Friday, September 10, 2010

What Makes it Worth It

The Water Colourist--Aimé Barraud --1902--1954 I was at my primary care doctor’s office on Wednesday for a check-up and blood-work. (Fun-fun!) Anticipating the long wait I usually have at the doctor, I came armed with not just a notebook and pencil, but a book I was using for research, my laptop, and some ideas I had for plot development. Yes, I was multi-tasking…again.

Since I’d kept myself busy, I’m not exactly sure how much time passed while I waited in the exam room. I’m guessing it was a lot of time because the doctor hurried in with breathless apologies for her tardiness.

Once she saw that I was completely buried in papers and a computer and not concerned at all with the length of the wait (and happy to put off the blood work for a few extra minutes), she relaxed. “I just had the most fascinating case,” she explained.

Without telling me about the case, she said, “I’d never seen anything like it. So I went into my office for just a couple of minutes to research it. And the research was so interesting that I kept on doing it and lost track of time!”

Her eyes glowed as she talked, and she seemed really excited. “We just live for that kind of stuff, as doctors. If our days were full of sore throats and ear infections, we’d waste away! Our days would be crammed with tedious paperwork and rote prescription writing.” Then, of course, she proceeded on with my very boring checkup. :)

I was reading another writer’s blog recently and one of the commenters seemed really dispirited.

The whole overwhelming reality of the publishing industry, the difficulties of getting an agent, then getting a publisher, then marketing a book…and after all that, the possibility of having the book do poorly and getting dropped by the publisher—it had gotten this writer dispirited enough to take a break from writing.

The doctor’s thoughts had made me think about intrinsic rewards. I’d really just assumed that in the medical profession, the financial compensation made any drudgery worthwhile…but my doctor was clearly taking an intellectual reward from the job. I’m sure, in that industry, there’s also the reward that comes from helping people.

With writing, I think, the rewards are harder to grasp. That’s why family members and friends sometimes don’t understand why we put up with all the stress—stress from querying, revisions, poor reviews, and marketing.

There really isn’t much of a financial reward for writing. Speaking as a mid-lister, the money is just a drop in the bucket.

So what makes it worthwhile?

I think, for most of us, it’s a creative gratification. For some of us, it’s a challenge to see if we can do it. Most of us feel really driven to write—driven enough to put up with all the stress that comes along with it.

I love it when I get the perfect idea for taking the story in a new direction. I love it when a character comes alive and walks and talks on its own. I love that thrill when I’ve finished a first draft. I even love that anxious excitement on release day when I’m half-sick with worrying over the release and half-full of pride.

What makes it all worth it to you? And how often do you have to remind yourself why you’re doing this?