Nothing in this life lasts forever. Books that are huge sellers today won’t stay up on those charts forever. Sooner or later, the books will lose momentum and come back down. Yes, there are books that have survived over the centuries, but the fame and money made on those books don’t directly benefit the author anymore because the author is longer here.
I don’t say all of this to be depressing. I say it to put things in perspective.
Life is short. Some people live longer than others, but sooner or later, we leave this life and go to the next one. We don’t get to take our books with us. As I once heard Denzel Washington say in a speech, “There is no U-haul following a hearse.”
So, this poses an important question: “What do you want to do with your life?”
None of us get to repeat anything we’ll ever say and do. So, the question is, what do you want to see when you look back on your life?
A good exercise, if you’re inspired to do this, is to sit down and review your life up to this point. Is there anything you wish you had done? Is there anything you wish you hadn’t wasted time on? What would you change if you could? I do this exercise once in a while to evaluate my priorities because my goal is to end up with as little regrets as possible.
The downside to writing to market is that you’re writing what other people want you to write. Maybe your goal is to make a six-figure income, or you’re seeking the praise and acclaim of other people. All of these are external goals, and they depend on someone else to make you happy. If you don’t reach these goals, you feel like a failure. This path doesn’t lead to lasting contentment with life. I know because I was once in that situation. If you aren’t already happy within yourself, you won’t be happy no matter how much you make or how many awards you have. It might seem like these authors making a six-figure income and winning awards are living the best life ever, but how happy are they when no one is looking?
The day I walked away from writing to market was the day I found real happiness, and that happiness doesn’t go away.
When you write what’s in your heart, you get a sense of satisfaction when you reread your books. I have yet to write a book from passion where I judged its merit on how much money it earned me. Long after the books have reached their peak in sales, the thing that matters most is how much enjoyment the books bring me on an internal level. The value lies in the content of the story.
I don’t see how a book can truly satisfy an author in the long run if the the author wrote a story tailored to someone else’s preferences. In the back of the author’s mind, they would know this wasn’t really “their” story; it was someone else’s story. In the back of the author’s mind would be the thought, “This story could have been better if I had written it my way.”
Years ago, I remember reading about an author who said he only read his book one time, and that was when he wrote it. After he wrote it, he never read it again. He didn’t say why he never read it again, but I bet I know the answer. He didn’t love the story. An author who loves their story will read it after it’s published. They’ll want to because it came from a place of passion. But if an author doesn’t give a crap about the book because they only wrote it for money or some kind of fame, there’s no emotional attachment to it. It’s just a widget on an assembly line to get out there as fast as possible. To me, that’s sad. What’s the point of writing something you don’t develop an attachment to? These are your characters. This is your world. You, of all people, should enjoy all of it.
So, how do you want to spend your time? Even 100+ years is short. I have yet to hear someone in their 80s or 90s tell me that they lived way too long. They tell me that life isn’t long enough. They all want more time. Deep down, we all want more time. It’s how we’re wired.
But what do we want to do with that time? While we are in today and can do something, what is it that will give our lives meaning? What will give us a sense of purpose so we don’t end up feeling like we wasted our years away? Your answer(s) will guide you in the direction that will allow you to go to your deathbed without a long list of regrets.