Since the writing bug first bit me, I have been passionate about writing. I lived, breathed, dreamed, and talked story, story, story. My characters were often my only childhood companions and my story worlds gave me imaginary outlets to explore during a sometimes lonely youth.
So whenever I hear the adage, “Follow your passion,” I know exactly what that’s about. I feel privileged to have been able to turn my passion into a career and to achieve my dreams of publication.
However, recently I came across a quote from successful entrepreneur Mark Cuban, who said, “Follow the effort, not the passion.”
It made me think. I understand Mr. Cuban’s point, which is that dreams alone won’t get us where we want to be. But there’s more to it than that.
When I was a novice writer, my passion drove me to make the effort and to keep making it despite challenges, failures, and discouragement. My passion to write motivated me to work extremely hard to learn the writing craft. And I have been thankful, on numerous occasions, when the effort and hard work to acquire craft paid off by enabling me to complete challenging projects.
Today, I was listening to a talk given by romance novelist Darlene Gardenhire (who writes as Darlene Graham). She mentioned that writers have to deal with both hemispheres of their brain, which she termed “The Imp” and “The Taskmaster.”
Whenever I’m off deadline and between projects, I relax and permit an imbalance of those brain hemispheres. The Imp runs wild while The Taskmaster takes a vacation. All that means is that the passion for writing is all over the place, yet nothing is actually being accomplished. But soon it’s time for The Taskmaster to return, settle down The Imp, and get the work in progress moving forward.
Anyone who achieves a long writing career goes through phases. He or she may grow bored with a genre and desire to switch to a different area of fiction. He or she may fall into a rut and desire to write a longer, more intricately plotted, or complex novel than before. He or she may hit a dry spell. Markets change and fall into or out of fashion with readers. All sorts of things happen because the publishing industry is always in flux. These changes can dampen or curtail passion for a time–especially if there’s a learning curve before breaking into a different genre–but a professional writer has to keep working.
I know writers and wannabes who have always depended solely on their passion. They wait for inspiration to strike. They perhaps gain a good plot idea from a dream and then expect fortune to smile on them the same way once more. Such writers generally have low production and erratic quality of work. Maybe when they’re “on” they’re geniuses, but the rest of the time their works are a “miss.”
And I know writers who don’t count solely on inspiration. They instead believe in the novelist’s adaptation of Einstein’s quote: “Writing is ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration.” They put in the effort of learning craft, practicing craft, knowing how a story works, understanding which approaches will create dynamic characters and how a story should be paced. And maybe, after 30,000 words of what possibly feels like sheer slog, inspiration glimmers briefly, and the writer finds the heart and will and passion to soldier onward through the remaining 70,000 words.
New York Times bestselling author Jim Butcher calls it the BIC (butt in chair) factor. You can dream all day long about being a published writer, but if you don’t actually write … and try … you won’t achieve anything.
Getting novel manuscripts plotted and written takes brain-numbing effort. Almost every time. There’s no shortcut or easy button. And no two books are ever the same. The Imp–if relied on alone–will skip out on you. The Taskmaster–if allowed to completely override and/or ignore The Imp–will turn a good story into a emotionless grind.
Writers need both the passion and the effort. They need the agony and the ecstasy. Glove in hand–it’s a dual process, and the best, surest way to real accomplishment.