I don’t know whether it’s because of the amount of US television/music/movies our culture is saturated with, but it seems to me that Australians are becoming as obsessed with success – usually measured in tedious material terms – as any of our North American counterparts. It’s all about being a winner, fulfilling your potential, reaching your dreams. If you don’t have – or strive for – a great career, a fabulous family, and a whole pile of Stuff, there’s something wrong. (Or maybe that’s just living in a big mining town, I don’t know.) We’re expected to aim high, and if you miss, it’s your fault. You’re not talented enough, determined enough, focused. It’s all about you. You’re in a race, and there’s no dropping out.
This attitude has become attached to writing, too. If you don’t win prizes, write bestsellers, get grants or make a living from it, there’s something a bit sad about you. You should be out there promoting, getting your name known, increasing your sales. The more people buy your books the better, right? Aren’t you going to be the next J.K. Rowling? Not going to do NaNoWriMo? A thousand words a day, fifty thousand words a month – write until you’re sick of your own words?* What kind of writer are you?
So much of what is important about writing is so easily lost. The pleasure of making a story take shape, of massaging a sentence until it is supple, of going beyond what you think you can do. The physical delight of your hand moving on a page. The satisfaction of printing out new pages, still warm from the printer.
Writing is not a competition. The point of writing for me – aside from its intrinsic satisfaction – is communication. We’re telling stories, sharing stories.
If writing isn’t about that, you’d be better off becoming a lawyer.**
* I’m not dissing NaNoWriMo, but I wonder how there can be joy in it.
** I’m not dissing lawyers either. Some of my best friends are lawyers 🙂