The Writing Life: Commitment

The decision to become a writer is a commitment one makes: to oneself, to one’s readers, and to the culture at large. It’s a dedication of oneself to the art and craft of putting marks on pages in meaningful ways. It’s a pledge to yourself and your readership that you will do so. It’s an engagement with and an obligation to your audience to produce meaningful marks on pages.

What writers bring to culture

Literature is a part of our cultural heritage that is freely available to everyone, and which can enrich our lives in all kinds of ways. Once we’ve broken down the barriers that make studying literature seem daunting, we find that literary works can be entertaining, beautiful, funny, or tragic. They can convey profundity of thought, richness of emotion, and insight into character. They take us beyond our limited experience of life to show us the lives of other people at other times. They stir us intellectually and emotionally, and deepen our understanding of our history, our society, and our own individual lives.

But to commit oneself to art and craft of writing demands certain qualities from us as writers.

Passion

What is passion? The dictionary offers a few definitions.

The suffering of pain?

  • Rejection letters? Yes, you will get them. They will hurt.
  • Paltry royalties? Yes, you will get them. They will hurt.
  • Changes in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited payment policies? Surprise. It will happen, and it will hurt.

If you have a passion for writing, if you commit to the writing life, you will suffer pain before you see much (if any) reward.

The being affected from without? Well, this is a Heideggerian rabbit hole, isn’t it? But let me limit this a bit to more practical and writerly proportions: The desire to report from within on how a Being is affected from without? Everyone has a list of people who won’t be missed. A list of ways in which they’ve been affected by the world around us. Some people howl and wail against the injustice of it all. Some gnash their teeth. Some grin and bear it. And writers invent revenge tragedies.

An aim or object pursued with zeal? Maybe you have a world of stories in your mind and Time’s wingéd chariot is hurrying near. Maybe there is a cause that you care deeply about, like the illegal poaching of elephants and rhinos for the deplorable purpose of stealing their ivory. Maybe you just have a lot of things left unsaid at cocktail parties. But if you can’t help but write about your cause, your aim, or your objective, and you do so with energy and commitment, that sounds like zeal and passion to me.

Discipline

I started off my blogging career with a series of posts on the importance of discipline, and how best to maintain it.

Discipline is without a doubt one of the best qualities a writer can have— if not the best. All the creativity, mentoring, workshops, and cash advances in the world will not get your work on paper. Without the discipline to write and keep your schedule, your ideas may be lost forever.

This is a lesson I learn and re-learn too often and too late. In October of last year, I launched a prototype for this blog with the goal of maintaining a daily posting as well as a 1000 words a day against the first draft of a novel I was working on.

Had I ever done such a thing before? No.

Did I honestly believe I’d be successful? I can’t say I didn’t have hopes. I had some modest goals — and some not-so-modest goals — in mind.

So what did I really accomplish? I wrote the novel. And two novellas. And outlines and synopses for two more novels. And about 30-odd posts published daily on weekdays over six weeks, as a foundation on which to continue building. More than that, I upheld the essential commitment I made to myself that I would write 1000 words of fiction first every day, and whatever else needed writing after that. This was my curve on that commitment.


The blue series (Series 1) represents my actual output in words per day during the first month. Orange (Series 2) represents my cumulative progress toward my minimum goal of 65000 words. Grey (Series 3) represents progress from the goal, how many words I had yet to write toward my goal.

What does this teach me? That about the same time I launched the blog on a daily rotation (early October), my progress toward my 1000 words of fiction per day dropped to 0 and didn’t recover until mid-October, and then fell off again. I recognized the problem and the threat to my commitment and came back strong, then tapered off to a steady rhythm that I maintained thereafter.

It’s kind of like watching the dashboard of an obsessive-compulsive, isn’t it?

But the upshot is that even though I failed myself on some specific days, I actually succeeded myself overall. The goal was to write a 65000 word novel in 90-days. I had surpassed my minimum goal by the 24th of October, and went on to bring the first draft home on schedule, just in time for Thanksgiving, at a whopping 122,000 words with change. Plus more that went into creating additional content, in terms of two novellas, a handful of story ideas, and synopses for two more (hopefully shorter) novels. The chart dramatically demonstrates how small efforts applied regularly over time can achieve great results.

But did I continue to post every day? No. I stopped shortly after going through a particularly difficult family crisis.

Should that really have been enough of an excuse? No.

So, am I disappointed that my daily posting commitment broke down? Yes, because I failed those who might have been expecting it every day, including myself. But failure is also an opportunity for wisdom, and my initial archive was an experiment as much as anything.

  • An opportunity to learn WordPress
  • An opportunity to exercise my digital publishing skills.
  • An opportunity to try out a few ideas while no one was really watching.

And I learned what my limits are in terms of posting frequency. Daily: too much. I was rushing to put stories together over a very short timeline and I had too much to say, or else life was intervening and I had too little time to do the experience justice.

So next experiment: let’s try weekly.

Ok, fine. There is no try, only do. I hereby re-commit myself to producing blog posts, this time on a weekly basis. As an act of disciplined effort and thoughtfulness through time.

Craftsmanship

Fiction is both a personal form of expression and a method for commenting on and communicating about the commonality of our human experience.

Fiction should strive for beauty because it can — so many other forms of writing do not offer that freedom.

But for most of us working on fiction projects — and I definitely include myself here — the big problem is not that the publishing model has changed. The big problem is that we are not holding ourselves to a high enough standard as writers.

Today, through the virtually cost-free production environment of the internet, any 9-year-old who survives #NaNoWriMo can self-publish a novel to SmashWords and Amazon. Anyone can post a Weebly or a WordPress Blog and set up self-publishing shop. Even me. But who speaks for the quality of that work? Where is the imprimatur of literary value, the Seal of Approval from a recognized authority of the form?

The honest answer: there is none. Authors have taken the author-ity for quality upon themselves and unleashed themselves on the world in exchange for publicity and an untenable return on time invested. As a result, readers are now discovering what countless generations of editors have always known: 90% of literature is crap. So fundamental is this trope that it has been codified as Sturgeon’s Revelation.

Now, through the magic of the internet, that crappy 90% is available twenty-four/seven for our reading displeasure instead of languishing in the desk drawers of those “not-strangled-enough” writers of Flannery O’Connor’s notorious lament.

Craft is not something one can buy, beg, borrow, or steal, nor can one create it overnight; it requires consistent, focused effort over time.

My commitment

So that was a long way to coming around to the “re-launch” of my blog, with a dedication to weekly posts on my continuing travails through the poorly-charted waters of Indie Publishing.

I will post articles on the topics of Creative Writing, particularly:

  • Character Development,
  • Plot and Story Structure,
  • Scene, Setting, and Description, and
  • The Life and Business of Writing.

While you wait, I will

  • Show you awesome stories with complex, well-developed, believable characters.
  • Take you into richly-detailed worlds where incredible things are possible.
  • Make honest and perceptive observations about the full spectrum of human behavior, from the shitty to the wonderful.
  • Not duck from the hard issues that afflict our human condition.

I will write

  • To entertain you.
  • To make you think and feel.
  • To make you curious and giddily excited.
  • And I will do it well, not good.

I am a writer: writing is my trade, and I’m a professional. And that is my commitment, to myself, to you, and to the culture at large.

And this is what you should expect from yourself, if you’re going to live the Writing Life.

—33—

Michael Dellert, writer, editor, publishing consultant, all around swell fella.Michael Dellert is an award-winning writer, editor, publishing consultant, and writing coach with a publishing career spanning 18 years. His poetry and short fiction have appeared in literary journals such as The Backporch Review, The Harbinger, Idiom, and Venture. His poetry has also appeared in the anthologies The Golden Treasury of Great Poems and Dance on the Horizon, and he is a two-time winner of the Golden Poet Award from World of Poetry Press. He is currently working independently as a freelance writer, editor, and publishing consultant. He lives in the Greater New York City area.

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About

Michael Dellert is an award-winning writer, editor, publishing consultant, and writing coach with a publishing career spanning 18 years. He is currently working as an independent freelancer. He lives in the Greater New York City area.

Posted in Commitment, Discipline, Passion, Writing craft, Writing Life

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Michael Dellert is an award-winning writer, editor, publishing consultant, and writing coach with a publishing career spanning 18 years. He is currently working as an independent freelancer. He lives in the Greater New York City area.
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