Chances are that you have more writing success than I’ve had. I’ve written academically to get my university degree, I’ve written legal summaries for a modest income, I’ve written for Lifehack and other media platforms online, I’ve entered poetry and short story competitions, freelanced biographies, toyed with scripts, etc. Yet, if you asked me a year ago whether or not I’ve been successful, it would be a hard no, simply because I wasn’t making a complete living off of it. Then I realized something: putting money first is a wholly backwards approach to defining successful writing.
This idea — that we ought to write simply to write and not solely to profit — has been reiterated and rehashed so much so that we now tend to ignore it in our pursuits of exposure or financial gain. However, there’s a reason it has become such a truism in an age where we have greater potential and a multitude of mediums through which we may write for profit: more than ever, we risk befouling the practice of writing by chasing after the dollar that may come as a consequence. This precipitates the need for an occasional redefinition of what writing truly means to us.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
— Maya Angelou
The first thing that must be done, as tiresome as it may be to do, is to define success within this context. I won’t go too deep into this topic because it’s been written about so profusely but, suffice it to say, success in terms of writing should be looked at in the subjective sense more than the objective. The second we throw the concept of successful writing onto a pedestal of comparative financial gain or comparative exposure, we’re no longer talking about the essence of the activity — we’ve categorized writing as something that may be far and away from what we’ve intended it to be in the first place.
And so we’re prompted to look at the quintessence of writing, writing as a hobby or a therapy, maybe as a means to connect or captivate or enthrall. Different writers extract different rewards from writing and it is this specific and subjective reward, this remuneration of many sorts, that outlines the parameters of success. Why do we write what we write? Do we seek to provoke thought or debate on an issue? Do we seek to share our knowledge with others? Contribute to the development of ideas? Social commentary? Unify political or religious opinion? There are endless reasons, and I can guarantee that if you ask any writer, any true author or poet or literary sage, money is not atop their list of reasons — it is but merely a consequence or corollary benefit. Yet, money is money and we will inevitably be drawn towards it, especially if we can achieve the triumphant scenario by which we get paid to do what we love most. As such, we need only separate money from the essence of why we write and, augmented into this necessity, remember the pure and uncontaminated foundation upon which we build our practice of writing.
“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn” — Anne Frank
Now we reach the litmus test. Are we writing effectively — to exercise our creativity, to charm our audiences, to gain our viewers — whatever our goal and reward may be — or are we misguided in our ambition from the basis of it? Are we writing to purposefully mislead others, to create click-bait drivel in the name of profit, to antagonize or divide others, to seek pity or strike fear or be controversial? There are countless forms of writing and, with them, countless objectives. I need not go into depths of evaluation or description here — only provoke thought on assessing the purposes behind the reason we write and whether or not we’ve strayed off the original path upon which we’ve embarked.
The danger lurks behind the subtle tendency to always shift towards efficiency. Where we may begin writing on a platform such as Medium to share the respective knowledge that we’ve gleamed throughout our ever-distinct walks of life, we may ultimately get caught up in how many reads or followers or responses we’ve achieved, changing or reforming our writing style or even our content under a subconscious aspiration to get more exposure. For many of us, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; though it is a different story for those of us who may have gone as far as to compromise our pure purpose of writing in the first place in the name of exposure or prominence.
“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit” — Richard Bach
I found myself, not too long ago, discouraged by the content that had been materializing from the tips of my fingers, realizing that I had, to some effect, sold out. I had been writing click-bait articles that carried little semblance of meaning to anyone, as well as completely uninteresting legal summaries. If I wanted to, I could have immersed myself more to the point that these would provide a very modest income but, demoralized by what I was actually writing, I arrived at a long creative hiatus which prompted a redefinition of this wonderful art that I consider a centerpiece in my life. Money had previously motivated me above all else and, once that became the reality, everything became contaminated.
Upon rekindling the practice of writing, at which point I realized and truly came to know the real reasons behind my passion, financial gain meant nothing. I had been liberated, no longer needing to write in a manner by which I had been concerned about the potential for exposure or bored by the dry content I had merely been condensing and regurgitating. Rather than being a slave to the keyboard and to a task, I had become the champion of a passion.
This article, situated in the manner that it is situated and presented in the way it is, may seem a tad hypocritical; that the notion of success has been weaved into writing is questionable in the first place, though I approach this as the new reality given the far reaching potential of social media. Some of us want to reach broader horizons, share information, etc. All in all, we must worry about writing first, and only once we’re writing in the way that want to, should we worry about success and the nuances that surround it. If we treat writing the way we treat breathing, eating, and sleeping, then success inevitably awaits us sans any desperate we may employ towards attaining it.