What is your greatest writing challenge? That is the question asked for this 28th day of March’s Horror Writer Challenge. When I gave but a moment’s thought to the answer I was lost to a something of a cosmic montage like David Bowman in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The answer was so vast I scarcely knew where to start because the answer, quite simply, is…everything! The job, the other job, the other other job, the family, the relationship, the many varied menial tasks of life, the all too frequent catastrophic and troubling things that occur in the world at large, and the toll they all take.
But it’s oh so much more than that.
Writing, and being an author, while connected, are two different things. Writing means having the time in a day to sit down and actually put words on the page, often a difficult enough task on its own. Being an author however is a different beast entirely. Being a writer means dealing with self-doubt, anxiety, both internal and external criticism, and producing something creatively significant enough to be, at the very least, satisfying. Being an author means making a career out of that. Both are acts of will, but also circumstances which are often beyond your control. That right there is really the toughest part — navigating the many obstacles of life, getting the job done despite them, and finding a way to keep the romance alive in the process.
There’s this perception that authors are all high falutin members of some hallowed intelligentsia whose days are spent drinking wine and eating quiche whilst wearing scarves indoors and chortling at a witty remark our agents made over the latest Jonathan Franzen novel.
Not so. Especially for indie authors. Make no mistake — This. Is. Work! Hard work. I work harder and longer hours at this than what I do to pay the bills. And those hours rarely, if ever, pay off in the monetary sense.
It means working two jobs and doing the majority of your writing in between them. It means being an author, an agent, a publicist, accountant, graphic designer, web designer, social media guru, and full time adult all at once. It means being a parent, sometimes a single one, sometimes of special needs children while doing everything you can to market yourself and your work. It means having a well-reviewed book and working a job as a janitor. It means using the money you’ve been putting aside little by little for your next book to pay your taxes instead and assuring yourself you’ll find some other way when the time comes. It means facing hate online for being the member of a minority and having something to say about…well, anything, really. It means being told by virtual strangers that your problems are unimportant because you’re “doing better” than they are. It means watching the tide that is said to raise all ships raise every one but yours, leaving you behind to tread water. It means doing everything you’ve been told you’re supposed to do to ensure your book’s success only to see it lost to obscurity.
[Sidebar: those examples are definitely not all my own but rather the collective struggles I've gathered from others]
So why do it?
Because having something that previously only existed in your mind made manifest is a concrete sign that you’ve accomplished something you set out to do. That you endured those many hardships for something. Being able to hold that accomplishment, physically, in three dimensions, is priceless. Seeing readers discuss your work, tell you they connected with it, that it meant something to them, that it was there for them during a tough time, there’s just nothing else like it. It means you were able to give back what you were given by someone else and keep the cycle going. It means you have left something behind and because of that there’s a chance you will be remembered beyond the tenure of your all too short years. When you find that thing that was meant for you, everything else pales in comparison. In short, it is a sign of light in the proverbial long dark tunnel.
The greatest challenge for me or anyone as a writer is to just keep going. As much as you can, for as long as you can. And believe me, I’m saying this to myself as much as to anyone reading this. Gabino Iglesias once said that writing is the best gig there is, but you have to take the good with the bad. That’s absolutely correct; of writing and of anything in life. Anyone who thinks they can be a writer is correct, but it requires more than just stamina and talent and the ability to put one word in front of the other. It takes stubbornness, compromise, masochism, fire, no small amount of luck, and dare I say insanity. Often times that last one is offered up as a wry punchline in many a meme for writer’s to share around. It’s no exaggeration. You have to be crazy to do this. Crazy about it. You have to be married to it. You have to have an unkillable spirit; one which will incur many an injury but soldier on despite them. This is a calling. Something you will do for years, the rest of your life even. That doesn’t mean that everyone’s way looks and goes exactly the same, it just has to happen.
Stories truly have helped me in my life. They’ve been a comfort, a source of guidance, a source of strength, and a connection with certain things when I had no other presence of them. That’s why I do this. That’s what I want to give back. If I manage to do that for even one person, then I’ve done my job. If at the end of the day I can manage to scratch out even a few words I didn't have yesterday and still want to keep doing that job, even better. And so I will.
Because that’s what it takes. There is no “right” way to do it. There is only the write way.