Embracing pointless projects

It’s November, which means it’s National Novel Writing Month. I’m not doing it this year, but it makes me happy to see so many people taking on such a huge writing challenge.

When you get a group of writers together, though, the chatter inevitably turns to publishing. How do I get an agent? How many social media followers do I need before an agent will look at me? 10,000? 50,000? How do I get a story accepted by a literary journal? How do I make a full-time living at this? What are editors looking for? Will they accept me if I do this? How about this?

I spent many years being one of these people myself. There’s a tsunami of advice on how to “go pro,” as if there’s something wrong with being an amateur, and I bought into it. To do otherwise, to write for my own enjoyment (and those of a few others if I were lucky) seemed pointless.

Then I took up guitar.

Studying guitar and intrinsic motivation

I sink a LOT of time and money into my guitar practice and even though I’ll never play professionally, I always find it worthwhile. On its face, guitar is another pointless time filler like my writing, but why don’t I feel that way?

Met Opera timpanist Jason Haaheim has a great post about the two questions you need to ask to determine if you’re intrinsically motivated:

  1. Regardless of my starting point, am I willing to do the work?
  2. Ten years from now, if I still haven’t “made it,” will it have been worth it?

I’ve been at this writing thing for much more than ten years. My light bulb moment: the writing part was worth it, but the trying-to-get-published part was not.

I don’t regret the time I’ve spent writing over the years. I definitely regret the time I’ve wasted on social media, conferences, networking, reading publishing industry news, researching agents and short story markets, promotion (at the urging of the two small publishers I’ve worked with–neither of them exist anymore), and all the other stuff I did to try to be a “real” writer. I should’ve invested that time into just writing more stories–it would’ve have been more productive and fun.

What I’m doing now

I self-published a few short stories a while back (using a “burner” name) and liked the experience so much that I’ve decided to go all in with self-publishing. No more hiding my self-published work under a different name to avoid being seen as unprofessional. No more restricting myself to one genre in the name of “building a brand.”

At this point in my life, submitting stories is like applying for a job I don’t even want. Now that I’m out of that grind, I no longer have to keep my stories under wraps for months or years while waiting for responses (if they even arrive)–I can share them as soon as they’re ready.

So now I’m preparing a few stories to self-publish. I have no goals other then getting them off my hard drive and out in public for readers to find. I haven’t felt this joyful about my writing in years, and all it took was embracing the pointlessness of it all. I have nothing to prove anymore, so now I can relax and play with words the way kids play with Legos.

Enjoy your so-called “pointless” projects. If it feeds your soul, it’s worthwhile no matter what anyone else thinks.