I’ve always been interested in the answers to procedural whys. Why is it done this way, why not that way? I’ve also been interested in asking the deeper meaning whys, usually still about the way the world works and what it asks of me. Why do I have to do this at all? Why do people behave the way they do? I’ve rarely been good at answering why.
I’m still thinking about my life, my work, money and motivation and all the rest. I recalled reading several places lately talk about a dichotomy they perceive in reasons for writing, and knowing that it is a common conception – and a dichotomy usually brought up to paint one side as pretentious and tell them to get on the other side or they’re going to fail. See, there’s this idea that writers are in it to make money or they’re in it for the art (at least two bloggers in the last week spelled this “ahht” – just to be sure their readers understood they consider art-for-arts-sake pretentious and despicable). I keep reading people who believe that anyone who is writing “art” or who feel they “must” write, but who aren’t serious about doing whatever it takes (and here they usually have a plan or idea for how low one must go, how hard one must work, and exactly how to accomplish “whatever it takes”) to make money is in for the dreaded “rude awakening,” and they’d better start thinking like a businessman or else.
Of course every time I read such a thing, every time that dichotomy is presented, my initial reaction is something like “what if neither of those is my reason?” What if I don’t even know what my reason is? What if I’m not interested in or motivated by money? What if I think “serious” art and literature seems mostly pretentious and/or unreadable, too? What if the closest thing I have to an answer to why I write is that … I was going to write, anyway, I may as well sell it? Wait — that doesn’t answer the question! That’s why I’m running a publishing company & putting out & selling books, not why I write. I have no idea why I write! I just know I do.
I write. I’ll keep writing. I’ll write >1 book a year, even if I have to work a soul-crushing job, for however long I survive such a hopeless situation. Since switching to being a full-time creative, I now write 2-4 times as much (and paint >5 times as much) as I did when it was just in my off hours. (oh, and I podcast my writing twice a week, every week – which I never had time for before) I may be earning next-to-nothing (so far) doing this, but I haven’t found a job yet that was worth my life – though I have found that most other jobs would cost it. That may be reason enough, I suppose, for doing things the way we are – that if I have to stop doing this and rejoin “the workforce” I’ll soon die.
I don’t really “get” goals. Goals. I don’t get it. Add that to the list of things I don’t grasp. Ooh, there was this one time, for four or five years straight, where I tried to figure out “goals.” Eventually I hit a philosophical roadblock of breaking it all down until it was clear that “goals” and “values” and such were all totally arbitrary – usually unconsciously given to people by their families and their cultures, but almost never actually, meaningfully, reasonably and independently developed.
I’ve never been very good at goals. I’m good at action, at doing things. Getting things done, I can do. Having goals and priorities… not consciously or intentionally, no. You may think it’s just a difference in phrasing for me to say, for example, “I didn’t set a goal of writing Cheating, Death. I decided it was time to write a zombie book, I thought about what I wanted to write for a while, then I sat down to write it and, two weeks later, it was done.” With art, I usually just start with a blank canvas and see where it takes me. With all my other books, I haven’t usually decided what they’re going to be about before I start; I just start writing and find out what the story is as I write it. Inasmuch as I have goals, they’re either immediately carried out or I procrastinate for a while first, and then immediately carry them out.
What’s my “5 year goal”? I was thinking about this a bit lately (I was extrapolating from a more current train of thought, to try to wedge the way I actually think into the “goals” thing that everyone else is so fond of), and came up with something like: After 5 years (by the end of 2014 or so), I hope to have 20 to 30 books in print (Cheating, Death was my 11th book) and to have created 300+ new pieces of artwork. (Which got me thinking about how I’m going to need to redesign wretchedcreature.com in the next year or two, to accommodate so many new pieces.) Not much other detail has come to me re: 5-year-goal, since then… but I don’t usually think in terms of goals. And this is really just an extrapolation of “I’d like to write 2 to 4 new books a year, and to try to create at least 5 new pieces of art every month.” Which is a set of goals I’ve created for public appearances – literally, I set down and drafted those so that when people asked, I would have something to say. It’s based on factors such as past experience with my own writing speed and professional artists’ statements about minimum production levels.
Speaking of which, I’m beginning to run into problems with overproduction. I have a huge inventory of blank canvas just waiting to become art, but a big factor in my procrastination is that I’m running out of wall space. I’m not selling as fast as I’m painting. I’d like to be painting more. I’d love to be able to be painting every day. I can’t. It’s unreasonable. Not only do I not have a dedicated space to paint in right now (ie: I paint in the living room, which is a high traffic area of the house), but if I did paint that much, I would be producing art significantly faster than I’m currently able to sell it. (Did I mention I just dropped all my art prices? Seriously – significantly lowered! Go! Look!) So part of why I picked 5 for my fake goal was that if I did manage to hit it (and if half or more of that was mini-paintings) I wouldn’t find myself up to my neck in art.
Of course, a solution to that problem is probably obvious to you business-minded folks. Obviously, if I would just sell more art, I wouldn’t have trouble storing new art. Gosh, why didn’t I think of that? It’s the same thing with the income problem I mentioned yesterday – if I would just sell more books, sell more art, et cetera, I wouldn’t have this problem. If I would just write more commercially, or if I would be more outgoing, get better at marketing and at publicity and at putting myself in front of people, and a dozen other things that give me panic attacks… yeah, maybe.
I’m not a rock star. I don’t want to be. I’m an author. I’m an artist. Not a marketer. Not a businessperson. I don’t have lofty goals. I don’t have monetary goals, political goals, or even readership-numbers goals. (I think a thousand people listening to my book is great – that’s almost a hundred times more people than had read it the year before.) I don’t have sales goals.
When I have things that are like goals, they’re writing goals (write a book about self-publishing when I get the chance, since people keep asking), or they’re household goals (try to vacuum the carpet this week), or they’re creative goals (try to paint something new before the Art Walk, Friday). It’s never “earn $xx,xxx this year” or “sell x copies of the new book this month” – I can’t imagine why I’d set goals that are so completely out of my control to accomplish! Writing a book, that’s something I can do! Selling art, selling books, that depends on who comes by my table at the event and what they like and how much money they have. That depends on who takes the time to look at my websites, and whether they read or need art, and whether they have money, and whether they’re willing to go to the trouble to actually put those things together and order. It’s out of my hands. It’s chance multiplied by the whims of other people. It’s like setting a goal of rolling a natural 20 – the only thing you can do about it is roll the dice.
Like I said, I’m good at action. It’s easy for me to sit down and write a 1900+ word blog post about goals, and about whys, because I was thinking about them. It’s difficult for me to have or meet any sort of goal about blogging – blog x times a month, blog every day, whatever. It’s easy for me to sit down and write a book, paint a new work of art, or redesign a website. I can even plan, to a certain extent. I can decide, hours, days, even months before I start working on something to do it, and get elements in place to accomplish it. Then, when the time comes, I do my best. Ooh: maybe I’ve discovered part of my difficulty with the concept of “goals” – so much of the time, people just mean plans (or the result of plans) when they say goals, and it’s also common for people to set goals that are not in their power to accomplish, and all of those things are mashed up together in the word…
I think the underpants gnomes explain my friction with the concept of goals in multiple ways: First, a lot of people mistake means for ends – they say their goal is to reach a level of stealing a thousand pairs of underwear a month, when their real goal is profit. So I have trouble on a fundamental level with sales/productivity goals, since I’m not motivated by profit. Second, a lot of people set goals that require things beyond their ability and/or outside their control – their plan for accomplishing the goal has a big ? in the middle of it. This extends my trouble from sales goals (which puts the outcome in a 3rd party’s hands) to marketing as a whole, and a wide variety of common-and-accepted business practices.
[Then, after staring at this for a while, my whole train of thought derailed. Flow broken. Sorry. I tried to write a bit more, but … it reads as basically off topic:]
I understand the appeal of planning; of breaking things into steps, making lists, ticking off fractional progress toward larger accomplishments. I understand the value of the To Do List; though I often use them simply so I don’t forget to do something on my bad days. This may be a week of bad days. And me, without a list. If my blog posts were part of a novel, I wouldn’t be behind in NaNoWriMo. Instead, I may have hit a new record (for me) of wanting to give up on NaNoWriMo after only ~300 words. Not giving up on writing, no, but on that particular goal. Not sure, yet. Ask me again, this time next week.