!

Yes, I write to be read, but I pour the energy of my entire self into my word mongering. That merits some exchange between my readers and me. I’d like that in the form of at least enough cash to cover my annual vacation! Beyond that minimal threshold, I have no upper limit to my willingness to be supported by my creativity. I won’t even say the sky’s the limit (some pun for a writer/astrologer). But if I did, I’d welcome the sky to rain as much cash as it wants. Fame and fortune aren’t my motivation, but I would never leave them out of the party and keep the Welcome mat on the doorstep of my open mind. That brings to mind one of my favorite quotes from Richard Bach’s Illusions:

The original sin is to limit the Is. Don’t.

A writer only has so much time and energy. It’s crucial to know the yardstick by which you measure your success. Mine is by page views and comments on my blogs, e-book sales, and those communiqués telling me I hit the mark inspiring someone. Especially those e-mails that are some variation on the theme, thanks for how much you motivated me or helped me! It’s wonderful to hear that readers enjoy how I express myself. What does it for me even more is when they comment how I write from the heart—and/or that I help them see themselves and life in a new way that makes their experiences richer or deeper.

If you don’t know your own yardstick, which takes honest introspection, you might be wasting a lot of time and effort and not getting the results you want, because you haven’t really identified what makes you tick as a writer. What gets your juices flowing. What does it for you, whether or not you ever make a cent doing it. That’s your core reason for writing. Finding out why you write is empowering. Yesss!

It doesn’t matter why you write. Fame and fortune are as good a motivation as any, as long as they’re clearly your motivation and not someone else’s expectation—or your leftover expectation from a more starry-eyed stage of life that no longer fits your current reality.

One last story. A friend of mine has been a successful author for years of numerous astrology books. She was glad to give up personal consultations once she had a retirement income to add to her royalties. Five years into writing exclusively and less than a year after becoming a blogger, she called me one morning bursting with an epiphany. “I’m living my dream!” she said joyfully, because it was the first time she realized she was doing what she always wanted—and had been for some time. If that’s what you learn in the process of answering the question why do I write, you’ve hit the jackpot.

Take time out of your busy routines for a periodic review of your writing goals and success measurement. Ponder those aspects of writing that really stoke you.

I’d love to hear your comments—and I hope to meet some of you on one of those writers’ retreats one day! Now that’s my idea of a vacation.

~~~

Photo Credit: Beautiful woman in the office © Hunta | Fotolia.com

Joyce Mason has been a writer since she could hold a pencil and a practicing astrologer since 1988. Learn more about Joyce’s work and publications on her Writer Joyce Mason website. Her blog Hot Flashbacks, Cool Insights celebrates living by the cosmic hints all around us in spirited style. Her astrology blog is The Radical Virgo.

Thanks Joyce for stepping into Dales shoes today!

8 Comments
  1. June 8, 2010 9:02 am

    thanks for these insights Joyce..

  2. June 8, 2010 9:15 am

    Great article. I found it very inspiring.

  3. June 8, 2010 9:59 am

    Hi Joyce

    Thanks for this fine piece, which also articulates the essence of why I write – and why I too have found blogging such a great way “….. to inspire, make life lighter, and share what I’ve learned on the quest for wholeness….” You sum it up so well!

  4. June 8, 2010 4:59 pm

    Great article! I think what you’re saying is important. But now you’re making me think – why is it again that I do this?

  5. June 8, 2010 8:11 pm

    Great post. It really made me think. I guess that I write to be read, but it would also be nice to be published!

  6. June 9, 2010 2:16 pm

    Hi, nice to meet you.🙂

    This is a really great article, thought provoking. Thanks!

  7. June 10, 2010 2:39 am

    Glad the article hit home for so many of you–and glad to meet you, too!

  8. June 10, 2010 3:44 pm

    Excellent article! So many great points. You encourage noble priorities – I applaud you!

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