Tim Downs Asks You To Consider: What Do You Want From Writing?

Author Tim Downs suggests that aspiring authors consider what they want from writing and supplies some helpful hints to figure out how to achieve those goals. 

As the author of nine novels I get a lot of questions from aspiring writers: What’s your daily writing schedule? How many words do you produce in a day? What’s the best way to approach an acquisitions editor? How do you get your manuscript to the top of that infamous slush pile? Oddly enough, the most important question for any writer to consider is one that rarely gets asked.

What do I want from writing?

It’s easy to understand why this question gets overlooked. For many writers, the desire to express themselves in writing comes over them like a sudden hunger, and a hungry man doesn’t stop to ponder the question, What is it I want from eating? 

He just eats.

But there are many different reasons to write, and an aspiring writer can save herself a lot of frustration and disappointment simply by taking the time to decide what she wants from the craft of writing before she launches into that 700-page tome. For example…

I want the chance to express myself
Good for you! Have you considered writing a journal? It’s inexpensive, there are no nagging deadlines or demanding editors, and you can express your most intimate thoughts and experiences without fear of embarrassment—because no one will read them but you. If that’s enough to satisfy you, have at it; if not, then maybe you’re looking for something more…

I want to share my thoughts and experiences with others
Then have you considered a blog? A blog can be nothing more than an electronic journal, or it can make your thoughts available to the world—that is, if the world happens to stumble upon your blog. As the T-shirt says, “Blogging: Never have so many said so much to so few.” The truth is, most blogs are only read by a few faithful friends and the occasional online passerby. Maybe that’s all you want—or maybe writing words that vanish into the blogosphere seems a little too ephemeral for you. In that case… 

I want to publish a book
Careful now. What exactly do you mean by “publish”? If all you really want is to be able to hold something tangible in your hands, to be able to run your hand over a glossy book jacket with your name larger than the title, then you might consider self-publishing. But caveat emptor: “Self-publish” doesn’t mean you publish it yourself—it means you pay for it yourself, and it also means you’ll be the one who has to sell that garage full of books. If all you really want is to see your name in print and to have a few copies to give away to friends, then self-publishing might be for you. But if you want the sense of status that comes from someone else publishing your book…

I want a publisher to publish my book
Eureka! Of all the manuscripts that are circulating out there, a real live publisher wants to publish your book! You, my friend, have arrived. But the advance they offered won’t exactly pay for that condo you imagined in Los Cabos, and the fools want you to cut 50,000 words from your perfect manuscript—by Tuesday. Welcome to the world of collaborative writing, where editors will tell you your baby is ugly and designers will show you covers that you wouldn’t wrap a fish in. If you don’t mind the hassles and demands of involving others in your creative process, then professional publishing might be for you. But maybe you want even more than that…

I want to make money by writing
Ah, now we’ve come to it—the holy grail of writers’ desires. To be able to write and to be paid for it; to be able to support yourself by writing, so that at dinner parties you’re able to casually mention, “Why, I’m a writer.” The good news is, your publisher wants you to make money writing too, because publishers aren’t in the business of printing books—Lulu does that. Publishers are in the business of selling books, and if yours doesn’t sell it may be the only one you ever write. Unfortunately, the skills of writing books and marketing books are very different skills, and one person rarely possesses both. The very personality traits that attracted you to writing (introversion, quiet reflection, and the ability to stare at a blank computer screen for long hours) may be the opposite of what you need to be a good marketer (extroversion, boundless energy, and a knack for shameless self-promotion). That’s why even the best writers sometimes have trouble making money at it. But it’s possible—if that’s your goal.

What is your goal? What is it you want? Is it the simple fulfillment of self-expression? The chance to have others read your words? The satisfaction of seeing your name in print? The status of having a publisher’s name on the spine? Or do you have the ultimate goal in mind: to make your living as a writer?

Each goal has its own challenges, but why take on challenges you don’t need to face? Why spend months trying to get your foot in the door at a major publishing house when all you really wanted was the chance to express yourself in writing? Why agonize over sales statistics when all you really wanted was a creative and fulfilling pastime?

What do you want from writing? Ask that question first and you may achieve the most elusive goal of all…

You just might have fun.

- Tim Downs

You can vist the author’s website at http://timdowns.net for more about his career and to learn more about his next novel, Nick of Time, which is scheduled for release in May 2011.