I discovered something recently that made me smile, and slap a palm to my forehead at the same time (could’ve had a V8, kid.)
I used to write things for the sake of getting noticed. Oh, if I write a book this way, then it’s more likely to sell and I’m more likely to be able to make a living off of something that I enjoy, awesome, whoopdedoo, and all of that fun stuff. So I would take to my laptop, or my 80-page Hilroy– which in the beginning stages of a writing project, I put my first draft in, because my words often flow easier when I feel like I’m bleeding them into paper right from my soul (yeah, morbid thought, I get it, but I’m one of those weird, creative types, remember?)–and write down the idea I thought would be the next bestseller. I would pack it full of action and romance and craziness–though I did my best to keep away from vampires, because the modern generation of that sort of literature has ruined my view of supernatural stories
Seriously; Twilight scared me away from Anne Rice, and I don’t know how I feel about that–
and get to work, confident for the first three weeks that I was going to make it. Except, I would pack in things that everyone was doing. My plots became cliche, my characters bland, and I could tell what was coming next, not because my brain was running as it should, but because my muscle memory was kicking in and writing the ending to the last eight movies I’d watched. I’d get frustrated, try to change up the whole story, while still keeping the things that I thought would make it sell, and then give up because it just wasn’t working.
It was only until I started the Gracie Project– which is what I’ll be calling my work for the next three months– that I realized what I’d been doing wrong. For the first time since I started taking writing seriously, I understood what hadn’t worked before. All of the short stories I’d written in the backs of my notebooks or on a whim in planes and cars and in class when I should have been paying attention, is that I was working on things that inspired me, not what inspired my generation to flock to a bookstore at midnight to buy the fourth book in my new, imaginary series. I began Gracie because I had been going through a rough time. She popped in at the right moment, and was doing the things that I wanted to do. She was funny, she was adventurous, and she was completely different from anything I’d ever written before. Suddenly, everything made sense. Every Pinterest quote (yeah, it’s an addiction, so sue me. I’m nineteen; it happens), every page of every author’s interview I’d scrutinized, every memoir, came flooding back to me and I got it.
You must write for yourself, above all. That is your only hope in creating something beautiful.
See that gem? That came from Gustave Flaubert. I’ve read it at least fifty times over the past few years, and most of the time I agreed with it. And then I’d turn around and act as if I didn’t, even though I had completely tricked myself into writing the things I thought other people wanted. Gracie was, and is, my way of curing myself of things that got stuck in my head and made me hurt. She is my medium; she is who I have chosen to tell my truth, and you know what? Though I haven’t worked out all of the details of her adventure, more and more of them are coming to me every day, and that is exciting.
What joy it is to be invited by your own characters to explore new worlds with them. I don’t have to leave my couch to see the things she sees, and I’ve reached a point where I’m not dying to make a daily word count. Instead, I wake up wondering when I can squeeze more of her world into mine. The way I see the world is changing. I’m creating something beautiful, not for a reader (who, if, by some miracle, picks up my manuscript and falls in love with the world the way I’m beginning to, great) but for myself. How can I expect someone to read my work if I haven’t breathed whatever life I could into it?
If you’re reading this, whoever you are, whether you’re a writer, whether you’re a businessman, cab driver, chef, dancer or Office Depot clerk, my challenge to you is this: carry out your passion in such a way that you find yourself inspired. If you exist to serve the opinions– please note I said opinions; helping other people is probably something people should do a whole lot more–of others, how could you ever enjoy what you’re doing? I’m not going to tell you that happiness doesn’t take work. I can’t expect the Gracie story to be easy, but even when the going gets tough, I still want to like what I’m doing, ya feel me?
Do it for yourself. Somehow, the more your work pleases you, the happier you are, and–I swear this is a thing– others begin to see the merit in it. You’ll discover very quickly that those who don’t particularly enjoy what you have to offer don’t matter as much. If, at the end of the day, you are pleased with yourself above all, then off to bed with you, solider, you done good.
Now if you excuse me, I’ve been wanting to make stuff with words all day.