Goals & Desires—Not What but Why

Give me a story and give me a bed, Give me possessions,
Oh love luck and money, they go to my head like wildfire
It’s good to have something to live for you’ll find
, Live for tomorrow,
Live for a job and the perfect behind—High time!”

~Harriet Wheeler & David Gavurin—The Sundays (from Can’t Be Sure)

Thomas Cole, Voyage of Life - YouthCan’t Be Sure:  I’ve been conflicted and uncertain of late. It’s not so much that I’ve been unsure of what I want, although at times that’s part of it. It’s more that I’m not always sure why I want it anymore.

It’s the new year, and rather than making resolutions, I’ve been looking at my goals and asking myself some tough questions. In my writing mentor Cathy’s Rock Your Writing January newsletter she bid us to ask ourselves not just what we want but why we want it. Those of you who know me or follow this blog know I’ve long been seeking publication for my historical fantasy manuscripts. So that’s what I want, right? Publication. Seems simple enough. Ah sure, there are other goals for the year—polishing edit for book two, revision of book three, outline for a new project—but my primary goal is to seek representation and a traditional publication deal for book one. The really difficult question Cathy asked was the second part: Why?

I’ve paid plenty of lip-service to my gratitude to my muse (and my wife) for the opportunity for self-discovery and enlightenment bestowed by my writerly journey. Writing the books has been wonderful, and I’ve met so many wonderful folks along the way, including many of you reading. So isn’t that enough? What more could I want?

“And did you know desire’s a terrible thing,

The worst that I can find,

And did you know desire’s a terrible thing,

But I rely on mine.” ~Wheeler & Gavurin (from Can’t Be Sure)

Fame & Fortune: Would you believe me if I told you I’ve outgrown the desire for fame? Seriously, of all the selfish things I could wish for, fame would be at the bottom of the list. I’m not a fan of pop culture. If I pick up a People Magazine in the dentist office, I honestly can’t identify most of the celebrities pictured. I follow very few famous writers, I like alternative music, and I rarely go to movies. I don’t enjoy being put on the spot even at a large dinner party. I’ve done my share of public speaking, so it’s not fear. I just don’t care for that sort of attention. I’m certainly not driven to seek it.

Financial success is another subject. Everything seems to come back to money at some point. I understand that to make money as an artist, a certain amount of renown, or at least recognition, is required. In publishing, making money means selling books. To sell enough books, readers not only have to buy and like your books, they have to tell others about them. I understand this.

Even with an understanding of the workings of the free market, money is not a primary driving force in my quest for publication. I spent the first twenty-five years of adulthood focused on striving for fortune. Although I am far from financially independent, I have a roof over my head, food in the larder, and warm socks on my feet. I have a smart and successful wife who supports my artistic endeavors. Don’t misread me, I want my writing to make money. I’d like it to pay a fair share of our living expenses—for my artistic output to be self-sustaining of an artistic lifestyle. But the desire to make money does not adequately answer the question of why I want to be published.Thomas Cole, Voyage of Life - Manhood

R-E-S-P-E-C-T: I admit it, there is a part of me that occasionally says, “I’ll show them,”  in regard to getting published. Surely by now even my staunchest supporters have had their moments of doubt that I would get the job done. It’d be nice to have that tangible proof—evidence in the form of a physical book—that I am indeed a writer, that I made the grade.

And I must also admit that it’s nice to be praised and admired—respected, even. When you’ve spent years on a project, pouring so much of yourself into it, few things compare to the high of having someone tell you that they enjoyed it. Sure, it’s external validation. But I am human. Yes, for me, this one is insidious.

Although the quest for validation comes closer than fame or money as a driving force, I am doing my best to resist allowing it to be my motivation. There are many good reasons to self-publish these days, and they’re only getting more numerous. I even have a few of my own (genre mash-up, manuscript length), but for now my goal remains representation and a traditional deal. I’m convinced that, besides being stubborn, I am seeking this route because I want the books to be the best they can be—to have undergone a strenuous vetting process. At some point this might change, but I want to make sure it’s not for the wrong reasons (to thumb my nose at gatekeepers or in seeking an easier route to external validation).

I know that public validation, however sweet, would be fleeting. I know I have to find deeper meaning or I will end up perpetually, if cyclically, disappointed.

“But if desire, desire’s a terrible thing,

You know that I really don’t mind,

‘Cause it’s my life,

And though I can’t be sure what I want anymore,

It will come to me later.” ~Wheeler & Gavurin (from Can’t Be Sure)

Digging Deeper: Even if I can look in my heart and honestly reject the motivating factors above, I still haven’t answered the question. I had to go back to the beginning. I’ve mentioned here several times that my fantasy writing dreams go back to my school days. And yet those dreams were all but abandoned. In between my youthful notebook scribbling and starting the trilogy, I had another successful career—another life. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’d all but abandoned reading fantasy during those years as well. During my years in business I read mostly nonfiction.

Then something changed. A series of tragic events led to epiphany and life-change. If you are interested in details, Erika Liodice interviewed me about it here. In asking myself what I wanted this year, I asked myself what I sought when I started writing again.

It’s gonna be so good now,
It’s gonna be so good
Can you see the lark ascending?

Oh so romantic, swept me off my feet,
Like some kind of magic
Like the light in It
Lost its way across the sea.”
~Kate Bush (from Prologue)

Thomas Cole, Voyage of Life - Old AgeMagic & Light: Tragedy always brings change. 9/11 and the death of loved ones had shaken me. In the months after our life-change I was seeking comfort and reassurance. I wanted to remind myself that life could be good again. I found solace in working with my hands again, and in spending time with my beloved. I found healing in music and art. And in books.

In the first winter after leaving our business, I wanted to revisit my favorites, and first on the list was The Lord of the Rings. I read voraciously that winter. I read or reread Guy Gavriel Kay, David Eddings, M.M. Kay and Marion Zimmer Bradley. I reveled in the glory, the friendship and the honor I found in the pages of historical fantasies. I felt renewed by the sacrifices for love, and experienced cathartic sorrow and release in the losses. In a real world that seemed unmistakably darker, I found light in fiction. I was healed, in no small way, by reading. I was reminded of the magic. And once again I wanted to be a part of making that magic.

Arcane Aspirations: I discovered an even bolder sort of magic in writing. The process of creating story has brought me to laughter and tears, and has filled my heart in an extraordinary way. There is mystery and majesty in the vocation I aspire to, and I am still but a humble apprentice. But I know I want to bring the magic and the light into the lives of others. This is what matters. I want to be worthy of being read. And to continue to grow so that I am worthy of it again and again. This is why I am seeking publication.

Happy New Year! May you all find your ‘whys’ as well as achieving your goals for 2013. Wishing you all writerly magic, as both practitioners and recipients.