Go read Tobias Buckell’s blog post on Pigeons and Pellets, then come on back here.
It’s a great piece that makes an important point about why we write and how we can motivate ourselves to keep going. It’s so great that I want to add to it.
The bottom line of Toby’s argument is that writers (like lab animals) are motivated by rewards that come in the form of praise, high sales, good reviews, etc . . . but are essentially powerless to control these elements beyond the effort they put into writing.
He’s absolutely right. You want to give your writing career the best chance to take off? Toby advises you to, “write more.”
Let me put a different spin on that. Don’t write more, write better.
I know authors who eek out a living with over 10 novels in print on major imprints. And I know writers who are multi-millionaires based on the profits of a single book. I believe that the difference lies in perfectionism. The old adage is that the definition of insanity is repeating the same action and expecting a different result. There’s something to that. Just producing isn’t enough. It’s a part of it, but not the most important part.
In your effort to secure the Buckellian pellet, I feel that your time is far better invested in developing your craft, then it is in merely churning out material. An hour spent reading the work of a master and trying to understand why what he/she does is working, will go farther than an hour spent churning out prose that only equals the quality of your previous output.
Toby’s right that, in the end, the writing is the only thing we can really control, and I’d submit that it’s the quality far beyond the quantity that counts. Writers absolutely can and do have long careers based on striking a vein and mining it, but I’m an advocate for swinging for the bleachers. There are a few blockbusters that leave me scratching my head, but by and large hugely successful books are that way for a reason and that reason is usually that the writer took their time and didn’t settle for anything less than perfection. There are happy accidents in the world (and in literature more than most other arenas), but by and large I believe that success isn’t a random thing. You have to forge it, patiently and thoroughly, no matter what pressures you may be under.