Why Do I Write So Much
Seeing as we just passed me adding a year to my age once more, this felt like a good time to tackle one of the questions that I get semi-frequently, but have never had an especially great answer for: Why do I write so much? It’s not to say no one out there is matching my pace, I’m sure I’ve been lapped by many authors, but it is also true that there aren’t a ton of us putting out three books per year with my kind of page counts. My production rate skews toward the higher end, is the point, and I know for a lot of authors that’s something they’d like to see more in their own work. Sadly, I don’t really have many tips there, as the bulk of my advice on the “how” front has already been catalogued on this site and generally boils down to “Do the work” which is true, just not necessarily helpful. The “why” of that production rate is a little easier to tackle, though.
To put it bluntly: Fear and Adventure.
Fear is the more complex one to discuss on multiple levels, so let’s tackle the most obvious part of that one first. Being a writer is tough. There are untold others out there trying to do the same job, happy to leap into the brain space you vacate by going so long without a release that people forget you. After 18 books, I’m slightly less worried about that happening, although honestly not by much. When I was an indie newbie with only my serial audience’s momentum on my side, I was sure every day not publishing was another reader lost.
That might have some of you wondering why I didn’t pursue one of the current trends, releasing smaller books monthly. Note that this is different than Shingles, which are priced and billed as novellas ala the Animorphs model of our youth; this is discussing the attempt to release monthly novels, a much larger task. Nowadays I understand that’s not a model that’s right for me, but in the beginning, I stayed away out of, you guessed it, fear. Fear of doing a poor job, in this case. As an indie, I knew I was going to have to overcome a big hurdle with countless new readers: indies have a reputation for being badly produced. If I tried to rush them out, the books wouldn’t be as polished as they could be. Plus, as I figured out through writing, I tend to enjoy taking on larger projects anyway.
Working on projects I enjoy is a major one. To be frank, at this point I don’t write anything I don’t want to. That’s not to say that each morning the muses bless my hands and the words come pouring out, I just mean I put my focus on the stories I want to tell, not what I think might be most commercially viable. That’s where the adventure starts to kick in, but we’ll get to that soon. There’s still one more lurking terror to talk about, and it’s a doozy.
My biggest fear is that I don’t know how long I’ll be able to do this. I don’t just mean in a “publishing is crazy and no one is safe” kind of sense. I’ve seen age and Alzheimer’s hit multiple people in my family hard, I know that you can’t trust a mind will be yours to command forever. Sometimes, your body betrays you. Mine did it when I was 26. I went to bed one night feeling normal, and from the next morning on, I’ve always hurt at least a little. No warning, no explanation, just one day I wake up and suddenly I’ve got arthritis.
Now look, I am not special. That truth applies as equally to me as any of the other billions of people out there. It is possibly one of our few truly universal shared experiences: you will age, you will get hurt, you will die. You already know that. So do I. I just happen to have received an early reminder that I carry with me of how unpredictable life is.
Writing isn’t my whole identity, nor my only skill. I’ve done other jobs before this one, some well, some badly, but enough that I’m not overly scared of having to start a new career. What does scare me is the idea of not getting out all the stories I want to. Just right now, I have ideas for two new series and several standalone books that are tabled simply for the fact that there’s no time, and I’m not counting my Mystery Project (news soon, but not yet) in those numbers either. Past those, I can already feel new ideas starting to come together.
Because that’s the adventure part of the equation. Building these new worlds, finding these new characters; I truly love it. People will sometimes ask me how much of myself goes into the characters, and the usual answer is very little. Thunder from Pears and Perils is the closest in most ways, since he was me poking fun at myself, but another exception I talk about less is Jack from Second Hand Curses. Not the cool badassery, I’m a big ole dork and I know it; no I’m talking about his idea of a happy ending. Jack says it himself: “The next journey, the next adventure, that’s where my happiness lies.”
I love the works and worlds I’ve created dearly, yet I can never help turning my eyes to the horizon when they’re done. The act of having made them fills me with joy, but not the kind that endures forever. It’s on to the next tales, be they in a new world or the same series, the next rounds of discovery and surprises and effort. And when that too is done, I’ll find the next story, because it’s the act of creating this stuff I love, not just having it finished.
I’ve had other gigs before this, but none that I loved the same way, that let me give people something to make them smile or laugh, even just a little, when they really needed it. I’ve said it before, and it could always stand repeating: books were a huge part of my life, especially during the worst parts. When I was scared, or worried, or sad, or a dozen other things, I could crack open pages and find places where the light shone brighter. Even if I couldn’t participate in it, I would always feel a deep, abiding love and sense of gratitude for literature as a whole. But I do get to participate, and that comes with a responsibility.
I’m not writing books that I expect to be mainstream hits. Truth be told, I’m surprised and grateful at how many folks have enjoyed the works, I expected to end up more niche at the outset. When I write a book, if you go all the way up to the macro level, above the plot for the entry, above the plot for the series, above the themes and ideas being explored, at the tippy top of the creative process where it all begins: I write books that make me happy. Because that’s the only way I know to make something that might give that same feeling to someone else. If I can read a passage and it makes me chuckle or smirk, then I know a reader out there could get the same reaction. I’m trying to pay back the hundreds of books that got me through childhood by adding a few of my own for the next generation to find.
So that’s the answer, in a nutshell. I write a lot because there so many stories in my head that I really want to tell, while I can. And because I know there’s no telling when or if my body will betray me again, I work extra hard to make the most of my time. It won’t always be this pace. Hell, I’m not even on the same pace I was when I first started, although that was unsustainable long-term anyway. As I age, I’m sure I’ll slow even more. But I’ll always be doing the best I can with what I have. For all the negatives of coming down with an auto-immune in your twenties, it does make a handy reminder to use your time well.