Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Confessions of a Literary Streetwalker: Drive

(as part of my new gig writing for the ERWA's blog here's one of my classic Confessions columns. Enjoy!)

A friend of mine recently called me ‘ambitious.’ I’m still not sure what he meant by that -- compliment or criticism? Put-down or praise? It’s made me think, though, and that’s always a good thing. I’d normally describe ambition as a drive to succeed, a persistence to rise in status, income, reputation, so forth. But what does that mean to a writer? It could be money, but when is money the answer to anything? It could be ‘reputation,' but then a lot of bad writers are well though-of, even famous (are you listening Tom Clancy?). Ambition can also mean a cold-heartedness, a reckless disregard towards anything and anyone that’s not directly related to a goal. God, I hope I’m not that.

I do know that writing is important to me, probably the most important thing in my life. Because of that, I look for opportunities to do it, to get it seen. I rarely let opportunities pass me by: markets, genres, experiments, anything to get the spark going, juice up my creativity, to get my work published. Erotica was one of those things, an opportunity that crossed my path, and that has been very good to me. I didn’t think I could edit a book, but then I had a chance to do that as well, and now have done 18 (or so) of the suckers.

The fact is, opportunities never find you, you have to find them. The fantasy of some agent, or publisher, or agent, who picks up a phone and just calls you out of the blue is just that or so rare it might as well be just a fantasy: certainly not dependable as a way of getting published. Writing is something that thrives on challenge, growth, change: some of that can certainly come from within, but sometimes it takes something from the outside: some push to do better and better, or just different work. Sending work out, proposing projects, working at maintaining good relationships with editors, publishers and other writers is a way of being involved, in getting potential work to at least come within earshot. It takes time, it certainly takes energy, but it’s worth it. The work will always be the bottom line, but sometimes it needs help to develop, get out, and be seen.

Remember, though: “Ambition can also mean a cold-heartedness, a reckless disregard towards anything and anyone that’s not directly related to a goal.” Drive is one thing, but when it becomes an obsession with nothing but the ‘politics’ of writing and not the work itself, it takes away rather than adds. Being on both sides of the fence (as an editor as well as a writer) I’ve know how being determined, ambitious, can help as well as hinder in getting the work out. Being invisible, hoping opportunity will find out, won’t get you anything but ignominy, but being pushy, arrogant, caring only for what someone can do for you and not that you’re dealing with a person who has their own lives and issues, can close doors rather than open them.

I like working with people who know about ‘Chris’ and not just the person who can publish their work, just as I like writing for publications that are run by kind, supportive, just-plain-nice folks. Rejections always hurt, but when that person is someone I genuinely like or respect then I’ll always do something better next time. As I’ve said before, writing can be a very tough life: having friends or connections that can help, both professionally as well as psychologically can mean a world of difference. Determination to be published, to make pro connections at the cost of potentials comrades is not a good trade-off. I’d much rather have writing friends than sales, because in the long-run having good relationships is much more advantageous than just the credit. Books, magazines, websites, come and go, but people are here for a very long time.

I also think that sacrificing the love of writing, the struggle to create good work, is more important than anything else. Someone who has all the friends in the world, a black book full of agents and publishers, but who is lazy or more concerned with getting published than doing as good a work as possible is doing those friends and markets (as well as themselves) a serious disservice. Getting out there is important, and determination can help that, but if what gets out there is not worthy of you ... then why get out there in the first place? It might take some time, might take some work, but good work will usually find a home, a place to be seen, but bad work forced or just dumped out there is no good for anyone, especially the writer.

The bottom line, I guess, is that I really do believe in ambition, both for work and to find places to get exposed, but more importantly I believe in remembering the bottom line: the writing: that the drive to be a better and better writer is the best kind of ambition of all.

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