Back in the early 1980’s when I was a young stay at home mother, I embarked on my first writing “career,” a short lived attempt at penning children’s stories, informative articles, and essays about motherhood. I dutifully scoured Writer’s Digest for appropriate markets, sent work out in 9 X 13 manila envelopes with an SSAE included, kept a nifty little spreadsheet to tally what had been submitted and when. I actually sold the very first thing I sent out, and, as you might imagine, decided it was sign that I was destined for greatness.
Within a year or so, I grew tired of the whole thing. The business of writing, of chasing down markets and tailoring my work to fit publications, of trying to get the edge on the competition and scour out what editors were currently looking for. It seemed impossible to make any kind of profit from writing, not only a monetary one, but even to have a profitable experience. I was no longer invested in my subject matter, because I was so busy trying to determine how to be successful in the market. About that time, opportunities in music began coming my way, and I transferred my creative energy into the musical arena. Before long, I stopped writing all together, and didn’t pick up a pen for nearly 20 years.
So when I started blogging in 2006, I meant to practice writing for my own edification, to increase my awareness of the world around me, to engage my mind and my senses in a new way, and to chronicle my passage through midlife. It was to be simply for pleasure, with no committment to time or space, no necessity for perfection, and no grandiose ideas about making a profit from it.
Natalie Goldberg talks about writing as “practice,” as a way to “penetrate your life and become sane.” Julia Cameron speaks of her writing practice as a “way to meditate on life and savor it.” As a musician, I’m well acquainted with the concept of practice as “repetition with the objective of improving.” And I practice writing in that sense, too. But writing is an activity I hold in high esteem, one I continue to work at with the intention of improving, yet not putting pressure on myself to be perfect. It’s more than just a pleasurable hobby, one I can take or leave as the mood strikes me, for I’ve committed myself to it, invested time and energy and thought in it.
I admit to occasional twinges of guilt over the vast amounts of time I spend playing with words, trying to express my ideas and experiences in some meaningful way, when I could be doing something more concretely profitable. But that’s something else I’ve learned through this writing practice – that reward is more than money or things. The profit from my writing comes not by getting checks in the mail, or even by seeing my name in the byline. It comes from a sense of accomplishment, a increase in self awareness, a keener observation of life, of people, and the world around me. It also comes from the connections I make with others, through this unique opportunity to share our words in blogging.
Okay, I’ll also admit those grandiose dreams creep in every once in a while, dreams of best selling novels and book tours, dreams of prize winning columns in the New York Times. Realistically, I know these dreams aren’t about to come true.
But perhaps the likelihood for great achievement increases when you have a dedicated emotional relationship to your creative practice.
So, how about you? What do the three P’s of writing…practice, pleasure, profit…mean in your writing life?