I go through periods when I get obsessed with something to the exclusion of everything else. The first one I remember is Star Trek. I bought everything on it I could find. I knew the name of every part on the Enterprise, the various departments, who worked where, ad nauseum. I wrote a Star Trek book (I may even still have it around here somewhere), and followed that with a SF romance. Neither was very original, but I enjoyed writing them. In fact, I lifted my pen name from that space book; Theo Fenraven was the name of the main character. Think Han Solo, only cooler. 😉
After that, it was horses. Then gardening and the back-to-the-earth movement. Astronomy. And more.
When I want to learn something, I dive in and splash around for a while before coming up for breath and the next subject of interest.
Each phase lasted anywhere from a few weeks to several months, except for books, which are and continue to be an obsession. Role playing on Twitter with AJ lasted a good two or three years, and when that began to wane, I naturally turned back to writing. This coincided with a layoff, so unexpectedly, I had time to give to it.
I was rusty as hell. If you write, you can’t ever stop or you forget a lot and have to learn it all over again. For six months, until I got another job, I wrote several hours every day. It was fanfic, because I wasn’t ready to create original characters yet, and reading some of it today is embarrassing. I wasn’t as good as I thought, not in the early stuff anyway. However, I pumped out a full-length book and lots and lots of short stories that summer and fall.
And I improved and dared to think I could get published. Online publishers were making their presence known, and in a genre I didn’t know existed: m/m. I still remember exactly where I was when I got that first contract. I recall the overwhelming excitement I felt. I couldn’t sit still for hours, I was so high from the validation. I was a writer. But I couldn’t say that out loud and mean it for another couple of years.
I kept writing. Every spare moment, I sat at the computer and spun my tales. I was on fire in those days. I had no idea what kind of money writers in the genre were making, and a part of me didn’t care. It was enough to see my stories for sale at Amazon.
Four years went by, and I figured out the money thing and realized I wasn’t making much. It started to gnaw at me, knowing a lot of writers were selling more than me. Hell, I’d never made the Amazon top ten in the gay category, and I kept asking myself why. I’d always been highly competitive. More, I was always good at everything I did. No matter what sport or hobby I took up, I aimed to be the best and often was.
But if you judge a person’s success by how much money they make at what they do, by all accounts, I was a failure. It got so every time I released a book, I expected it to fail. That way I wouldn’t be taken by surprise or build up false hope that this would be the one. I could say, “Yeah, expected that. Better luck next time, right?” But I didn’t mean it, because I knew “next time” would be as disappointing.
Then depression set in, and I wouldn’t write for weeks. In fact, I planned to quit several times, but always, an idea lured me back, and I’d spend all my waking hours at the computer again while elsewhere, people were doing things and going places. Falling in and out of love. Getting laid. Changing jobs and moving to other cities. I admit there were times when I hated my muse because she kept me from participating in “real life.” I still don’t remember what I did before writing took over my life.
Anyone who tells you writing a book is easy is full of shit. Either that, or they are a savant, and it comes easily to them for some reason. I struggle with the words. Getting the sentence right sometimes makes me crazy. Finishing a chapter is always cause for celebration, and typing The End makes me manic with relief and joy that it’s done at last! Another book is ready to go out and meet its readers, however few they might be.
And then I have to start the process all over again… and for what? Writers are masochists. Gluttons for punishment. We should all be locked up to keep the streets safe from raving madmen who mumble about foreshadowing and subplots, and see scenes in their heads instead of the park right in front of their eyes.
The muse began to back off. She became more silent than insistent. When I checked the numbers at Amazon (by far the place where most of my books sell), I was discouraged. Knowing I don’t sell much, I rarely did this. Why give myself grief and wreck the day, yeah?
Only one book I released ever sold more than a hundred copies: Wolf Bound.
Let’s put this into perspective, shall we? There are well over three hundred million people living in America, and way more if you throw in the UK, France, and Canada. Ninety-nine percent of my books sell in these four countries. Let’s say the population totals five hundred million people. Now let’s cut that down to the people who read, who buy books and don’t steal them. Let’s make it a nice round number of twenty million. Hell, we can cut that in half if you want to be fussy. We’re down to ten million people in four big countries who might possibly buy books.
We have to bring that number down even further to jettison those who wouldn’t buy an m/m book if you paid them, and we’re left with one million people. We could quibble about this statistic, too, because I admittedly made it up to prove a point, and here it is:
Wolf Blood has sold 143 copies to date. I deducted the assholes who bought the book, read it, and returned it for a full refund from Amazon. There were a sizable number of them.
Lately, I’ve begun to wonder if writing is not a compulsion–something I must do–but rather an obsession on the wane. All the others diminished in urgency until they were nothing but a memory. I don’t miss the world of Star Trek. I don’t care if I ever plant another tomato or ride another horse. Been there, done that.
It terrifies me to think I may have reached the same point with writing. And then I think about selling a measly 143 copies of my bestselling book to date, and I realize I may want to give up writing because, after all these years, I’m not making any money at it. Shouldn’t I interpret this to mean the public has spoken? The giveaways, blog hops, guest posts, and interviews made NO DIFFERENCE AT ALL. That, or I’m just not writing books people want to read, so why bother?
Whatever the reason, I’m not having much fun lately at the laptop unless you count the adventure games I’ve been playing to avoid the latest WIP. And the jigsaw puzzle laid out in the spare room. And the scooter in the courtyard that I hop on anytime I need an excuse to not write. If I don’t write, I won’t reach the end. If I don’t reach the end, I don’t have a book to release. If I don’t put something out there, I don’t have to be crushed when it doesn’t sell.
This is the main reason why I’ve decided to switch to mainstream. I can and probably will fail there too, but there’s a larger pool of people buying books, and after four plus years in m/m, I’ve gotten the message. So it’s time to switch genres and fail EVEN BIGGER.
I almost didn’t post this, but then I thought, “You should know what this author goes through to write and release a book. You should know the self-doubt that eats at my soul and the depression that makes me not want to get up some days. You should know this is a hard road to walk… and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.”
Why don’t I STOP? Why don’t I give it up and move on to the next obsession? I don’t know. I honestly can’t figure it out. What a strange profession writing is, to inflict such pain on the person wielding the words, and have that person keep coming back for more.