Think of Writing as playing Angry Birds

Few weeks back, I stumbled across a blogpost by one writer I follow occasionally. This gent used to blog frequently about his sales and the things he had learnt in the process of “engineering” those sales. I was naturally curious to know about the marketing techniques that may have worked for him.

Interestingly, this writer also talked about “mental toughness,” and how the writing profession was NOT meant for people who were faint-hearted. I agreed with him.

Unfortunately, a few weeks back, this writer met with an accident. He says his Amazon sales weren’t enough to pay for his treatment. So, he took up a “pay check.” I’m not sure what that means, but looks like he’s into freelance writing because he claims to have not one but several pay checks.

But he said something else on his blog which caught my attention. He said readers don’t care. He also said he had published nothing in a while and nobody contacted him asking when is your next book coming out?

The despondency was becoming intense. I had a sneaking feeling that he was going to quit soon. And there you go, he almost said that in his last blog post.

You may ask—how did I know he would quit soon?

Now I’m no oracle. But the answer is simple—if you’re going to write regularly that readers don’t care and that nobody knows you exist, very soon you will believe it yourself and quit writing.

So, here’s the big lesson. If you want to keep yourself motivated, write things to motivate yourself. Like this blog, on which you will not find even a single whining article. That’s because I don’t think “Whining is a good business model,” to borrow Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s terminology.

I write to motivate myself (non-fiction) and entertain myself (fiction), which brings me to the topic of the day.

I was flicking through an Indian magazine and came across this interesting article by Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput titled, “The Struggling Actor’s Guide to making it big in Bollywood.” I know most of you visiting this blog are not from India and won’t even know this actor. But that is not important.

The title evoked my curiosity. I’m not an actor (even though I acted in my Uni days and even won an award), but I thought we, artists, can always learn from each other. In that article, Sushant talked about his love for acting and his struggling days. It was interesting that he called those days as a journey.

There were a few things that popped out for me. I’ll be describing them in some detail here and try to apply them to the writing career.

Don’t be over analytical: Sushant says, “People will tell you that making it big requires hard work, perseverance, dedication and skill development but all you need is the love for it. It is like playing a video game—when you are totally into it, focusing on one level at a time and loving it, that’s when you’ll do your best.”

I’m not sure about you but this is so true for me. Yes, writing is definitely about skills, and there are plenty of mind-boggling techniques that can be employed to tell a story which I need not elaborate here.

Many writers get demoralised at this stage. They think their writing is “crap.” But actually, what you really need is a love for story. Mind you, I said love for story and not story-telling. I’m presuming you are in this profession because you love a good story. Whether it’s for a novel or a movie or a video game—it doesn’t matter.

And the most interesting thing is that Sushant sees his acting career in terms of playing a video game. I cannot agree more. I too can see writing fiction as playing a video game. You have a main problem and you’ve to find ways to resolve that. Yes, you’ll be crossing from one level to another (I call that scenes). And yes, there would be some scenes where you’ll get stuck or which will frustrate you, but that happens even in a video game. It’s part of the fun. So, why not have fun writing, just as you would with Angry Birds?

I think I’ve been the happiest when I was writing from heart. The joy I get from writing is the same as the joy Buddha described when he attained enlightenment. And I’m not kidding.

I write because it makes me happy. I write because it feels like magic. When you start, you may just have a blank MS-Word document (or Scrivener file) in front of you. You put something down and voila! You have characters who are no longer just names on a computer screen or on a piece of paper, but real human beings. You have a setting which is not just the name of a place but an actual living, breathing, space. And the journey your characters take feels so real. It’s magic. Really.

Don’t do it for fame or money: The next thing Sushant says, “Ask yourself why you want to do it. I really, absolutely love what I do. If your answer is fame or money, it is not going to work. I come from a middle-class family and there are things I couldn’t afford earlier. I though it is the money that is keeping me from being happy, but is not the case. In this profession, if you make it to a certain level, you will have money and fame. But if that is your motivation, then what will you do next? You can’t get more famous after a point and then it becomes a flat graph. It will then fail to make you happy.”

Okay, I’m taking a deep breath. I think no one becomes a writer for fame or money. Although they all secretly pine for both!

Writing is an unusual profession. When your friends, family members or strangers ask what you do, their first response usually is, “Are you making a living?” It’s commonly believed writers don’t make any money. So, you have to be in this unusual profession ONLY because you love writing.

I’m not saying you cannot make a living writing fiction. There are plenty of writers who do that with ease.

My biggest takeaway is this—even if one of my books sells a billion copies, I’ll still keep on writing. Because writing is like oxygen to me.

Enjoy the Journey: The last thing Sushant says, “Don’t concentrate on ‘how to get there,’ instead enjoy the getting there. I didn’t plan my career and I don’t think that now that I have a sea-facing house in Bandra, I am in a more secure position than I was in the IRK apartment. There are too many variables in the working. I don’t extend my time to future: it is the present, the now, that I am enjoying.”

Whenever I get depressed that readers are not reading my work or sales are not up to the mark, I remind myself to see my career as a journey. There are too many ifs and buts in this profession and sales do go up and down. In fact, when sales go up, assume they’ll go down. Nobody can predict the future.

But what we can all do is to focus on the present, and the NOW. Focus on your story and nothing else.

I hope I’ve motivated you enough for today. Now go back and write your story!

And don’t forget to enjoy yourself!

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