Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Business Side of Writing

Many of us tend to think of writing as this purely creative field, this artsy endeavor that we’re drawn to, at least in part, because we’re not drawn to the things you have to do in an office job. But the truth is that a big part of being a writer involves a lot of the same stuff that you do at a desk job.

Consider submissions. You have to keep track of what pieces you’ve submitted to which journals, and preferably on which dates. I keep a spreadsheet where I log all this information (in addition to what particular projects I have going, what my goals are, and whether or not I’ve met my goals). In what sometimes feels like a past life, I used to work in the billing department of a healthcare clinic. This job epitomized the classic image of a desk job, in my opinion. I spent most of my day moving paper from one stack on my desk to the other, and a large part of my job was logging information into spreadsheets, not unlike what I have to do now as a writer.

But the submissions process is like an office job in more ways than that. Correspondence was another big part of my job: sending out correspondence to various labs, hospitals, and neighboring clinics, not to mention patients and insurance companies. I remember thinking how tedious it was when we would have to send out a run of patient bills, for example. Printing all the invoices, stuffing the envelopes, and then mailing them. Preparing a batch of submissions is sometimes even more tedious. It involves all those same components but you also have to research each journal to find out what, exactly, they are looking for. Then you have to find out how they accept submissions; do they want you to format it in standard manuscript format or following their own quirky specific rules? Do they want you to mail it to them, or e-mail it, or use their online submission form? The whole process is so dull that many starting out writers can’t even seem to bring themselves to do it.

And other parts of writing feel like work sometimes, too. What about when you’ve reached a point as a writer where you’ve made a commitment to it – you’ve decided that you’re going to write every day, or X number of hours every week, or X number of words every month – but you’re just not feeling it that day? You still sit yourself down in front of that computer and do the best you can to be engaged. On good days you’re able to trick yourself into getting sucked into the work, on bad days you force it until your time or word limit is reached and then feel relieved when quitting time rolls around.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is that being a creative writer isn’t the romantic, artistic dream we may have once assumed it to be. It isn’t a pure escape from the office/desk job/business world. Not if you actually want to get published, anyway. The truth is there’s the artistic side of writing and the business side of it, and you have to be willing to do both if you want to really make it. But the truth is, also, that this is part of what separates the ones who will make it from the ones who won’t. Those people who don’t submit, the people who don’t buckle down and write even when they’re not “feeling it,” those people are not going to be much competition for those of us who do. And for those of us who really, really love writing, the way we all say that we do, we don’t really mind the business side of it so much. It’s worth it to us. Somewhere along the line we realize that it’s worth it.


PancakePhilosopher said...

This is one thing I have yet to deal with. I'm still in the undergrad honeymoon phase, but I know it won't last.

However I also think there needs to be a balance between business and creative passion. I see a lot of writers sort of get disillusioned with things and sort of lose their spark, the passion for language, metaphors and storytelling that originally got them into writing. I just hope we can all hang onto that spark and zeal without diminishing the writerly life to a mere desk job entirely.

Ashley Cowger said...

That's a REALLY good point. It's important to remember why we do this, and not let those tedious little tasks take away from the pleasure of the creative side of it. Really, we get to spend WAY more time on the creative side, anyway.