Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Serving Passion

If you want to be a professional writer, you better damn well love it.  And LOVE it to the extent that spouses and family members get used to your ignoring them with some regularity.  Otherwise, it's not worth the hassle, headache, and heartache.

Sounds like a downer?  If you've got that passion for writing, you wouldn't think so.

Whether it's fiction or non-fiction, it's that passion - passion beyond the colloquial use of "love" - that draws you into a project, makes you willing to discipline yourself and your writing.  That passion will get you through any "starter" articles you need for clips.  And that passion will be what gets you to write successful pitches for other articles… after that passion has gotten you through all the research on HOW to write a good pitch, article, or novel.

When I'm working with regular students (not those who want to write), the hardest thing for them is the fact they don't want to write, so I can't ask, "Why are you writing this?" without some sort of preamble or explanation or rephrasing.  "Ok, you have to write this for class, I get it.  What can someone learn from your topic?  Why should someone read your point about this?"  That can usually get the ball rolling.

For those of us who want to write, however, those are equally important questions.  A writer needs to have a purpose - even if it is the reader's entertainment.  If it's non-fiction, there generally is some lesson, too, even if it's something simple like appreciating kindness, no matter how small the gesture.  But we also need a good answer for, "Why are you writing this?" 

In fact, we need a few.  The first, of course, should be because we love to write, we NEED to write, and at any given moment, we'd be writing something.

If you're just getting into writing, we need to harness that passion so it can take us further in our careers.  A newer non-fic writer needs clips, so take that writing passion and write about a topic you feel passionately about - something you'd write about anyway - so it's not a crapload of work that you don't like that you're just giving away.  If you're writing fiction, not knowing where it will end up, write about what you love.  There's lots of contests and prompts out there, but it's not worth forcing yourself to write something that's not singing to you.  There's no guarantee you'll win the contest, and if you don't care about the topic it will show.

Once you've gotten to the point of filling assignments, then you've got to have a lot of passion for the act of writing to get you through the harder points of completing assignments you may not entirely love.  You have to find thrill in the act of creating a thesis or a point as well as adore the puzzle and challenge of outlining for unity, discovering the most potent quotations, and drawing it all together to have a compelling piece about… merchandising mushrooms or bulk onions, for example.  After all, assignments pay bills… and we want to make money, right?

Now, if you haven't got an assignment, if you're pitching articles on spec, those three questions, "Why are you writing this?  What can someone learn from your topic?  Why should someone read your point about this?" are even more important as they work together.  You must be passionate about the topic and believe you are the person to convey this lesson and inspire the audience - and that must come through in the pitch.  Not only do you serve the passion, but you are serving a portion of this passion to the editor - and ultimately, your readers.  You have to love this topic enough to do the best research you can and present it in the best fashion you can so that you deliver the best message possible.

I've found a lot of newer writers forget that.  In the quest to publish something - anything - for pay or even for clips, they'll throw together substandard work that they don't care about.  Yes, bills must be paid, but what is worth more: working on something you love and enjoy so that it is a quality someone will pay more money for or churning out work you don't care about for less money… and therefore having to do more work to pay the bills?

Granted, if you want food or heat or a home, there needs to be a transition period, a balance.  It's foolish to drop all paid work and just do what you love on spec.  But make some time.  Serve your passion a little every day.

Passion is powerful, so if you are living the passion of your writing, you WILL see it manifest itself.


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