There are advantages and disadvantages to living a very long time, as I have. One of the advantages is that you can’t help having a long view. You’ve seen it come and seen it go. Something that’s being announced as the absolute only way to write, you recognize as a fashion, a fad, trendy– the way to write right now if you want to sell right now to a right now editor. But there’s also the long run to consider. Nothing’s deader than last year’s trend. My book aims for the long run, rather than short-term instant salability. — Ursula K. Le Guin in an interview in The Writer’s Chronicle
I read this quote from the brilliant Le Guin a few days ago, and I’ve been carrying it with me and turning it around to study it ever since. I find a great deal of freedom in what she says here, a lifting of the burden of “faster, faster” that is a part of this moment (every moment?) in the writing world.
A Shifting in my Mindset
Last week, I decided to spend some time writing for myself, to put off the publication of my next book for a while (although Love Letters to Writers is still coming), to let my heart and mind slow down about my career just a bit. Le Guin’s words gave me a great deal of peace because, well, I am looking at the long run here. I want to write books that matter now but also later. I want them to have longevity. I want works that are perseverant, not just passive income.
That said, many of us need to sell books to make a living, and I don’t discount that at all. It’s just not the model I can work in at this moment, and I have the great gift of having a living from editing and coaching . . . believe me, that is a huge gift of freedom for me just now.
What’s Your Mindset?
I don’t know why you write books: to make a financial living, to make change in the world, to unleash a story that has been bound up inside you. All of those reasons for writing – and the endless list of other motivations – are valid and important, and I do not judge them at all. I simply encourage you to ask yourself a few questions:
- Why did you start writing? What brought you to words first? Is that reason still alive within you?
- What do you need from your writing life? Do you need it to provide for you financially? Do you need it to give you release? Do you need it to give you voice, or access, or activism? Do you need it to show you want you think or believe or feel?
- What do you want to share with your writing? Are you sharing escape or entertainment? Teaching or tips? Story or the song of words?
- What affirms you in your writing? The completion of the work? Being paid for writing? Words of praise from readers? Bearing witness to the changes your words have wrought?
Your answers to these questions will clarify whether you are writing for now or for the long-view or for both. Again, I see no value in elevating one or the other of these perspectives on writing. But rather, I think there is freedom in knowing our motivations, our goals, and our dreams for our words. . . and there is freedom in knowing that our motivations, our goals, and our dreams can change.
Oh the ability to change our minds – it’s a beautiful thing.
If you’d like, comment below and let me know what you discover when you answer these questions. I’d love to hear a bit about your writing soul.