This is my opinion and nothing more. I don’t typically write advice to other writers or aspiring writers because it feels too pretentious on my part. Also, the world is already full of authorities who spend the majority of their time and energy telling others how to write, but this particular topic is rather important to me, so here goes:
Writing at its essence is a solitary endeavor, one of the most intimately solitary activities a person can do. If you need applause and cheers to motivate you to create, you should be a musician or a stage actor, not a writer. Live performers have live audiences. Writers spend the vast majority of their creative time alone staring at a computer screen or notepad, allowing ideas to flow through them onto their medium, with virtually no feedback from anyone until after the project is complete. This solitude can lasts weeks, sometimes even months or years, before an author gets feedback on their project, and usually that first round of feedback is from an editor or first reader who points out most of your mistakes. It can take literally years before your work reaches its intended audience, if it ever does.
If you need instant gratification, prose writing is not the creative endeavor for you.
That’s not meant to be harsh or put anyone off from attempting to write. However, it’s a basic reality all serious writers must accept. You will create alone in a vacuum with no promise of your work ever being read by the people you want to reach. If that seems too daunting, do something else with your time and save yourself a lifetime of frustration. Writing is not a glamorous profession. It’s not hip or cool or sexy. It’s damned hard work that requires a level of commitment and personal sacrifice that can crack the souls of even the most ambitious and talented who attempt it.
I’m a writer. At the core of my soul, that’s who I am. For twenty-two years, I’ve dedicated my life to learning my craft, honing my skills, practicing, failing, getting up, failing again, trying harder, failing again, absorbing criticism, learning, growing, failing even more, and scratching out a meager existence. A smarter person would’ve given up years ago, but my Scots-Irish obstinate nature won’t allow me to quit. I’m proud of each and every small victory of my career, but those are not what motivate me to write. I do it because I must, because the story and the characters demand to be shared.
As I wrote book four this summer, I posted updates each night on Facebook and Twitter to let my friends and readers know how the book was coming. I did this not because I needed their “likes” and words of encouragement but because, after the years of delays that plagued books two and three, I wanted to assure them that I was working as hard as I could to make certain book four was completed on time. While their feedback was appreciated, it wasn’t needed for motivation. The only sustainable motivation is that which comes from within. External motivators are temporary bandages that can never bolster long-term success.
All that said, if you want to write and need writers’ groups or NaNoWriMo or any other social network to prop up your self-esteem to get you through the draft, then, by all means, use whatever helps you. If you need to dream of instant riches and overnight arrival to keep you focused, then dream of those things. You may be that one-in-a-million who gets lucky and has sudden success, but in my experience and after a lifetime of studying the careers of other writers, I know the odds say you will be disappointed. As for me, I’ll write because I have to. I’ll follow my personal process for self-discipline. I’ll edit and spit and polish until I’m tired of looking at the words. And then, I’ll do it one more time just for good measure. After I’m happy with the manuscript, I’ll send my baby out into the world to be enjoyed, criticized, praised, ripped apart, lauded, and laughed at. I will do all of this with no expectations of monetary reward or literary awards or delusions of immortality. I’ll do it simply because it’s who I am. I’ll do it because I’m a writer.